Since 2005, the winning team in Major League Soccer's final match has sported more facial hair than the losing side. Coincidence? Apparently not, as Columbus became the latest team to believe in the power of the playoff beard.By Andrea Canales
One might think that with the Supporter's Shield safely in hand and with a star playmaker named the Most Valuable Player of Major League Soccer's 2008 season, the Columbus Crew wouldn't bother being superstitious.
Yet the club from Ohio was chasing its first title in thirteen years of existence and the player who had sacrificed so much to come so far weren't about to leave their fate to chance.
They had seen what worked in the past and they knew the secret of the talisman that had brought victory to every MLS team since 2005. That was the year when the Los Angeles Galaxy claimed the title. The Houston Dynamo then followed the same path to victory for two consecutive years.
Aware of the championship secret, the Crew complied with the sacrifice.
Many of the Columbus players stopped shaving.
It is a uniquely American tactic, borrowed from hockey, to not shave until one either loses or hoists the winning trophy. Midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who played for the Galaxy in 2005, maintained that he was the one who instigated the beard challenge to his teammates.
It worked out better for some than others. Landon Donovan's beard at the the day of the final match was patchy and slightly diseased-looking.
Hawaian-born Brian Ching's facial hair looked even more sparse in the years to come when Houston lifted the MLS Cup twice. It wasn't that Ching avoided the playoff beard burden, but he had a long way to go to match the Grizzly Adams look of his teammate Wade Barrett.
Considering that the playoff beard tradition began with the New York Islanders, it's interesting to note that it wasn't the New York team, the Red Bulls, who followed this example.
One can understand the reluctance. "It's itchy," said Crew winger Eddie Gaven. As if to underscore his point, his hand crept to his neck.
The inconvenience notwithstanding, the track record is clear. Since 2005, the team with more clean-shaven players in the MLS final has always lost.
Of course, the playoff beards scenario was a new one for Crew midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto. The Argentine was unmoved and didn't really try to participate in that aspect with his hirsute teammates. He couldn't argue with results, though, as the Crew did in fact win the MLS Cup.
After their triumph, the Crew players headed for the locker room. Some were celebrating. Others looked around immediately for a razor.
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com USA.