Battle of the beards

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
6:51
PM ET

TORONTO -- He stroked his beard pensively. Yes, Matt Pickens was sure. His Colorado Rapids have their MLS Cup final opponents, FC Dallas, soundly out-bearded tonight.

"Mine's a playoff beard on top of a regular beard," he said. "I started [the goatee] before I started the beard, so that's the reason it's a little bit longer. I branched out." Upon inspection, his masterwork of facial follicles was indeed biased toward his chin.

"I've always had some facial hair and decided to just let it roll and whatever happens, happens," Pickens said. You'd think he was talking about playing roulette.

Yet his facial hair is anything but a gamble. Rather, it's playing it safe. Because nothing inspires confidence like leaving facial hair unmolested during the playoffs. His Rapids are in the MLS Cup final, after all. "And now I have to keep it for a while," said Pickens. "That's just how it is."

To Pickens' left in the BMO Field concourse stood lovable Japanese right back Kosuke Kimura, his own patchy fur adorning his jawline.

"I tried to shave it for a long time because it's getting itchy, but these guys are saying, 'Kosuke, you can't shave it! You can't shave it until the playoffs are over!'" Kimura said. "My dad was joking around, too. I was talking to him on Skype and he's like, 'Kosuke, what happened to your beard?' He said, 'Oh, man. That looks nasty.' But I just have to do it for the team."

Pickens worries for his teammate's whiskers, and isn't sure the Kimura senior will tolerate them. "His parents from Japan are coming and if his dad says one word about it, it's off."

The results, of course, could be calamitous.

Luckily, several more Rapids are sporting facial hair. "We've got some guys on board," said Pickens. "It's a little camaraderie thing. It's working for us."

It's working so well, in fact, that if facial hair plays any factor on a cold final night in Toronto, the Rapids have their win against FC Dallas in the bag, reckoned Pickens. "I think my beard could probably take on maybe four or five of theirs. I would say with the whole team, we're probably pushing a foot, because I'm about 6 inches of it," he said.

FC Dallas isn't so sure.

According to midfield dynamo Dax McCarty, any beard-off would go to his club. "For sure," he said confidently, his own sparsely scattered chin hairs whipping defiantly in the breeze. "We've got some good ones on our team. I think we've got 'em."

The chief weapon for Dallas is Heath Pearce's mustache.

"The Pearce mustache is something special," said McCarty. "It's got a mind of its own. It's pretty thick. I think he's trying to bring back that '70s style."

Pearce explained: "I had the playoff beard going into this week and had made a few promises that if we made it to the MLS Cup, I'd bring the mustache back."

He doesn't see much on-field value in the communal beard-growing contest. Yet he appreciates its locker room merits. "It's awesome," he said. "You get to see guys in a different light. We've got a lot of clean-cut guys and to see them really buy into something with the team -- it's not so much a superstitious thing, but just for cohesion. It's brought us closer together and brought some laughs to the group and really made us a better group of friends, which make us better teammates."

Besides, he said, Colorado has an unfair advantage anyway. "There's something about cold-weather climates that makes beards grow."

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.

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