Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring of tonight’s MLS All-Star game from Portland, Oregon, with a beautiful strike past Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the eight minute of play. Rimando is the MLS leader in career shutouts with 112 clean sheets, so any ball getting past him is a bit of a surprise but the strike by Lewandowski was just superb.
Seattle Sounders forward Obafemi Martins kept the pressure on the Bayern defense early and it seemed for a while that the All Star squad would draw even before the half. Fellow Sounder Deandre Yedlin continued to show why European clubs desire his services in the transfer market (and why I believe he is destined for a move to the midfield) with some aggressive play, nearly creating a scoring chance off a cross for Red Bulls All-Star Tim Cahill. Unfortunately, the ball sailed just over the head of the aerial Aussie.
Perhaps the best chance for the All-Stars came off the boot of Red Bulls forward and all-time great Thierry Henry. With a calm, controlling touch before blasting the ball from outside the box, Henry showed he still has the world class skills that made him a household name worldwide despite having his strike deflected harmlessly over the goal.
Bayern took the one goal lead into the break, but the MLS All-Stars were holding their own and really contributing to a very entertaining match.
The second half started with a full swap of players for the All-Stars but the pressure and the pace did not change at all. Fresh legs for the MLS meant Bayern defenders had to be more alert to the counter attack and the All-Stars were looking to take advantage.
In the 51st minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips of the Red Bulls fired a stunning shot from the top of the box past Bayern goalkeeper Tom Starke for the equalizer. Nineteen minutes later, LA Galaxy superstar Landon Donovan gave MLS the lead with a shot past new Bayern goalkeeper (and 2014 World Cup Golden Gloves award winner) Manuel Neuer. DC United goalkeeper Bill Hamid kept the European giants scoreless in the second half to preserve the win for the MLS All-Stars.
Two aggressive tackles by MLS All-Stars Will Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso angered Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola so much that he and his staff refused to shake hands with MLS All-Star and Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter. Leaving an otherwise very entertaining and enjoyable match to end with a disappointingly classless gesture.
It is completely understandable that Guardiola would want to protect his players who are preparing for the start of their season but to insinuate that the blame for a foul on the field somehow was Porter’s fault is absurd. Truthfully, both tackles received well deserved yellow cards but neither resembled anything remotely dirty. Both were a result of the MLS players being in midseason form and the Bayern players just making a preseason appearance. It is an unfortunate side effect of trying to match up teams with different season calendars.
The tackles also highlighted a major difference in the physicality of the MLS compared to the European leagues. A lot more contact is allowed and tolerated in MLS than what the Bundesliga squad is used to experiencing. So, while the tackles clearly deserved yellow cards in the MLS, to a European squad they might have looked more deserving of a red card. That does not however excuse Guardiola’s bad behavior. Guardiola is a professional and he should have acted like one.
I am not really a fan of All-Star games in general, in fact the MLS game is the only one I watch, and a big reason for that is what we saw here tonight. Whether it happens to be a team from another league or just a rival conference matchup, there always seems to be a divide over how much the game should mean and how hard the players should go after it. Certainly, no one wants to see an injury but if the game is going to be played there should be something to it.
No one wants to see the lackluster performances of the NFL’s Pro Bowl permeating through to other leagues. The MLS All-Star game is still very enjoyable so I am not ready to call for any drastic changes just yet. However, I would not be surprised to see a return to the old East vs West format in the not so distant future.