Having attended a few too many of these MLS All Star games in the past I’ve learned not to particularly care about the match. But last night’s game was probably the most entertaining All Star game since the MLS began playing top foreign clubs in 2003. Having attended the 2006 match against Chelsea which clearly was a match of a pre season English top flight team versus a bunch of players who had never played together, last night was a pleasant surprise. The most stunning thing was the chemistry between the MLS midfield, led by Shalrie Joseph who much like his role for New England set up the MLS attack, was confident on the ball, and as always broke up opposition attacks before they got to the back line.
The MLS backline was suspect. Given the current state of the US National Team should this surprise us? Sure Dean Ashton and Carlton Cole would be hands down the two best attacking players in MLS, but still that is no excuse considering in the past the MLS All Stars have held in check the likes of Didier Drogba in this match. Consider all four starting defenders last night were American, while all five starting midfielders were foreigners. In addition, this is the third consecutive all star game where no American player scored a goal. For an American league, that’s not a good sign.
Dwayne DeRosario’s performance a night after the debacle at RFK Stadium (a debacle I stayed up to the bitter end to watch) is further proof of why many feel he is the greatest player ever in the history of MLS. Along with names Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Landon Donovan, Carlos Valderrama, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman and Shalrie Joseph, DeRosario certainly belongs.
Christian Gomez looked less comfortable playing in a strange role thanks to all the talent in the MLS midfield. But he stepped up when had to and got a brilliant goal. Juan Toja who was likely playing his last game in MLS was also outstanding, showing not only good technique but an understand of positioning and never out of ideas in the final third. What is amazing is Toja has shown none of this during the troubled current FC Dallas campaign. David Beckham was outstanding no doubt as was Cuahatemoc Blanco who in a classy gesture allowed Beckham to take every free kick while they were both in the match.
I tend to agree with my American Soccer Show co-host Dave Denholm that these All Star games are a waste of time. But last night’s game seemed like a better event, simply because it was being played in Toronto.
Nonetheless, conceding two goals against a midtable EPL side even if both goals were completely against the run of play (and one a total fluke) isn’t a great sign. It again points to the fact that under the salary cap, MLS teams are spending far more money on midfielders and attacking players than defenders and that in addition the current pool of American players in MLS is weak. It will be even weaker if Landon Donovan moves abroad something he is now publically discussing and Pablo Mastroeni moves to Serie A, something that seems likely to happen in the near future. As MLS continues to depend on foreign players to prop up the league, more and more Americans are likely to go abroad to seek decent pay and a footballing challenge. This may not be all bad or it could be disastrous for both the league and the national team. Only time will tell on this front.