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MLS Cup to be staged in Los Angeles

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MLS has decided to keep its championship game at a neutral-site venue. And, it will go back to the safety of a warm-weather site for the Nov. 20 MLS Cup.

The league announced Tuesday that the game will be awarded to the Home Depot Centre, home of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA.

As in the previous two seasons, the game will take place in prime time for the central and eastern time zones. It’s set to kick off at 6 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. in the east.

““We are proud and excited to bring Major League Soccer’s championship event back to the City of Los Angeles and The Home Depot Center, one of the finest sports venues in the United States,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber in a release. “MLS Cup has grown into a four-day celebration of the world’s game in North America. We believe that Los Angeles and The Home Depot Center will be a superb stage for MLS Cup 2011.”

After last year’s big chill in Toronto left BMO Field — which was an announced sellout — with thousands of empty seats that looked bad on television, MLS was set to go back to a venue with a far better chance of decent weather in late November.

MLS has kicked around the idea of awarding MLS Cup to the participating team with the best record; but while giving home-field advantage to the higher seed would create a buzz, would there be enough time to promote and sell tickets in chronically undersold venues. Sure, easy to sell tickets if Seattle or Toronto or Philly or even Real Salt Lake is the home side, but what if it was FC Dallas? Or the New England Revolution?

Still, the MLS brass was leaning towards changing the MLS Cup format in 2009, going away from the neutral-site model. But, when Garber and the MLS owners saw how Seattle fans packed Qwest Field on a cold, miserable, rainy night to watch the Galaxy lose to Real Salt Lake and kicks, they were convinced to stick with the neutral-site model.

Toronto fans did not embrace MLS Cup quite the same way on their cold, blustery night. Yes, some fans did indeed take out their rage on Toronto FC’s plan to require season-ticket holders to buy MLS Cup tickets rather than offer them on an opt-in basis; but to the fan watching on TV who didn’t care or know about the internal politics, what they saw was Toronto fans not toughing it out in bad weather as bravely as the fans did in Seattle.

In Los Angeles, we shouldn’t see this problem.

But MLS can’t abandon cold-weather venues. Philadelphia and New York must get the big game… soon. Salt Lake City is also a deserving candidate, even with it being a smaller market. Through the CONCACAF Champions League, fans in Utah showed they will support the big games.

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