With the Sons of Ben yelling proud, fireworks ablaze, and the stars shining in the sky and on the field, the 2012 MLS All-Star Game was a night to remember. Most All-Star games in American sports are a showcase of silliness and boredom, with only the MLB All-Star Game actually implicating a purpose worthy of playing hard. MLS meanwhile has developed a night where you still see the fantasy roster from the best players in the league and are able to watch a competitive match against some of the greatest clubs in the world. This year’s opponent was European Champions Chelsea, who is midway through their five-game American Tour, the stop in Philadelphia being the most poignant.
MLS had a soccer fan’s dream roster that included the likes of Beckham, Henry, and Donovan all facing off against Europe’s best. Sure the game is a friendly but with Chelsea looking to develop during the preseason and the All-Stars seeking earnest respect around the world, both teams had plenty to play for—and it showed. Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders) and defender Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps), were all over the Chelsea attackers, putting their body in line to preserve an early lead put forth from a Thierry Henry (NY Red Bulls) cross to Chris Wondoloski (San Jose Earthquake). The 21st minute goal was soon nulled by a classic John Terry header from a set piece that tied the game up 1-1. Chelsea regained control in the second half, intensifying pressure to eventually gain the lead with a rebound goal from legend Frank Lampard. With The Blues ahead 2-1, nightmares arose from the past two MLS All-Star Games where Manchester United throttled the American heroes in consecutive summers.
But this group of All-Stars were resilient, and in the 73rdminute, David Beckham (LA Galaxy) lead the offensive attack with a tight through-ball deep in the box to Dwyane De Rosario (DC United) who then slid the ball back to teammate Chris Pontius (DC United), blasting the ball to the back of the net. With the score at even, the MLS All-Stars could feel content in not forfeiting when they could have and giving the European Champions a run for their money. But an unlikely hero, whose journey back to the All-Star Game has been a dark road, did not take “good enough” for an answer. Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders) was an All-Star in 2007, then left for Europe in a five-year spell that tested both his mental and physical toughness. Since returning to MLS, Johnson has breathed life back into his career, and Wednesday night’s late heroics are sure to add to his prodigal return. In stoppage time with the game slowly coming to an end, Johnson made a subtle run behind the Chelsea defense that midfielder Kyle Beckerman somehow saw out of the corner of his eye. Beckerman sluggishly kicked the ball in Johnson’s stride and with one quick move; the Seattle forward found himself in a clear run to the Chelsea box. With no other teammates around and the clock winding down, Johnson decided to fire from the top of the box. Maybe it was luck or poetic justice, but Johnson’s powerful shot deflected off defender David Luiz into the back of the net, giving the MLS All-Stars their second victory over Chelsea.
It is difficult not to read into the All-Stars’ dramatic victory too much, and the doubters will argue Chelsea’s fitness and depleted roster, but a victory over one of the best teams in the world should not to be taken lightly. The 3-2 win is evidence of the growth of the league and the pride of its players. Whether it’s Beckham, Beckerman, DeMerit, or De Rosario; the players love this league and will fight for its pride and notoriety. MLS may not be the most wealthy or talented league in the world, but we can sure say that were the proudest and most defiant. We welcome any European club looking to “get fit” and “find form”; we’ll give you 90 minutes on the pitch that you’ll never forget.