Debate the meaning, debate the significance, debate the need all you want. The MLS All-Star Game garnered plenty of fine moments, and it was especially pleasing if you are a fan of the comeback.
It’s a friendly, of course. If you decided to put on baseball game #97 of 162 to find a contest of meaning, so be it. This was about exhibition, allowing for an indeterminate segment of America to see what the best players in MLS could do if they all joined as one team – except they had minimal training time together. The fact they were able to forge a victory from this match is the lesser story. What instead stands out is how it happened.
And that brings us back to the concept of “comeback.” We don’t intend to downplay the contributions of players like Chris Wondolowski (who scored the opener), Thierry Henry (who got the assist on that goal), or Landon Donovan, but the real action happened after halftime when many of those players had been called to the bench. The MLS All-Stars were down 2-1 at that point in the second half, after Frank Lampard drilled home a cross that eluded Dan Kennedy. The home side stormed back.
Individually, the comeback theme manifested in the two gentlemen who earned the tallies which turned the game around for the MLS representatives. The equalizer was deposited in the 73rd minute by Chris Pontius, who returned to DC United this year after a devastating leg break. David Beckham opened up space for Dwayne DeRosario down the left with a beautiful long through. DeRo crossed to his DC teammate Pontius, who was trailing the run, and he beat Hilario. It wasn’t his most spectacular goal, but it exemplifies his development as a player. His performance earned him the Most Valuable Player award, as voted by the media.
Just when it looked like penalties would be needed to decide the match, Eddie Johnson, a guy who struggled to duplicate his success in MLS overseas, hit lucky for the game winner. Kyle Beckerman played a quick one-touch pass through to Johnson, who crossed up David Luiz. His shot smacked off Luiz and over Hilario for the game winner. The ball could have gone anywhere off the Chelsea defender’s leg, but it ended up in goal, and Major League Soccer won their first All-Star Game since 2008 when they defeated West Ham United by the same score.
If you wanted to look for another possible comeback story, Jay DeMerit played the full 90 minutes, and well at that. DeMerit has been one of the more unsung heroes for club and country in recent years. After the disappointing loss to Ghana at the 2010 World Cup, DeMerit has not figured into the U.S National Team picture. Maybe this prime time, high visibility friendly will give Jurgen Klinsmann cause to reconsider the former Watford captain for his squad during the 2014 World Cup Qualifying run.
There were only two downsides to the match, and they were related. The first was an injury to Aurelien Collin, one of the top defenders in the league. Sporting Kansas City will be forced to be without Collin for a couple of weeks while he recovers from a couple of broken bones in his face. It was this injury that forced Coach Ben Olsen into using DeMerit for the full 90 minutes. With his club the Whitecaps playing a match Friday night, it’s unclear if DeMerit will be ready to start as they visit Real Salt Lake, a big match between the second and third place teams in the West. With Chelsea being able to name 10 players to their bench (and they used their entire bench), it seems like a raw deal that the MLS team carried only 8 bench players, forcing DeMerit into extended duty. With many teams lacking representation, the additional bench space could have ameliorated both sore spots.
And so what can we gain from this friendly? Not a whole lot. We don’t need to browbeat and shove any ideological point down your throat here. Chelsea wanted fitness, and MLS wanted an entertaining match. The net result was a positive for both squads. Now let’s get back to the regular season, shall we?