By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
PORTLAND — Despite a suggestion for change by the Seattle Sounders’ Clint Dempsey, Major League Soccer seems to like its All-Star Game.
Especially this one.
On the eve of the game, MLS players and executives praised the host city of Portland and the match that sends the MLS All-Stars against German power Bayern Munich.
“I think over the past two or three years, Bayern’s made a very, very strong case as the best team in the world,” said Matt Besler, an All-Star defender from Sporting Kansas City. “It’s not every day you get that opportunity to play against one of the best teams in the world.”
On Monday, Dempsey had suggested that MLS return to the traditional format of Eastern Conference stars playing stars from the West. Dempsey noted that stocking two teams would allow MLS to spotlight more of its best players and coaches.
It also would remove a couple of inevitable inequities in the current format. On one hand, the MLS players are in midseason form, while European teams are in their preseason. On the other, Bayern Munich actually is a team, while the All-Stars were quickly thrown together just days before the only match they’ll ever play together.
Somehow those respective advantages and disadvantages have canceled out pretty evenly over the years. Since the league went to this format in 2005, MLS has won five games, while the international visitors have won four times (once on penalty kicks). Those previous international opponents were Fulham, Chelsea, Celtic, West Ham United, Manchester United (twice), Chelsea and Roma.
MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott indicated Tuesday that the league likes this format and the world attention that follows their latest opponent.
“Serendipitous is the word I would use for this year,” he said. “When we did an agreement with Bayern we didn’t know Germany was going to win the World Cup … and I think that brings a really unique dimension to this game. So … there’s no specific plan to even change the format right now, other than to say we’re always looking for ways to improve our crown-jewel events.”
Even Dempsey’s Seattle Sounders teammate DeAndre Yedlin expressed his preference for the status quo.
“I like the German competition,” Yedlin said. “I think it brings great exposure to the United States. (Even) if people aren’t soccer fans, they’ve definitely heard of Bayern Munich.”
With warm temperatures, sunny skies and Mount Hood glowing in the distance, host city Portland also has been an attraction this week. Although that may be less so for the four Sounders in attendance: Dempsey, Yedlin, Obafemi Martins and Osvaldo Alonso. Yedlin was booed Monday when he took part of the coin-toss ceremony before the MLS Homegrown Game, and Martins was booed Tuesday when he scored a goal in an All-Star practice session open to the public.
Otherwise, Abbott and several players have raved about Portland, and especially as a place where the sport is appreciated.
“To be completely honest, this is as excited as I’ve been at one of these games in a long time,” said veteran Landon Donovan of Los Angeles. “I think everyone’s excited to come to Portland. We all love this city, we love playing at Providence Park. For once, we get to play with the fans behind us, which will be nice.”
Back in Tukwila on Tuesday, the Sounders returned to training for their MLS match Sunday, when the Houston Dynamo visits CenturyLink Field. … There was no update on the health of central defender Chad Marshall, who was scratched from the All-Star Game due to a back injury. … A coin toss has determined that if the Sounders advance in their U.S. Open Cup semifinal match against Chicago next week, they will go on the road for the cup final at either Dallas or Philadelphia. … Darren Sawatzky has been named coach of the new Tacoma Stars, who will begin play this fall in the Western Indoor Soccer League. Sawatzky also is coach of the Sounders U-23 PDL team, and formerly served as youth development director for the Seattle Sounders.