Armchair Analyst: Best All-Star Game ever? Bad blood, great goals, and bon voyage to a legend
Best All-Star game ever? We had a legend's farewell, coaches sharing words but no handshakes, two golazos and another entry in the "Landon Donovan Understands the Moment" annals.
Here are some thoughts from a 2-1 win for the MLS All-Stars over Bayern Munich:
1. Getting the Best Chance
Even with all of the above, and even with a game played at an unusual level of intensity thanks to some rough early challenges from Tim Cahill, and late challenges from Ozzie Alonso and Will Johnson, this result is insignificant.
Hold on a sec:
Osvaldo Alonso gets a YELLOW CARD IN A FRIENDLY. DRINK. #MLSAllStar
— Dan Dickinson (@GothamistDan) August 7, 2014
It's still a friendly, it's still a team in preseason shape (Bayern) vs. a team that's had two training sessions together (MLS All-Stars). It doesn't validate MLS anymore than last year's destruction at the hands of AS Roma invalidates the league. Any narrative that says otherwise is just hot take silliness.
Game should be fun but no US Soccer litmus test. Elite club in pre-season form should comfortably beat AllStar Team training together twice
— roger bennett (@rogbennett) August 7, 2014
Now that the above caveat is out of the way: Credit to Caleb Porter for getting the formations and tactics right in this one. He played a pretty standard 4-4-2 in each half, relying on banks of four defensively and quick breakouts in transition. He also made sure to pair teammates together – Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin in the heart of the defense for the first 45 with Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin on the right side of the defense for the second 45. Bayern still created some good chances, and both Nick Rimando and Bill Hamid had to make some great saves, but neither was under siege in a "Howard vs. Belgium" kind of way.
This is the only goal that beat MLS on the night, and it had everything to do with Robert Lewandowski being a boss and little to do with any kind of defensive frailty typically found in these games.
As insignificant as the result is – and again, don't read too much into it – the players on both teams want to win. They're pros, and they're competitors, and they get paid to go out there and beat the guy standing across the white line from them.
Porter gave his team the best chance to do that.
2. Landon's Sense of the Moment
Remember what happened the game after Donovan was cut from the USMNT? He went out and scored a brace against the Philadelphia Union, moving him alone atop the list of all-time MLS scoring leaders. There were a lot of great reactions to that game, but the best came from Herculez Gomez – a guy who's played with Donovan in MLS Cups, World Cups and awful midweek regular-season matchups in front of mostly empty stadiums.
"As if there was any doubt," Gomez tweeted.
That's the level Donovan's at when it comes to nationally televised "event" games. He's scored the winning goal in three of his five MLS Cups, he's scored in the Confederations Cup final, and he's scored in five of his 12 World Cup games. He just seems to elevate his game when people are watching.
In this case, he was probably pretty certain Jurgen Klinsmann was watching, and he definitely knew Bayern Munich fans – who lustily booed him pregame – were watching.
So when he scored the game-winner past Manuel Neuer in the 70th minute, it came as no surprise to anyone who's watched Donovan's career. And it also came as no surprise that he decided to go celebrate in front of the Bayern section.
Then Porter subbed him off. It was almost as if Donovan had said, "I'm just going to play 'til I score, then I'm done – got to beat the Quakes in two days, because folks are going to be watching that one, too."
Donovan did his whole Keyser Soze thing. Came in.. scored.. "And like that...He's gone."
— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) August 7, 2014
Of course, it's never as easy as it looks in hindsight. But again we have to give Porter credit here for getting his team right tactically. He had Donovan inverted on the left flank with Diego Valeri – naturally a central player – out wide on the right. And Valeri stayed there, creating 2-v-1 and even 3-v-1 flank overloads that Bayern simply didn't adjust to.
When flank overloads happen and wingbacks in the 3-5-2 get overwhelmed, that forces the strong-side central defender to come out and meet the threat. With the middle central defender usually occupied by the center forward, that leaves a smart, weak-side attacker isolated on the back post.
This is exactly where Donovan got his goal from. The 4-4-2 traditionally kills the 3-5-2 and 5-3-2, by the way. Good bet that Porter, Donovan and Valeri had discussed this very scenario.
3. Bon Voyage, Titi
Henry is just different level
— Amobi Okugo (@amobisays) August 7, 2014
I've been loud and obnoxious about not liking the format of the All-Star Game, and I still don't. But I just got to stand and applaud as Thierry Henry – one of the 25 or so greatest players of all-time – did a farewell lap around Providence Park. I wasn't the only one showing my appreciation, as I was just one of 20,000 recognizing Henry for his elegance, greatness and ability to turn even the most mundane moments of our game into artistic exercises.
This video's from when he left the game, in the 47th minute. It's goosebumps for me:
These were fans of the Portland Timbers and Bayern Munich, for the most part. And probably a good number of USMNT fans – casuals who have yet to develop a club affinity, but eat up the World Cup every four years. So it wasn't a group that had any special reason to appreciate Henry. But there they were, showing one of the game's all-time legends love on an epic scale.
Some bowed, some just chanted his name over and over, and some got a little bit misty.
There seems to be some momentum for changing the format of the All-Star Game next year, so Henry's farewell could be the last act for this era of touring European giants.
If that's the case, then it couldn't have been scripted better. He deserved every plaudit thrown his way tonight, and everybody who cares about the game needs to appreciate the next three months, because it looks like they'll be Henry's last.
I don't think I've ever said this about an MLS player: I hope Henry gives #MLS fans enough time to send him off properly.
— Pablo Maurer (@MLSist) August 7, 2014
A few more things to ponder...
4. Porter will not be getting a Christmas card from Pep Guardiola or anyone on the Bayern staff:
Wow. Bayern coaches refuse to shake Caleb Porter's hand after the match #MLSAllStar
— Simon Borg (@SimonBorg) August 7, 2014
Pep said in the press conference afterward that he wanted "revenge," and hoped that they'd be invited back for another shot at the All-Stars. Both teams should bring extra shinguards for that one, if it happens.
3. Julian Green got the second-biggest round of applause on the night, behind only Henry. The 19-year-old winger didn't do much in his time on the field, and doesn't yet look as sharp and dangerous as you'd want from a guy competing for first-team minutes at one of the world's great clubs. I'd expect to see him get loaned out.
2. Henry was the best player on the field for the first half, but Nick Rimando was right there with him:
Very entertaining 1st half of an all-star game My expert analysis is that @NickRimando is a very good GK and Lewandowski is a very good fwd
— Chris Wondolowski (@ChrisWondo) August 7, 2014
Hey @NickRimando, you are really good at playing goalie.
— Brad Davis (@Brad_Davis11) August 7, 2014
As I said above, Rimando wasn't under siege throughout. But he came up huge several times, was quick off his line and produced one eye-popping save against Xherdan Shaqiri that would be up for Save of the Week if it happened in a real game.
1. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored a golazo of an equalizer, which came off a flick from Cubo Torres:
One of the things I love best about MLS is that it's not only the league of guys like Henry and Donovan, or Valeri and Clint Dempsey: I love the fact that this is a league where reclamation projects become All-Stars. Nobody was going to give Wright-Phillips the stage in England despite years of consistent goalscoring, and Cubo at age 20 was already considered a bust for Chivas Guadalajara.
But they've come here and become indispensible parts of their respective teams, and they earned their time in the spotlight.