BEAVERTON, Ore. – The All-Star Game is serious business.
OK, maybe they’re not treating it like a World Cup match against Germany, but the MLS All-Stars made it clear on that there’s still plenty to play for in Wednesday’s match against Bayern Munich, even if it’s not necessarily a win.
“I think it’s very important, purely because of the fact of giving back to the fans, and at the same time testing out the quality of the league,” New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill told reporters after the All-Stars got together for their first training session on Monday.
“I feel if you want to grow as a league, you really have to represent it on an international level playing against one of the best teams in the world and great caliber. For me, it’s all about playing football against the best and this is the opportunity.”
Even so, it will be hard to see this game, or any All-Star Game, as a defining referendum on the quality of the league, or even that of the All-Stars’ opponents.
The Caleb Porter-coached All-Stars will have just two training sessions together before Wednesday's match (9:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMas, TSN, RDS). Bayern are still very much in preseason, and will only welcome back their seven German World Cup winners and Dutch winger Arjen Robben on Tuesday. Bayern head coach Pep Guardiola said in his press conference on Monday that those eight players would see very little, if any time on the field on Wednesday, “no more than 15 minutes.”
“The reality of the day is that it’s still a friendly and a Bayern Munich team that’s still in preseason and a group of guys coming together for only a day or two from a lot of different clubs,” Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley said after training.
“But after you sift through it all, there’s no doubt when you play a club like Bayern Munich that has such a reputation worldwide of being year in and year out one of the best teams in the world, it’s important to take our chances and step on the field and take the game the right way and show that football in our country continues to get better and better.”
Bradley and Cahill made it clear that they want to represent the league well and much of the onus on making that happen will ultimately fall on the players, but Portland Timbers and All-Stars head coach Porter is in charge of putting it all together, and it’s not easy.
“You asked … how you get a team together in a couple of days, and you don’t. The best thing you can do is keep it simple.” Porter said at his Monday press conference. “I want these players to go back to their clubs healthy.”
And ultimately, showcasing the league’s best talent may not necessitate playing for the win against one of club soccer’s best teams.
“It’s a celebration of these players, their careers,” Porter added. “Hopefully we can make it a competitive game and try to make it exciting with a lot of good attacking players, and we’re going to attack and make it an exciting game.”