Love it or hate it, the (Sierra Mist) MLS All-Star Game is almost upon us once again. I've seen all but one (you'll see why I missed one) and have many fond memories. Through the years, I've written my fair share of criticism on the game, it's many formats, it's lack of defense, etc. But every year I also see a lot of smiling faces in the stands ... and then I wonder why I'm so negative. So, here's a First XI of my favorite All-Star moments.
11. Second-half onslaught from the East (1997): Everyone was wondering what was going on when Mark Dodd blanked the Eastern Conference for 45 minutes at rainy Giants Stadium in 1997. This wasn't supposed to happen in All-Star Games, right? Well, in the second half, the East went on the attack, scoring four goals (Carlos Valderrama, Giuseppe Galderisi, Robert Warzycha and Richie Williams) in a 20-minute span to take a 4-2 lead. Then, after Digital Takawira and Cobi Jones scored to knot the score at four, Brian McBride netted the winner, putting No. 5 past Jorge Campos to give the East the win.
10. Thornton gets shell shocked (2000): Pity Chicago Fire keeper Zach Thornton for what occurred in 2000. He entered the game with the West side leading 4-3 and surrendered six goals. Mark Chung in the 51st. Mamadou Diallo in the 59th and 61st. Jay Heaps in the 65th. Dante Washington in the 67th. And McBride in the 71st. What's worse, Thornton had to watch fellow goalie Tony Meola playing striker for his squad over the final 10 minutes.
9. Steve Pittman nets the winner for the East (1996): Remember tough guy Steve Pittman, from Thomas Rongen's original Tampa Bay Mutiny? He and Cle Kooiman gave Tampa Bay a lot of bite, for sure, but Pittman also knew how to pick his spots to venture forward. After Giovanni Savarese tied the '96 game, 2-2, for the East in 69th minute, Pittman snuck into the box to knock home a pass from Valderrama (the game's MVP) in the 88th to give the East a dramatic 3-2 victory.
8. Where's the game? (1999): I was off on a magazine assignment in '99 and could not make the trip to San Diego for MLS All-Star Game IV, but I made sure I was in my hotel room to see the game. As I settled in front of my TV, I learned that there was a search ongoing for a plane belonging to John F. Kennedy Jr. Needless to say, ABC stayed with wall-to-wall coverage of the tragedy. If the game was on another channel, it was not one available on my hotel room television. I'm told the West won 6-4, on late goals by Mauricio Wright and Ronald Cerritos.
7. Columbus fans amaze (2000): Crew Stadium was the star of the 2000 game as America got a look at what soccer can look like in the right atmosphere. A sell-out crowd of 23,495 filled Crew Stadium and witnessed (let's be honest) a Rock-and-Jock type game, won 9-4 by the East, which scored six unanswered goals in the second half. Not my favorite game, but a definitive moment for MLS nonetheless.
6. Tim Howard stands tall (2001): Apparently, no one got my memo after the 2000 game as all-offense was once again the order of the day. Thankfully, a kid 'keeper named Timmy Howard was in net for the East to save the day. The game would end 6-6, but there's no telling what the score might've been had Howard not made 11 big saves, including a PK stop on Luis Hernandez.
5. Etcheverry delights home crowd (2002): It was a post-World Cup homecoming game for U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena, the man who led D.C. United to two titles in three years, but it was United icon Marco Etcheverry who stole the show as the MLS All-Stars defeated the USA 3-2 at RFK. Etcheverry, known for his passing, scored a great goal, chipping Juergen Sommer to give the MLS Stars a 2-1 lead. The U.S. would tie the game on a goal by Cobi Jones, but Steve Ralston's goal in the 81st minute secured the win for MLS. As the score shows, this game was a far cry from the run-and-gun games of '00 and '01.
4. Ray Hudson says it best (2001): Notice there's been no mention of the sports bra celebrations by Jim Rooney and Landon Donovan in '01. That's intentional. The only thing I liked about that display was East coach Ray Hudson's quote afterward. Said Hudson, "I'm worried about where they got the bras from."
3. MLS shows Chivas (2003): Last year's matchup between the MLS All-Stars and Chivas at The Home Depot Center was a strange All-Star Game indeed, as it was like a road game for the All-Stars. It was scoreless at the half, at which time MLS made five substitutions at half. Hong Myung-Bo for Eddie Pope. Donovan for Amado Guevara. Chris Armas for Ryan Nelsen. Ante Razov for Clint Mathis. And Carlos Ruiz for Taylor Twellman. Suddenly, MLS went from looking like an All-Star team to a real team, and went on to win 3-1 on goals by Razov, Ruiz and DaMarcus Beasley.
2. Tab Ramos beats Jorge Campos (1996): The very first MLS All-Star Game was played before a sell-out crowd of 78,000 at Giants Stadium (there was a little thing called the FIFA World Stars game that also took place that day). Thirteen minutes in, Valderrama floated a ball across the top of the box to Tab Ramos, who hit a right-footed volley to the opposite upper corner past a stunned Campos. It was the perfect homecoming for the New Jerseyan Ramos, who was the very first U.S. player to commit to MLS.
1. Donovan's quad (2001): While 12 goals is a bit many for my taste, you had to like Donovan's flair for the dramatic in San Jose in 2001. After Rooney and Cate gave the East the lead, scoring goals in the 84th and 87th minutes, Donovan, the hometown boy in his first MLS season, who'd hit for the hat trick in the game's opening 20 minutes, added a fourth, two minutes into injury time, to level the game at six.
Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at email@example.com and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.