The more things change, the more they stay the same. That idiom was never truer than on Saturday at RFK Stadium as the MLS USA Legends and the MLS World Legends played to a 2-2 draw in the Celebration Game that preceded the 2004 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game.
World Legends coach Bruce Arena, now manager of the U.S. national team, took to the sidelines at RFK just as he did in the inaugural MLS season in 1996 when he led D.C. United to the first of their three MLS Cups. In the other coach's box was Bora Milutinovic. He led the MLS USA Legends, comprised of the same players he coached to an historic second-round appearance against Brazil in the 1994 World Cup.
MLSnet.com's own Eric Wynalda buzzed around up top, wreaking havoc on the opposing defense and taking advantage of the chance he had to find the net. Tony Meola pulled out amazing saves to keep the USA Legends in the game and a defense led by Alexi Lalas shut down many of the attacks that came their way.
"It was an exhilarating, humbling, exciting and, at times, even depressing 50 minutes," said Lalas. The man who now serves as general manager of the San Jose Earthquakes pondered the differences being lacing up his boots and sliding on his loafers.
"At least I can look up at the clock and know when this one ends," he said. "I have certainly gone into a job that affords me as much, if not more of a challenge than anything I ever did on the soccer field. And because of that, I rarely have the itch to get back on the field."
On the other side of the field the quick touches and clever back-heels highlighted what exactly it was that these great foreign talents brought to MLS and helped to teach the younger players in the league. Marco Etcheverry helped create the tying-goal with a beautiful back-heel pass that was reminiscent of so many of his creative moments wearing the Black-and-Red for D.C.
"I felt two different things," the former Bolivian international said. "I am so happy to play again but I'm a little sad because I will not get to play again in this stadium. The United fans are unbelievable."
Carlos Valderrama patrolled the center of the park, with the bulk of the offense running directly through his feet. Raul Diaz Arce returned to his former stadium to net the World team's first goal, while Jorge Campos made plays on both ends of the field, despite being a goalkeeper.
Campos saved a Tab Ramos penalty kick and helped set up the World's second goal as he ventured all the way to the other endline to get into the attack. Not bad for a man who recently retired and has taken on an assistant coaching position with the Mexican national team.
"I never got near him, but if he got close I would have tried to tackle him," said U.S. defender Marcelo Balboa. "You knew he was going to come, that's his trademark, you just didn't know when. He waited until the end, but it was great. The fans really enjoyed it."
The hot D.C. sun took its toll on the players, but seeing so many MLS greats -- both U.S.-born and foreign -- reminded the fans at RFK Stadium and those watching live on MLSnet.com that without their early contributions Major League Soccer would probably not have come so far so fast.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.