HARRISON, N.J. — The MLS All-Stars may have been on the wrong side of Wednesday night’s 4-0 drubbing by Manchester United, but a message was clearly sent to the English Premier League champions that the league is on the rise.
Last year at Reliant Stadium, the All-Stars lost to this same Manchester United team by a 5-2 scoreline. That match was the first-ever loss by the All-Stars in international competition and the players on that MLS squad said, as a whole, they performed poorly despite squaring off against a team that went on to top the EPL table and advance to the Champions League final.
And while Wednesday night produced a shutout for the All-Star side, this wasn't the rollover effort the score might suggest. During much of the first half, the MLS side looked like the more organized and ambitious team.
“Probably one of the few times I could say that losing 4-0, I was pleased with the performance,” MLS All-Star head coach Hans Backe told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “First half, very even. The difference is the final third. They’re a little bit sharper, they should be sharper.”
While Manchester United had their moments in building a 2-0 lead heading into halftime, the All-Stars held the edge in possession and created more chances than the visitors.
“I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson at the game and he told us we played,” All-Star forward Thierry Henry said. “We lost 4-0 at the end of the day and 4-0 is 4-0, but we played some decent stuff in the first half. I know also they are in preseason, you've got to mention that also. I also know we had only one day to prepare the game, but I also thought we had some good moves and that’s just the way it is.”
The addition of Henry to the All-Star squad—plus David Beckham, who was injured last season and missed the match against his old team—helped provide the All-Stars a spark despite the lack of goals.
Part of the reason for the offensive sputters is the fact that the All-Stars had just two training sessions together leading up to a game against a club which trains and plays as a unit for the majority of the year. Last year’s MVP of the All-Star Game—Manchester United’s Federico Macheda who scored a brace in his club’s 2010 win—saw the effect of Beckham and Henry on the match.
“They have tonight Beckham and Henry, so it was better,” Macheda told MLSsoccer.com. “Last year was a good team, too, but tonight a little better.”
An important factor for the All-Stars in their approach to the game was that, playing before a national audience, they were acting as league ambassadors. Henry said his teammates for a day wanted to play the right type of soccer and not just grind out an ugly result.
“It was kind of weird, we could have sat in front of the box, but we wanted to play," he said. "We did, we played well. When you play a match against Manchester United, when they have a chance to score, they score.”
Perhaps there is no better testament to the play of the All-Stars than Ferguson’s display along the bench as he watched his Man. United side concede possession and get outplayed for stretches of the first half. The usually stoical Scotsman was up off the bench frequently, hands on his hips and chewing his gum hard as he watched the MLS All-Stars go close to scoring several times. Henry had a good chance in front of goal, as did Omar Cummings, in addition to Beckham going close twice in the first half and once more in the game’s final minutes.
“I thought they were better than last year,” Ferguson said. “In the first half, they did very well, they could have scored two or three goals. [Our] goalkeeper made two or three good saves.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer