a collection of stars, but no one knew how to play bass.
But with his choices for reserves and injury replacements, coach Colin Clarke added some nitty-gritty to the razzle-dazzle, such as bringing in Frankie Hejduk to run the flanks and adding another defender after Pat Noonan came up lame. The team that took the field at Crew Stadium on Saturday afternoon was a cohesive unit, and despite a few foreigners in their ranks, the side played a comprehensive "American" style. And won.
Now, I point all of this out because on Aug. 23, the next big plotpoint in the MLS story arrives -- the much-ballyhooed match between an MLS select team and Real Madrid. This is one that will surely make Michael Lewis's "Top 20 in MLS's first 20 years."
What's most important to me is that MLS goes into this game to win, or at least to get a result. And to do that, they must select a real team. A unit. And the selection process must be left entirely to the coach. For my money, the coach must be the Revolution's Steve Nicol, and I don't just say that because I do the television analysis on the Revolution games. The facts are that Nicol has steered his team into first place, done it with a nice combination of style and grit, and still has a great deal of credibility in the European soccer world. He and his assistant coach, Paul Mariner, would represent the league and its future very well.
Nicol would also put together a true team, one that might not include some great players, but would incorporate everything that a team needs - mercurial playmakers, testy scorers, tireless wingers and smart defenders.
The Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu friendly match is very important to the league and it needs to be done right. But at the same time, the integrity of MLS's regular season must be preserved. The game comes in the midst of the dog days of the MLS season. Players are beat down from the summer heat. Some are nursing injuries. And teams are gearing up for the final push toward the playoffs. Another game, including travel to Europe, is almost a punishment at this point.
As one team official told me, "The Real Madrid match is every player's dream and every coach's nightmare."
So maybe there should be some limits. Here are my suggestions:
This leaves some tough decisions for the coach, such as: Which three players do you take from FC Dallas out of Carlos Ruiz, Eddie Johnson, Greg Vanney and Ronnie O'Brien? Same goes for New England, choosing three from Clint Dempsey, Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston, Shalrie Joseph, Pat Noonan and Matt Reis. Or an even harder decision: Who do you take from Chivas USA?
My way, every team is "penalized" and no team is decimated.
Any way you slice it, this has been an exciting summer that has shined the world's soccer spotlight on MLS. There have been international friendlies galore, between some big clubs and MLS sides. Not to mention World Cup qualifying, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and several non-MLS matches, such as Chelsea-AC Milan and Real Madrid-Chivas de Guadalajara. All in all, I'd say American soccer has acquitted itself very well.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves and start planning for WLS -- World League Soccer -- let's not forget that the MLS season is still at hand. And it's a good one, with tight races for divisional titles and for playoff spots, some unlikely heroes and some in-form superstars.
So I hope MLS goes to Madrid to win the Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu. But I hope even more that everyone comes back hungrier than ever to win the MLS Cup.
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.