Most everyone stuffed into Portland’s Providence Park seemed to have a good time at the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday night, an entertaining affair featuring wonderful goals and supreme individual performances. Everyone, except Pep Guardiola and the Bayern Munich coaching staff, who were in a foul mood after the match took on an edgier tone in the second half.
Guardiola declined to shake hands with MLS Coach Caleb Porter. A second on-field effort by the Portland boss was also rebuffed.
Asked about it, Guardiola lied about the snub: “I didn’t see them,” referring to the MLS coaching staff. Video contradicts that claim:
Guardiola’s irritation is understandable, but he still should have shaken hands with Porter — poor form from one of the sport’s classier figures. (USSF President Sunil Gulati tweeted later that the coaching counterparts did shake hands.)
“We certainly didn’t mean to do anything negative in the game,” Porter said. “We have the utmost respect for Bayern, their players, Pep. This guy is an idol of mine. I think there were a couple of tackles that went wrong.”
The problem with the current all-star game format is that the sides are on different wavelengths.
The MLS squad, with two days to prepare, is under some pressure to get a result in front of a home crowd and TV audience — or at least avoid an embarrassing defeat. The visitors were shipped here by the club’s corporate arm and could not care less about the outcome. Continuing Bundesliga preparations and avoiding injury were their priority.
The MLS players are in mid-season form; the visitors are in a preseason mind-set.
It’s a tricky situation for the MLS coach. Two years ago, D.C. United’s Ben Olsen ran the show on the league’s behalf.
“It was a fun game, even the drama at the end,” Olsen said of last night’s match. “Look, I get both sides. Teams that come here need to understand our players give it their all. And some of these Bayern guys just got off a plane to play, so they might not expect it. It’s soccer, man. There is a referee and everything. … As a coach, you can only do so much. Players go out there and play.”
But there does seem to be an unwritten rule against over-aggressive challenges. Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso, not known for his subtlety, violated the rule midway through the second half with an unnecessary foul on Xherdan Shaqiri. Pep fumed, gesturing at Porter, who seemed taken back by the reaction. Later, Portland’s Will Johnson slammed into Bastian Schweinsteiger, though more clumsiness than venomous.
Alonso told reporters in Portland: “In soccer, there are no friendlies.”
Well, yes, there are. And this wasn’t even a friendly. It didn’t even have the value of the junky International Champions Cup. It was an exhibition, pure and simple.
I am okay with MLS holding an all-star game. It’s an American tradition that turns the spotlight on individual stars and the league as a whole, and allows a member city to show off its finer points and celebrate the sport. It’s also an opportunity for the league to stage its product in a festive setting for sponsors and potential sponsors.
Many MLS technical staffs would probably love to do away with the all-star game. It falls at a time of the year when players are feeling the effects of the arduous season; the last thing they need is additional travel, in some cases cross-country, and additional minutes.
The current format may have run its course, in part because of the aforementioned philosophical imbalance between the opponents.
So what would come next? East vs. West again? MLS’s Americans vs. MLS’s internationals?
Without a visiting Euro side, the all-star game would lose its glamour. But at least the two in-house teams would share the same approach.
Full match highlights: