All-Star exhibition not-so-friendly for Bayern Munich, Major League Soccer

22 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. — Major League Soccer’s success was the story after the league’s All-Stars earned a 2-1 win over German champions Bayern Munich at Providence Park, but in a match that was supposed to be an exhibition, two yellow card-worthy fouls nearly stole the show. With Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola twice yelling at the MLS bench during Wednesday’s second half, it was clear the league’s guests were not on the same page as its All-Stars.

In the 64th minute, Osvaldo Alonso’s challenge at the edge of the MLS stars’ penalty area earned a booking from Jair Marrufo, with Guardiola left pleading to the fourth official after trying to have words with Caleb Porter. In the 89th minute, a second sliding challenge gave German international Bastian Schweinsteiger an injured right ankle, with Timbers midfielder Will Johnson drawing the game’s second yellow card.

For a game that usually carries an exhibition’s intensity, the All-Star Game’s fouls were an unexpected show of force. After Johnson’s booking, Guardiola and his assistant again appealed for help, showing the fourth official the various points on the field where they felt had been too rough.

After the game, the Bayern coach, who Porter called “an idol,” declined to shake his counterpart’s hand, later claiming, “I didn’t see him.”

“I’m upset because Bastian’s injured,” Guardiola explained, often alluding to the “respect” his team tried to bring to the occasion:

“I’m not talking here about my colleague. I’m here to talk about the game, our performance.

“We came here to play the best way as possible. We came here to respect the people, the fans, respect our opponents … to respect this game, to respect Portland, to respect MLS. And we did it.

“And the other players, I don’t know. [I don’t know] about my colleague.”

It was as if MLS’s All-Stars had broken an unwritten rule about exhibitions, forgetting why they’re called “friendlies.” Though players take their chances with injuries in competitive games, there are no stakes in games that don’t count. Unspoken but typically observed, players are expected to pull up.

But foor MLS, this isn’t just an exhibition. This was a proving ground. The team wanted to win.

“The guys care. The guys are proud …,” All-Star Game MVP Landon Donovan explained. “We wanted to win the game. It says a lot about guys’ character. What happens this coming weekend is more important for guys in the long run, but this was an important night for us.”

It’s an attitude that defines the divide on Wednesday’s tackles. For Bayern, the game was part of its preseason, with seven players flying in five hours before the game to make obligatory cameos. From that point of view, it’s easy to see the dogged play of Alonso and Johnson as excessive. Had those plays happened in a Bundesliga match, there wouldn’t be any complaints.

It’s a point of view Porter understood, having been in Guardiola’s shoes before:

I understand the frustration completely, because they’re in preseason. I’ve been in games in preeason with my teams, and you do, you get a little bit wound up when that happens, because they’re getting ready to start the season.

These guys are world class players and, as coaches, your job’s on the line. You need the best guys in this game.

I understand completely why there was some emotion there, but we certainly didn’t mean to do anything negatively in the game.

Others weren’t as sympathetic. For the 23 players Porter had in his squad, this was a showcase event, one that’s only been won twice before. Against a team with Bayern’s talent and pedigree, MLS’s best had the attention of many who’d never otherwise watch them play. It’s one of the few chances they get to impress the world.

“We had to play our game. No matter who’s in front of me, I have to play my game,” Alonso said. “We come to play to hard, to play simple, like we did in the second half. We showed we can play with any team.”

And ultimately, that’s the point; at least, that’s the point for MLS. All-Star Week has become a success from a marketing perspective, but competitively, the league still needs to put its best foot forward. Though results haven’t been favorable in the past, one of the points of this format is to see MLS’s elite compete against some of the world’s best. If that competition amounts to a walk through, the exercise loses its value.

“Listen, we want to win the game,” Donovan explained. “You don’t want to hurt anybody, you don’t want to be foolish, but those guys play hard. That’s what they do.

“I saw both plays. Ossie Alonso’s play was probably a little worse than Will’s. Will’s was sort of innocuous …When you play a real game, those things happened, and I’m gald that we played with that kind of intensity.”

Now whomever agrees to play next year’s All-Stars knows: There are no unwritten rules. If you come to North America, you’re coming to play. Don’t expect the Will Johnsons of the world to pull up on their challenges. There’s nothing friendly about Ossie Alonso.

With that lesson learned, Guardiola wants another shot. Though his disappointment saw him shun Porter at the final whistle, the Bayern boss hopes to get a rematch in 2015.

“I expect [MLS is] going to invite us next year, Guardiola predicted, “and I’m going to prepare a little bit better. We will be sure what’s going on. We’ll prepare much better … and I hope our invitation is coming.”