For the Western Conference All-Stars, who came up short in the 2004 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game on Saturday, there was one culprit to blame for their sluggish play and ultimate downfall: the heat.
With the temperature 85 degrees at game time and the typical Washington midsummer humidity, the game at times broke down into a slow group walk across an open field. And it seemed everyone in the West locker room had something to say about the oppressive weather.
"It was hot. It was real hot. And then it got hotter," said Western Conference head coach Sigi Schmid of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Landon Donovan added at the post-game press conference, saying, "There's just a point where your body says, 'No.'"
Even the goalkeepers were having a tough time on the field. Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, despite not having a lot of work to do, couldn't bear the heat.
"I was wearing a long sleeve shirt the whole damn game, so that makes up for the fact that I didn't move around much," Hartman said.
"You don't put everything you have into an All-Star Game," Kansas City Wizards midfielder Kerry Zavagnin said. "But, having said that, it was so hot out there, it was difficult to get any sort of actual playing in there. We were just sort of trying to survive."
Prior to the game, most predictions about the outcome of the match centered on the possibility of a goal-fest similar to the last East-West All-Star tilt in 2001, which resulted in a 6-6 tie. Of course, that was before it became clear the game might as well have been played in a sauna.
San Jose Earthquakes defender Jeff Agoos maintained that in spite of the weather, five combined goals isn't such a bad performance -- and it still almost saw some late drama.
"The game was at a snail's pace because of the heat, and to pull five goals out of a situation like that is great," he said. "Still, I think we put on a good show. There were some entertaining goals, and there was almost a comeback."
HAWAIIAN SUPERMAN: After scoring on a firm header in the 43rd minute, San Jose Earthquakes forward Brian Ching pulled off his jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read, "Hawaiian Superman." Ching says he made the shirt while at Gonzaga University and wears it as a lark. On the back of his shirt, Ching paid homage to the U-19 Bulls, the first Hawaiian youth soccer club to win a national championship.
The goal wasn't the only chance on net Ching had in his 62 minutes of work. In the 12th minute, Ching sent a glancing header just wide of the night, and he nearly redirected home an innocuous pass a minute later.
"I felt I should have put a couple more away. But that's the way it goes," he said. "I had a good time."
WIN SOME, LOSE SOME: Agoos had a couple of run-ins with young Eastern Conference strikers Saturday, winning one match-up with Fire forward Damani Ralph, but coming up on the losing end of a literal clash with D.C. United forward Freddy Adu.
In the 19th minute Ralph tried to put on a show for the crowd and beat Agoos on the dribble, and pulled off a series of step-overs and false starts. But the cagey veteran wouldn't budge and won the battle, eventually clearing the ball.
"He brought flowers and some chocolates, and he put the moves on me, but I said, 'No. No date tonight,'" Agoos said. "I got him to move a certain way and I was fortunate to defend well. It's an All-Star Game, so you've got to have some pride."
In the second half, Agoos charged in to double-team Adu, who was trying to get past his marker with some fancy footwork. Adu, however, sensed the pressure and turned to protect the ball, colliding with Agoos and sending the nine-year veteran tumbling to the turf.
After the play, Agoos stayed down with a cramp and later gave Adu credit for his effort.
"Freddy made a good move to the ball, and I went to the ball, and we both collided. My calf started cramping and that was it," Agoos said. "It was good. Freddy's developing as a player. He's an exciting player to watch, and I think this All-Star Game proved that.
LEARNING NEW CUSTOMS:
Neither Galaxy midfielder Andreas Herzog, a native of Austria, or Dallas Burn midfielder Ronnie O'Brien, a native of Ireland, had never seen anything like an MLS All-Star Game. Both left with an appreciation, however, of the gathered skill on display.
"This is the first time I've played such a game because it's East Coast against West Coast, and in no other country can they have that. It's such a big country," O'Brien said. "It was fun."
Herzog, who missed Friday's Western Conference All-Star practice because his travel plans had him arriving in D.C. Friday night, lauded the talent -- young and old -- in Major League Soccer. He saved his highest praise for Amado Guevara, winner of the Honda All-Star Game MVP.
"There are a lot of good old players and a lot of very good, very young players. ... The supporters have some idols in their teams," Herzog said. "(Guevara) is really good. He's one of the three best players in the league. I didn't know him before because I didn't play against him, but I think he's the reason why New York is such a good team."
ZAVAGNIN'S BIG YEAR: Zavagnin made his first All-Star appearance in Saturday's game, which is another feather to add to his cap in 2004. Zavagnin said he realizes that holding midfielders like himself aren't typically the most well known on the field.
"When I first came into the league it wasn't a goal of mine to make an All-Star Game because I understand a lot of things are out of your control," he said. "You can have great seasons and still not be recognized."
Zavagnin, who split time in the late 1990s between the MetroStars and the United Soccer Leagues before sticking with the Wizards in their championship season in 2000, has also seen success in the national team this year. The veteran has held his own on the national level, turning in an impressive performance against Mexico in April.
"It's a good feeling that the work I put in everyday, especially when no one's watching, is paying off," he said. "To be called in to the national team on a few occasions now kind of tells me that I'm doing something right."
KING OF GOALS HITS: Dallas Burn forward Jason Kreis, the league's all-time leader in goals scored with 91, put in another one Saturday, his third career All-Star goal. As he has done continually in amassing his record, Kreis deflected credit.
"I think Landon picked me out running through and Jovan (Kirovski) ended up letting it go because I called him off it," Kreis said. "It was a fortunate strike."
HARTMAN TAKES A DIVE: Hartman, who played the second half for the Western Conference, provided one of the more interesting moments late in the game, when he went down for a diving header -- in his own box.
With D.C. United forward Alecko Eskandarian bearing down and Hartman rushing out to the top of the box, it seemed to the Galaxy 'keeper that the only way he would get to the ball and keep his team in the game was to lay out for it.
"I didn't want to do anything to get a penalty kick or give up a goal," Hartman said. "I figured if I went in with my head, they wouldn't throw me out. I just felt safer doing that."
ONSTAD TOO OLD?: San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper and West starter Pat Onstad knew which way Guevara was going with his penalty kick -- placed to Onstad's right -- but it didn't matter as he dove correctly and still saw the ball slip under his arms.
"He only goes to that side," Onstad said. "I went too late -- too slow, too old."
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.