A peculiar re-interpretation of events has taken hold of those watching this year's Generation Adidas Cup. It is a showpiece tournament for MLS Academy teams, but also one which has been routinely won by non-MLS sides for the last three years - and will once again be won by one of the international club team invited to participate in 2017. River Plate - winner of the last two GA Cups - will play Flamengo in the Cup final on April 15.
So it goes: part of the point of GA Cup is for MLS Academy teams to test themselves outside the domestic soccer development bubble. And kudos to the New York Red Bulls, whose Academy side was the only MLS team to make it out of the group stage of the Champions Division and which gave Flamengo a scare in the semifinals.
After falling a goal behind in the first half, RBNY did not fold to its vaunted Brazilian opponent. Instead, the Red Bulls battled their way back into the game and equalized thanks to Ben Mines' ability to chase a long ball and keep his cool in a one-on-one with the 'keeper.
After extra-time, the game went to penalties, where Flamengo 'keeper Victor Hugo distinguished himself with three saves to send his team through to the final.
So RBNY bows out of the running for the 2017 GA Cup having given a very good account of itself in the tournament. It is the most successful MLS team in this year's competition, regardless of how it fares in the third-place playoff against Independiente del Valle.
Except, that aforementioned peculiar re-interpretation of events seems determined to rob RBNY's Academy kids of the acclaim they deserve. The official MLS write-up of the GA Cup semifinals pivoted effortlessly to focus on the tournament's Premier Division, calling NYCFC's team "the most successful MLS side" in the competition.
In the Premier Division, the so-called second tier of the competition, NYCFC’s been the best MLS entrant in the field.
To clarify: the Premier Division is not the "so-called" second tier of GA Cup, it is the actual second tier. It is the consolation prize for MLS teams that didn't make it to the primary tournament. There is a qualifying competition to determine the eight MLS entrants to GA Cup, and the teams in the Champions Division are those that won through from that qualifying tournament. NYCFC isn't in the Premier Division of GA Cup because of some arbitrary division of teams between two parallel competitions, it's in the tournament it qualified for: the consolation for those MLS sides that didn't qualify for GA Cup proper.
It might be inconvenient to admit the GA Cup is dominated by non-MLS teams, but that remains its truth for the moment. And the fact that MLS teams are able to prosper in a tournament that doesn't include the likes of River Plate and Flamengo is great for those teams, but they're also not really competing for GA Cup.
All of which is to say, if NYCFC beats Tigres UANL in the GA Cup Premier Division final - congrats to what looks like a very promising Academy team. But the GA Cup winner will come from the match between River Plate and Flamengo, and the best MLS team in this year's tournament must surely be the one that progressed furthest in the tournament itself, not the consolation bracket. So, first and foremost, well done to the RBNY Academy for being the most competitive MLS team at the 2017 GA Cup.