Ashton and West Ham Show Flashes of What Can Be
Blanco and Beckham from MLSNET.com Last night’s MLS All Star game from BMO Field in Toronto was an outstanding show for fans of the beautiful game in the United States. One of only two MLS matches all season carried by both ESPN/ABC and Spanish language Telefutura, viewers like myself disgusted with ESPN’s presentation and story telling opted to change to channels. Irrespective of what channel the match was viewed on, one thing was perfectly clear: West Ham United’s attack exposed the weakness of defending in Major League Soccer, and showed what can be for the Hammers in the upcoming Premier League season.It’s no small irony that all four starting defenders for the MLS side were American, while all five starting midfielders who quite frankly dominated the match and the run of play were not Americans. This demonstrated a growing trend in Major League Soccer where clubs fill up their foreign player slots with attacking players while leaving Americans, generally less costly to fill out the squad as reserves or on the back line. What West Ham United did last night was show how poorly American defenders understand football. In addition, this all star match was the third consecutive year a British side, despite losing the match, held an American without a goal. In other words every goal scored at the MLS All Star match the past three years be it for MLS or its opposition has been scored by a non-American. So perhaps, the Premier League is not the league on the planet most dependent on foreign players for its success.I attended the All Star game two years ago when the MLS All Stars defeated Chelsea. In that match, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard both coming off frustrating World Cup campaigns and less than a week away from the Community Shield match against Liverpool did not challenge the MLS defenders the way Carlton Cole and Dean Ashton did last night. This was the first case of above average EPL players who were motivated going up against MLS defenders in a match that had more atmosphere than your average pre season friendly.Ashton in particular was outstanding. As noted earlier the MLS side controlled the flow of play thanks to having two world class players, David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco in a midfield with MLS standouts Shalrie Joseph, Juan Toja and Christian Gomez. Knowing that the MLS was going to control the match and wanting a result, Alan Curbishley had his team play an aggressive and effective counter attacking game, depending on some outstanding long balls from Callum Davenport and Luis Boa Morte when he entered the match against a high MLS line to succeed. In this game plan, Hayden Mullins and Matthew Etherington also played a key role.Alan Curbishley is a good manager. We’ve seen this with Charlton and at times with West Ham. Almost two years ago on this website I stated that Alan Pardew had been hard done by the new West Ham management and that his sacking was unjustified. Now I see the error in that view. While Pardew was able to get the Hammers back to the Premier League and a good finish in the 2005-2006 EPL season, he isn’t the type of manager with the vision or understanding of English Football that Alan Curbishley posses.Last night we saw exactly how the Hammers will try and play against similar sides in the EPL who posses a strong midfield but are prone to leaking goals. Those sides, no offense to anyone include Liverpool and Arsenal. Curbishley has a healthy Dean Ashton which is good news for not only the Hammers but for England as well as Carlton Cole, a player Chelsea perhaps never should have given up on. In addition, West Ham played a better match against a better MLS All Star team than any previous British side had played against weaker MLS All Star teams. As noted above Chelsea lost to a weakened MLS All Star team that was missing five of the ” MLS starting XI” two years ago due to injuries and other issues. Additionally, Celtic and Fulham have both been run off the pitch early in the match in recent MLS All Star games that did not include Beckham or Blanco. All in all West Ham’s performance was credit to the club and perhaps a sign of a side that can contend for a European place this year.