Manchester United again?
That was the reaction of some when the Red Devils, who are well on their way to another Premier League crown, were announced on Monday as the opponent in the 2011 MLS All-Star Game.
But those are the people that don’t understand why the MLS All-Star Game has become the best All-Star Game in all of US professional sports: because it’s a real competition.
After Chicharito & Co. handed the MLS select team a sound 5-2 defeat last summer, there were few true MLS fans who didn’t want another crack at Sir Alex Ferguson’s side right after that final whistle.
It’s because many wondered what if? What if Kevin Alston didn’t have an early giveaway to gift an easy goal to United’s Federico Macheda after one minute?
What if Landon Donovan had not played in a CONCACAF Champions League match hours before and actually saw more than 16 minutes against the legendary English club? What if Edson Buddle, in the same predicament as the Galaxy captain, had even gotten into the match? What if ex-Manchester United idol David Beckham were fully fit to play against his old club?
Along with all the questions, there was also the pinch of regret that a great opportunity had passed for MLS to show that its collection of All-Stars, gathered together at the last minute, could defeat — and perhaps even outplay — mighty Manchester United.
Coupled with Kansas City’s victory over the Red Devils a few days before, an All-Star win would have sent another loud message to the world establishment coming on the heels of the USA’s performance at the 2010 World Cup.
This year the statement can yet be made. In a bigger way.
First, the 2011 match will be held in the biggest media market in the country. If the MLS All-Stars can pull off the upset, it will make larger waves than had it happened in Houston.
And it could even be a bigger scalp if Manchester United touch down on US shores as EPL champs and UEFA Champions League winners. Both are still a real possibility.
With no World Cup to worry about this year, Ferguson will also have all of his stars at his disposal. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand — all absent in 2010 — are all expected to join new global icon Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who kicked off his fairy-tale Manchester United career with a goal last year at Reliant Stadium. An MLS victory against United would taste even sweeter for American fans.
So for those who wanted to see a different big name club take Manchester United’s place at Red Bull Arena this year, know that the All-Star Game is not necessarily a carousel for international super clubs. It’s just as much about victory for the MLS All-Stars as it is about the magnitude of the event.
Now that they’ve been served up again, this is a can’t-miss opportunity. It’s highly unlikely they will make it three All-Star Games in a row and it may be the last time to see Manchester United on this stage for at least a few years.
So let the next All-Star manager know: This is a must-win. Yes, a must-win. The last crack at the Red Devils.
In a sports landscape that is becoming known for overlooking what fans want, MLS just handed the league’s real fans the grudge match they wanted.