The nation's capital played host to a grand celebration of American soccer Saturday, as a pair of goals from MetroStars midfielder Amado Guevara led the Eastern Conference to a 3-2 victory against the Western Conference in the ninth annual Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game at sunny RFK Stadium.
Guevara was named the game's Honda Most Valuable Player after hitting for goals two minutes apart in the first half as the East took a 2-1 lead into the intermission, then he set up United's own Alecko Eskandarian for the third before the West pulled back a late goal.
The MLS All-Star Game paid tribute to the league's past, present and future as youngsters like Freddy Adu and Eddie Gaven shared the field with seasoned pros like Jason Kreis, Jaime Moreno and Jeff Agoos. Earlier in the day, a Celebration Game marked the 10th anniversary of World Cup 1994 with a star-studded lineup of veterans from that year's U.S. national team taking on a squad of world All-Stars.
In the main event, things heated up quickly as Frankie Hejduk's shot forced a tipover from West goalkeeper Pat Onstad in the fourth minute, earning the game's first corner kick. He was at it again two minutes later, combining with Moreno and surging to the endline, forcing Cory Gibbs to block the Columbus star's cross out for another corner.
In the 12th minute, Carlos Ruiz charged at the East defense before laying off to Ronnie O'Brien on the right wing, whose first-time cross was headed over the bar by big striker Brian Ching.
Guevara then opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a low drive from the top of the 18-yard box. Receiving a square ball from Ralph with his back to goal, Guevara was surprised to find no one marking him, so he turned and fired into the right corner past Onstad, who was hampered by a deflection on the shot.
Moments later, Ralph saw Dema Kovalenko streaking down the left side, and he hit a well-placed long ball into the D.C. United midfielder's stride. Kovalenko cut back on O'Brien at the corner of the box, and the former Irish youth international was judged to have held back Kovalenko. Referee Michael Kennedy did not hesitate in pointing to the spot, and Guevara placed the penalty kick to Onstad's right for a quick double.
O'Brien was victimized again by Kovalenko moments later when he broke free in the East box and smoothly cut around Chicago Fire 'keeper Henry Ring. But what should have been an easy finish into an empty net was cleared off the line by a back-tracking Kovalenko.
Showing startling quickness in the 33rd minute, Chicago's Damani Ralph blew by L.A.'s Chris Albright at the top of the West box and fired a blistering shot towards the near post, but Onstad's kick save denied him the goal.
In the 39th minute, a well-struck through ball by Chicago's Chris Armas, looking authoritative in his trademark holding midfield role, released Ralph behind the West defense, but Onstad's tall, sprawling frame prevented him from finishing the one-on-one chance.
Finally, the West equalized in the 44th minute. After an impressive possession by Landon Donovan and Ruiz in tight space at the top of the East box, Richard Mulrooney floated out to the right side and sent in a curling service that San Jose teammate Ching rose powerfully to head home. Ching undoubtedly earned extra cheers in his home state by pulling off his jersey to reveal an undershirt emblazoned with "Hawaiian Superman."
In the keeping with All-Star tradition, both coaches made wholesale changes for the second half, emptying their benches to give every player their moment in the sun. Of course, some of the All-Stars might have wished for a bit less of that sun, as the temperature rose and the game's pace slowed. Teen phenom Adu received the loudest greeting from his hometown crowd, with the 21,378 spectators on hand cheering his every move.
Dallas Burn veteran Kreis almost leveled the score in the 53rd minute when he whipped in a curling free kick from distance, forcing Columbus Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch to tip the ball away from the upper corner.
In the 58th minute, New England's Steve Ralston found acres of space on the right flank and looked to connect with Adu in the box, but to the crowd's dismay, West 'keeper Kevin Hartman broke up the play. Guevara then hit a precisely weighted through ball to spring Pat Noonan in the West penalty box, but his low shot from a tight angle was well saved by Hartman.
Adu wowed the spectators with some dazzling stepovers in the 70th minute, bewitching Kansas City's Jimmy Conrad before letting loose a curling left-footed shot that skimmed wide of the far post.
Eskandarian was one of the more lively participants on his own field in a sedate second half, and his efforts were rewarded in the 75th minute. The second-year striker received a pass from Guevara after a nifty combination of passes just inside the West box and slotted a confident finish into the right side netting, restoring the East's two-goal lead.
The game wound down to a laid-back pace as mid-season fatigue made itself felt in the hot D.C. climate, though Hartman roused the crowd as he cleared a through pass with a flashy diving header of a cross played across the top of the box.
Eskandarian almost netted a second in the 88th minute when Adu chipped a lovely pass into his path, but his near post shot was just wide.
Action immediately flowed to the opposite end of the field, where Donovan set up Kreis for a jaw-dropping bullet into the upper corner of Busch's goal, bringing the tally to 3-2. The goal was a well-deserved reward for Kreis, one of MLS's classiest professionals who broke the career league scoring record earlier in the season, and a fitting cap to an entertaining match.
Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game MVP Presented by Honda: Amado Guevara (MetroStars)
EST -- Amado Guevara 1 (Damani Ralph 1) 20
EST -- Amado Guevara 2 (penalty kick) 22
WST -- Brian Ching 1 (Richard Mulrooney 1, Landon Donovan 1) 43
EST -- Alecko Eskandarian 1 (Amado Guevara 1, Shalrie Joseph 1) 74
WST -- Jason Kreis 1 (Landon Donovan ) 89
WEST -- Pat Onstad (Kevin Hartman 47); Cory Gibbs (Kerry Zavagnin 47), Chris Albright, Andreas Herzog (Jovan Kirovski 47), Ronnie O'Brien (Richard Mulrooney re-enters 73), Richard Mulrooney (Chris Klein 47), Landon Donovan, Jeff Agoos (Cory Gibbs re-enters 74), Carlos Ruiz (Brian Ching re-enters 73), Jimmy Conrad, Brian Ching (Jason Kreis 47)
TOTAL SHOTS: 17 (Ronnie O'Brien 4, Brian Ching 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 8 (Jason Kreis 3); FOULS: 1 (Ronnie O'Brien 1); OFFSIDES: 3 (Jovan Kirovski 2); CORNER KICKS: 3 (three with 1); SAVES: 6 (Kevin Hartman 4)
EAST -- Henry Ring (Jon Busch 46); Frankie Hejduk; Robin Fraser; Damani Ralph (Freddy Adu 46); Chris Armas (Shalrie Joseph 46); Amado Guevara (Eddie Gaven re-enters 81); Dema Kovalenko; Eddie Pope (Pat Noonan 46); Eddie Gaven (Steve Ralston 46); Jim Curtin; Jaime Moreno (Alecko Eskandarian 46)
TOTAL SHOTS: 16 (Amado Guevara 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Amado Guevara 2); FOULS: 3 (Eddie Gaven 2); OFFSIDES: 3 (three with 1); CORNER KICKS: 5 (Amado Guevara 5); SAVES: 5 (Jon Busch 3)
Referee: Michael Kennedy
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry; Thomas Supple
4th Official: Abbey Okulaja
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.