July 17, the MLS All-Stars lost a shocking 4-0 to Manchester United at Red Bull Arena in the worst loss and only shut-out in the event’s history. Criticism is raining down on the MLS and All-Stars coach Hans Backe for not heeding Manchester United’s portentious 7-0 blow-out of the Seattle Sounders and adjusting strategy for a more competitive game.
The result was not a surprise. “As far as running up the score, it may very well happen,” a Manchester United representative warned me the morning they kicked off their tour.
What went wrong
All-Star selections: The popular fan vote decided the First XI, dominated by LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls players likely due to skewed promotion. The fan vote included favorites Jack Jewsbury (Portland Timbers) and Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) who might be deserved heros in their individual markets, but not the most sophisticated choices to confront the Barclays EPL Champion.
Commissioner Don Garber made two good selections, Sporting Kansas City’s Omar Bravo and young U.S. Men’s National Team forward Juan Agudelo, but Backe only used Agudelo as his final substitution in the waning minutes, long after the damage had been done. Backe’s selections were the most questionable and overlooked Will Johnson, Luke Rodgers, Osvaldo Alonso, Kosuke Kimura, Dwayne De Rosario and Eric Hassli for American journeymen and goalkeeper Nick Rimando for Tally Hall.
The MLS players’ voting decided the final six inactive selections, some who should have been starters. A revised selection process including player votes in the gameday roster obviously would have improved the squad.
Among those selected, forward Brek Shea and keeper Kasey Keller were unavailable due to an FC Dallas-CCL game conflict and Rafa Marquez and Omar Gonzalez were sidelined with injuries. Landon Donovan’s late scratch due to injury cast a shadow over All-Star game because he is the ultimate American star and has no replacement.
At the last minute, Man U cut Mexican striker Javier Hernandez because of a mild concussion incurred in practice, but his fans suffered more than the scoreline.
The game plan: Backe compensated for his poor attacking selections by deploying a 4-3-3 formation and leaving gaps in the midfield that Man U flowed through like a river. The All-Stars’ best opportunity was an early long distance bomb from David Beckham with a clever set-up by Bravo, but otherwise they never seriously challenged goalkeepers Anders Lindegaard or Ben Amos.
The logistics: Backe had a mandate to use all his players through multiple substitutions although the All-Stars only had two practices amid a heavy mid-season schedule. Manchester United were deep into preseason and winding up for the July 30 match with rival Barcelona at FedEx Field. Sir Alex Ferguson gave advance notice that his starters would get 70 minutes to improve game fitness and Backe should have adjusted his changes accordingly to treat the match as a competitive event.
LA coach Bruce Arena had recently criticized the substitution policies for summer friendlies as benefiting the well-heeled foreign teams, but his suggestions for reduced subs had no effect.The All-Stars lost top defender Jamison Olave early on to injury, and Backe employed mass substitutions at the half plus others, eliminating any flow and chemistry to the temporary team.
Anderson opened the scoring in the 20th minute assisted by Wayne Rooney and Ji-Sung Park doubled the tally just before the half assisted by Patrice Evra. Dimitar Berbatov scored on a massive defensive breakdown in the 52nd minute and Danny Welback added insult to injury in the 68th minute, assisted by Anderson.
Surprisingly, American icon Kasey Keller made an unexpected appearance in the final minutes after a long international flight – the third MLS keeper of the game – but too late to make a difference.
Promotional value: This season, the AT&T MLS All-Star game was broadcast via ESPN International networks to over 39.3 million television homes in 104 countries and territories across the world. But in their televised post-game report, the BBC made no mention of any MLS player other than David Beckham, not even Thierry Henry, conveying that the game was no more meaningful than an MLS preseason match against a college team.
Given that the All-Star game is an American tradition and a good opportunity for positioning MLS talent with European stars, MLS should and could have given Manchester United a better run for the money. MLS has better talent than appeared on the field and with more planning, can play a more competitive game. Considering that Manchester United charges $2 million for each friendly appearance, MLS should be getting more bang for the buck.
MLS All-Stars international history
Year Score Guest Stadium Attendance
2003 All-Stars 3–1 Guadalajara HDC 27,000
2004 East 3–2 West RFK Stadium 21,378
2005 All-Stars 4–1 Fulham Crew Stadium 23,309
2006 All-Stars 1–0 Chelsea Toyota Park 21,210
2007 All-Stars 2–0 Celtic DSG Park 18,661
2008 All-Stars 3–2 West Ham BMO Field 20,844
2009 All-Stars 1–1* Everton Rio Tinto 20,124
2010 All-Stars 2–5 Man U Reliant 70,728
2011 All-Stars 0–4 Man U Red Bull 26,716
Click here for a photo gallery of the MLS All-Star-Manchester United event.
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