East 3, West 2
Maybe it was the searing midday heat or the fact that many of the players had participated in league matches just three days earlier and were gearing up for more games on Wednesday. Whatever the affliction, the MLS All-Star Game yesterday at stifling RFK Stadium wasn't played at the imaginative, entertaining pace that these light-hearted exhibitions usually encourage.
Even fan favorite Freddy Adu, D.C. United's 15-year-old gem who entered in the second half, had a hard time energizing the sub-par match and the subdued crowd of 21,378, which witnessed the East's 3-2 victory over the West.
"It was hot, and it was real hot, and then it got hotter," West Coach Sigi Schmid of the Los Angeles Galaxy said. "For the players, it's not always easy to play in that sort of heat. I thought the effort they put forth for an all-star game was good. . . . I [was] only on the bench, and I'm beat."
New York/New Jersey MetroStars midfielder Amado Guevara handled the heat the best, scoring a pair of goals in a two-minute stretch midway through the first half and assisting on the clincher by United's Alecko Eskandarian in the 74th minute to earn MVP honors. San Jose's Brian Ching and Jason Kreis, MLS's all-time leading goal scorer, connected for the West.
The more entertaining game took place earlier in the day when the veterans of the 1994 U.S. World Cup team played to a 2-2 tie with the former MLS international stars in a 50-minute exhibition that drew laughs, cheers and perhaps tears from the arriving crowd. Two Salvadorans, Raul Diaz Arce and Mauricio Cienfuegos, scored second-half goals for the foreign squad after Eric Wynalda and Hugo Perez struck for the Americans.
Organized on short notice after Real Madrid withdrew from a tentative deal to play an MLS select team in Foxboro, Mass., yesterday's All-Star Game was going to be a letdown no matter what unfolded. And amid the busy player schedules and the weather, it provided only brief moments of excitement.
"It was a game we tried to have fun," United forward Jaime Moreno said. "Maybe the people were expecting a little more, but we couldn't give it to them."
Moreno started and was replaced by Adu at halftime. Eskandarian entered for Chicago's Damani Ralph at the same time and gave the East a 3-1 lead by neatly finishing from 14 yards. Midfielder Dema Kovalenko, a late addition because of the East's injury problems, played the entire game and had a role in two key moments.
In the 22nd minute, he drew a foul on Dallas's Ronnie O'Brien in the box, allowing Guevara to slot the penalty kick past San Jose goalkeeper Pat Onstad for a 2-0 lead. And a few moments later, Kovalenko saved a goal by making a sliding stop on O'Brien's shot toward a seemingly open net. O'Brien has had more than his share of misfortunes with Kovalenko at RFK; last year his leg was broken on a hard tackle by the United's tenacious Ukrainian.
But the day belonged to Guevara, a 28-year-old playmaker from Honduras who had given the East a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute when his shot from the top of the box took just enough of a deflection to zip past Onstad and into the lower left corner.
"I'm very happy, but I'm happier that we won the game," he said through an interpreter. "It's great satisfaction to be able to share it with my teammates."
"I would love to have this kind of player on my [MLS] team," said United Coach Peter Nowak, who guided the East and, as a former Chicago star, also played 25 minutes in the legends game. "I really enjoyed to work with him and watch him. Every single pass makes sense."
Guevara departed in the 81st minute, replaced by MetroStars teammate Eddie Gaven, 17, who re-entered the game after becoming the youngest starter in MLS All-Star Game history.
The first West goal came two minutes before halftime when Ching, the only native of Hawaii in the league, headed in San Jose teammate Richard Mulrooney's cross and celebrated by lifting his jersey to display a "Hawaiian Superman" T-shirt.
After Eskandarian scored for a 3-1 lead, Kreis made things interesting by running onto Landon Donovan's pass and one-timing a 22-yard shot off the inside of the right post in the 89th minute. But any chance of a dramatic finish was put to rest by the heat and the players' diminishing enthusiasm.
"I was dying out there," Adu said.
In the legends game, the goalkeepers stole the show as former Mexican World Cup star Jorge Campos made several excellent saves and U.S. veteran Juergen Sommer, Tony Meola's replacement, stopped three shots in a remarkable 10-second sequence in the second half. But Cienfuegos tied the game with about a minute remaining after being set up by the far-straying Campos and former United star Marco Etcheverry.
"Our goalkeeper was the MVP of the game, if you ask me," said Bruce Arena, the current U.S. coach who guided the international squad yesterday. "He did it all -- saves, stopped a penalty kick [by Tab Ramos], took part in setting up a goal."