Wednesday, the MLS All-Stars defeated titan Bayern Munich 2-1 at Providence Park in Portland, Ore., but tainted the American league with pointless hack tackles that injured Bayern players and enraged famed coach Pep Guardiola. While All-Star coach Caleb Porter did a commendable job tactically, he allowed two of his star players - Osvaldo Alonso and Will Johnson - to force their personal stamp of disrespect on Bayern Munich, who are early in preseason.
MLS teams have lost to college and lower league teams in preseason and it doesn't mean a thing, so there's no case to be made to justify the brutal tackles on some of the world's best players who came to put on a show. Bastian Schweinsteiger, who left the field a few minutes after entering with an ankle injury caused by Johnson in the 89th minute, was not even replaced, which shows the insignificance of the game to the German club.
Referee Jair Marrufo failed to properly eject Alonso from the game for that first late challenge, choosing to overlook the sometimes lower standards of MLS. To uphold the integrity of the league, Porter should have pulled the Seattle Sounders midfielder, known for brutal tackles, off the field. In that case, Johnson would likely not have risked his subsequent vicious tackle. Internationally, MLS is trying to get over its reputation as an overly physical league, one that triumphs skill with brute force, and this, aside from the lengthy plane travel, discourages talented internationals from signing on.
This All-Star game, which should have shown that MLS has advanced beyond that level, just reinforced the old stereotypes and discourages fans of the American league from hoping MLS will ever reach standards of the world's top leagues. The outstanding performance of some of the MLS players was lost in the sensational stupidity of a couple self-interested and poorly disciplined players.
All three goals were fabulous. Robert Lewandowski first gave Bayern the lead with a fabulous shot after goalkeeper Nick Rimando's defense splintered in front of him. Bradley Wright-Phillips, Major League Soccer's leading goalscorer this season (18), equalized with a magnificent strike six minutes after coming on after the break, when Porter replaced the entire line-up except for Thierry Henry. Henry was then replaced by Landon Donovan, who delivered the game-winner with his usual flair in the 71st minute and then left the game to rest for his weekend duties with the LA Galaxy. After being cut from the USA's World Cup squad by Jurgen Klinsmann, it was a triumphant, yet bittersweet moment for Donovan, who had a brief, unsuccessful stint at Bayern Munich and keenly understands the American struggle with the international game.
World Cup Champion stars Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philip Lahm, Jerome Boateng and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer arrived in Portland just five hours before kickoff with the intention of playing a few minutes in a high-profile friendly, not a mugging. While the 21,733 fans in attendance were thrilled to see the World Cup stars, it's unlikely these players will ever sign with MLS after experiencing the lower standard of officiating that still influences domestic games.
After the game, Guardiola and his staff refused to shake hands with Porter and the MLS crew, and fans and broadcast announcers accused him of bad sportsmanship instead of pointing out the real bad sports, Johnson and Alonso, and also Porter, who was ultimately responsible. Guardiola demanded a rematch in post-game press conference and if Bayern Munich return, it's unlikely MLS All-Stars will fair as well.
"I expect [MLS] are going to invite us next year to make the revenge," said Guardiola, "and I'm going to prepare a little bit better. Now we will be sure what's going on, so we'll prepare much better. Then we'll do it. I hope our invitation is coming."
Porter's inability to control the top MLS players illustrates the need for MLS to hire successful veteran international coaches who are comfortable managing a higher level of international talent and their egos. MLS coaches and wanna-be coaches would be better served first in assistant coaching positions to learn the job on an international level to propel the league forward, instead of making such public mistakes in the top job and jeopardizing the league's reputation.
MLS All-Stars: Rimando (Hamid, 46); Yedlin (Franklin, 46), Collin (Edu, 46), Besler (Ridgewell, 46), Parkhurst (Boswell, 46); Zusi (Valeri, 46), Cahill (Alonso, 46), Bradley (Johnson, 46), Henry (Donovan 48; Dwyer, 71); Dempsey (Wright-Phillips, 46), Martins (Torres, 46).
Bayern Munich: Starke (Neuer 62), Alaba (Robben 86), Martinez, Rafinha, Rode (Mueller, 80), Gaudino (Dante, 62), Bernat (B.Schweinsteiger, 80), Shaqiri (Goetze, 81), Hoejbjerg (Boateng 73), Pizarro (Green 37; Lahm, 82), Lewandowski (Contento 80).