Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The MLS All-Star Game

(Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images North America)

I realize it may be a bit of a guilty pleasure, but I love All-Star Games. I really do. Except for the Pro Bowl. I dislike it for the sheer fact that they call it a "bowl" and not a "game." Well that, and the fact that nearly every first-ballot Pro Bowler seems to not really care about it. If they don't care, why should I, right?

In any event, this isn't about the Pro Bowl. Or the Professional Bowlers Association. No, it's about the MLS All-Star Game, and it's about how much this little exhibition's grown on me over the years.

The first MLS midsummer classic I witnessed was the 2006 edition when the MLSers took on Chelsea at the spiffy new Toyota Park. Maybe it was the the way MLS's vibrant red kits contrasted with Chelsea's glowing blues. Then again, maybe it was the back and forth of a well-played game. Maybe it was both. In hindsight, it one of the first instances that I knew, absolutely knew, that this love affair with soccer was just completely undeniable, and totally not worth fighting against.

Anywho, to see the home side really battle the Blues, and for Eddie Robinson to sweep away that Frank Lampard ball millimeters from the line and for Dwayne DeRosario to blast that ball by Carlo Cudicini with twenty minutes to go totally took me back to my childhood. It reminded me of watching the MLB All-Star games as kid. It took me back to the first MLB All-Star games I watched in my parents' living room on the old 22" Zenith.* It was brilliant, magical, and completely amazing. If that makes me pathetic, then circle me Heidi Montag.

(*The first one I remember - vaguely - was the '88 All-Star game which, sadly, I had to google to figure out where it was held. I thought it was Oakland. Nope. It was Cincy. Oakland was '87. I remember Wade Boggs played in it. And that's just about all.

The first one I vividly remember was the '92 game at Jack Murphy Stadium because Tom Glavine got rocked in the first inning, giving up four runs, and there was a tornado warning in Providence County that night. Crazy night all around. I was 11.)

Ever since then, MLS All-Star games have always afforded me to the wonderful opportunity every summer to indulge in that feeling; the feeling of being 11 again. And it's more than just the idea of gathering up the best of the best to face foreign competition.

That 2006 game brought a powerhouse. You couldn't ask for a better Best XI match. The following year, it was Celtic, and we were granted another exciting match. I still remember Juan Toja with what appeared to be a dead animal affixed to his head scoring that second goal moments before the half. I have no idea why remember that one more than Juan Pablo Angel's. I think it was the mullet. Yeah, it was definitely the mullet.

As far as exhibition games go, you really can't do much better than an MLS All-Star match. Even in 2008, when the less impressive West Ham showed up, the goalfest that ensued was pure entertainment, and the crowd at BMO Field was obviously pleased.

And who could forget last year's 1-1 classic that went to PKs against Everton? I mean, seriously, what have we done to deserve this kind of theater? I can't remember a better, start-to-finish All-Star game ever. Not even the 2008 MLB All-Star Game - which, by far, has been the most exciting in recent memory - could top it. And who'da thunk that Tim Howard, the former MetroStar made good, would win MVP? If you didn't like that game, then you must not like soccer, Mom, or apple pie.

Looking back those previous matches, you could totally build up on tonight's classic without mention of Manchester United. Yeah, they're a pretty decent team. Alex Ferguson? He's a pretty good manager. I've heard they've won a few trophies across the pond. But even without all the glitz and glamour that surrounds them, this would still promise to be another blockbuster. You have to think that even if they brought in Preston North End or Plymouth Argyle, somehow, it would still make for a heck of a match.

That's why I love the MLS All-Star game. Sure, it's great that the league's best get showcased and honored and get to wear those cool AT&T jerseys on national television and all. And they deserve it. Most of all, though, it's a two-hour thrillride that shines the spotlight on some of the best soccer you'll see all year long. Quite frankly, what more could you ask for?*

(*Besides bikini-clad Chivas Girls and a Lady GaGa halftime show. That GaGa performance would be awesome, though. All she'd need is a bedazzled Donovan jersey, an oversized pair of sunglasses, and a seven-second delay. Make it so, Don Garber.)

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