Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Quick Thoughts on MLS All-Stars vs Manchester United

Here are a few quick thoughts put together after watching the All-Stars fall 4-0 to Manchester United. 

The MLS All-Stars stepped on the field against Manchester United with a mission: Avenge the embarrassing defeat of last year. As the first half came and went, it was clear they were on to something.

Despite being down 2-0 to the world powerhouse, the team had plenty of chances. Furthermore the MLS All-Stars exposed the United back line with plenty of speed. Omar Cummings, Omar Bravo and Thierry Henry lined up at the top of a 4-3-3 with David Beckham in the midfield. Couple those big names with blue collar MLS workhorses Brad Davis and Shalrie Joseph and you certainly have an imposing group to take on Man U.

However, was the 4-3-3 the best formation to take on such a powerful United team? No. Leaving Manchester United room to roam in the middle proved fatal for the All-Stars.

The MLS boys certainly had their moments though, as they peppered the United goal with shots from distance. Poor finishing prevented the All-Stars from getting on the board before halftime. During the first forty-five minutes United’s Ji Sung Park tallied after beating Sean Franklin while Dimitar Berbatov scored an interesting rebounded shot that Geoff Cameron should have prevented.

With that halftime came and went and Hans Backe made a slew of substitutions. Subs that truly gave the game away. Out of the picture were Cummings and Henry, along with several in the midfield and backline. The MLS rhythm was sacrificed and its speed was crippled. Backe shot the All-Stars in the foot.

Manchester United came out in the second half and trounced the players who just came on. It was evident not so much by the scoreline, but rather the run of play. In the first half the All-Stars threatened and exposed the Red Devils. The second half showed an insipid attacking display from MLS thus United was left to attack and play at will.

Perhaps what is what was most frustrating about his entire outing. The MLS All-Stars showed up to play and for 45 minutes, they certainly were impressing. But what happened at halftime was a switch in mentality from: “we’re going to play the players we think will win us this game” to “let’s try and get everyone on the field.” Both attitudes are fine as it is an All-Star match, but one has to be chosen.

If MLS is going to schedule it’s best players in a match that will gather the attention of the nation and beyond, then an effort should be made to show well. At first it looked as though this would have happened. MLS appointed Hans Backe for good reasons (tactics against Man U, less travel, hometown coach) and not the league’s coach with the best record, Bruce Arena.

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Still, those reasons were not entirely justified. New York’s star laden roster is nowhere near the promise of a league power. Additionally Backe’s tactics and sub management have been called into question more and more recently.

Frankly it was Backe’s decisions that allowed the All-Stars embarrassment to continue for a second year against United. By no means is it the end of the world, the game technically means nothing. However to be marketed as a showcase of the league and its talent, mission failed. The attacking mentality is to be applauded, but why stop?

Bottom Line: The league has the talent to do battle with Manchester United. The league has the talent to win a game like that. They just weren’t given the best possible formation and tactical approach from minutes one through ninety.

It was nice to see Kasey Keller be honored and make a cameo. A U.S. Soccer legend to be sure. I also enjoyed seeing Nick Labrocca play well. Jamison Olave showed Rooney the business before his knee injury which looked to be worse than perhaps it is. Good news for RSL fans. All in all it was a bit of a mixed bag for MLS fans on the night.