PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s every MLS coach’s worst nightmare come All-Star time: Release your player for the league’s signature midsummer event, helplessly watch him suffer an untimely injury while under another coach’s watch.
It’s a worst-case scenario for any team involved in the stretch run of the MLS season, and it happens more often than anyone would like – especially in recent years when the MLS All-Stars are trying to put on a good performance against a European powerhouse.
Graham Zusi, Aurelien Collin and Jámison Olave each suffered a significant injury in the past three All-Star Games, respectively, and each player was forced to the sideline for their club team during the stretch run of the season, missing crucial minutes in the hunt for the MLS Cup playoffs.
That’s on the minds, to some degree, of the players involved in Wednesday’s match vs. Bayern Munich at Providence Park (9:30 pm ET, ESPN2, UniMas, TSN/RDS).
“You’ve got to be smart,” Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando told MLSsoccer.com at All-Star training on Tuesday. “You want to go out there and put the best product on the field and show well and do what you can, but at the same time, nobody wants to get hurt. Nobody wants to get injured and everybody wants to be available for their teams come Saturday.”
The balancing act facing Caleb Porter is even tougher than just making sure the MLS All-Stars account well for themselves against the two-time defending Bundesliga champions.
The Portland Timbers head coach needs to manage the game itself, of course, against a team of World Cup champions and world superstars. But he also has to deal with the fact that there is a full slate of games this weekend for all but one MLS team.
Porter has said he plans on giving players on his squad no more than 45 minutes (much to the chagrin, perhaps, of Collin, who told MLSsoccer.com he prefers to go the full 90) and admitted he has a tough balancing act to walk on Wednesday night.
That challenge is not lost on the players, says Landon Donovan, who, with his LA Galaxy hosting San Jose on Friday night, has the quickest turnaround of any All-Star player
“Caleb’s got an incredibly hard job,” Donovan told reporters on Tuesday. “Who do you put on the field and when? How do you manage minutes? Every coach has called him in the last week and said, ‘Don’t play my players too many minutes [because] we have a game on the weekend.’”
So is it better to put on a display against imposing Bayern Munich in front of an international TV audience, perhaps risking injuries to do so? Or keep an eye on the MLS regular-season schedule and conserve your body?
For Portland midfielder Will Johnson, his own club conundrum won’t change the way he approaches Wednesday’s game.
“I’m representing Major League Soccer and myself in a game,” the Timbers captain told reporters on Tuesday. “If you get hurt, you get hurt. I don’t worry about that too much, but that’s obviously one part people don’t like too much.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.