On a warm summer afternoon in San Jose, the biggest names in Major League Soccer teamed up to take on English Premier League powerhouse, Arsenal. The starting eleven for MLS was chosen through fan voting while the rest of the roster was selected by the coach, Dominic Kinnear and the league. Most of the fans that flooded Avaya Stadium were sporting the colors of their favorite MLS team while the others were wearing red and white to represent Arsenal. For many Arsenal fans this was the first time they got to see their historic club play in person. The pregame ceremony was heralded by dueling DJs and explosive pyrotechnics to represent the upcoming battle between North America and North London.
During a chalk talk presentation prior to Tuesday’s open practice Kinnear lamented about the situation with the fan chosen starting IX. “The fans did us the favor of choosing a lot of attacking players. The disadvantage of that is that we had a lot of attacking players. It was up to us to fill in the gaps and create a balanced team.” Kinnear played the team in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Montreal Impact’s Didier Drogba was up top, backed by LA Galaxy’s Giovanni dos Santos, Orlando City’s Kaká, and NYCFC’s David Villa. In the midfield, NYCFC’s Andre Pirlo and Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman played defensive mids. Philadelphia Union’s Keegan Rosenberry, Montreal Impact’s Laurent Ciman, LA’s Jelle Van Damme and F.C. Dallas’s Kellyn Acosta manned the backline. Dallas’s Andre Blake was stationed between the posts for the first half.
For the first ten minutes each team started out strongly. Things took a turn for the worse for the MLS All Stars when Ciman conceded a penalty in the box and Arsenal’s Joel Campbell converted the penalty kick. The match ended early for NYCFC players Pirlo and Villa when they were subbed off in the 33’ for New York Red Bulls’ Sacha Kljestan and Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti. The MLS side continued to fight through the first half to equalize but finally got a break when dos Santos fed Drogba a ball that he was able to finish in a spectacular goal during stoppage time to equalize the score going into halftime.
The second half began with a slew of substitutes. San Jose Earthquakes’ David Bingham stepped between the posts. Vancouver Whitecap’s Kendall Waston, D.C. United’s Steve Birnbaum, and New England Revolution’s Andrew Farrell stepped into the backline. Portland Timber’s Darlington Nagbe, Dallas’s Mauro Diaz, and Columbus’s Wil Trapp came onto the midfield, while Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco played up top. The fresh legs did not waste any time applying pressure in attempt to take the lead. Chicago Fire rookie Brandon Vincent came on to replace Acosta. As the match drew on the heat seemed to be taking a toll on the Arsenal players despite water breaks. The last subs for the All Stars were San Jose Earthquakes’s Chris Wondolowski, Seattle Sounder’s Clint Dempsey, followed by Orlando City SC’s Cyle Larin. Arsenal’s Chuba Akpom finally broke through the All Star’s defence to score the game winner for the Gunners late in the second half.
Kinnear was even-toned and realistic about the results. “I thought it was a good game. Some good chances on both sides of the ball. A lot of talented players on the field. Obviously going in at halftime with Didier (Drogba) scoring the goal right before halftime gives us a little momentum. We’re making a lot of changes to represent most of the teams with all of the all-stars with Major League Soccer – it was kind of back and forth there, and unfortunately they were the ones that got the goal late. We had a couple good chances late to obviously go ahead and it didn’t happen and they won the game.”
In describing the caliber of the game and how it reflects on MLS, Kinner remarked, “The sky’s the limit really. I think you’re seeing not only the emergence of young players, but the names and the talent that are coming over here. Expansion is always going to be a positive thing. I think if you look at the stadiums and the media coverage, everything is growing and it’s growing in a positive direction. Eight to 10 years ago we were a little bit wondering what was going to be going on – actually, a little bit farther back. So I think the sky is the limit for this league. It’s growing at a very steady pace, I think people always have to realize it’s only 20 years old and we can’t get too greedy. But for me, every once in a while we’ll step on to a field and see the fans and see the players that are stepping out, and we understand that football has come a long way in this country. It has a long way to go, but the progress has been fantastic.”