Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Devils Destruction Tour 2011: What does it all mean?



I'm not suggesting these games have any intrinsic value beyond what they are, but... woof

Seattle was embarrassingly ambushed 7-0. The Revs were humbled 4-1. Chicago's 3-1 scoreline flatters the Fire, only kept that low since Sir Alex muzzled his most ferocious dogs until the second half, when United smacked the taste out of Chicago's lead.

Now there's this, a 4-0 defeat over what is supposedly the best MLS has on offer (side note: loved John Harkes' incessant backpedaling in the second half... "But... but we don't have Landon!!!"). It's the first time the all-stars have been shut out, and United now owns a 9-2 margin in all-star games over the last two years to go with a few hearty chuckles on the plane trip home about those plucky Americans and how far their league still has to travel (their thoughts, not mine, yeah?). They just looove these trips Stateside.

The first half was well-played from MLS' vantage. They forced United back and looked terribly dangerous at times, and dare I say they were the better side. United were lucky to be 2-0 up at the half when things went to pot in the attacking third in the second half.

The fire went out of it all when Ji Sung Park's cracker spoiled the mood at half and United began to sink in its teeth. If Park's nifty far post missile just before the halftime bell wasn't the clincher, losing the only man on the field likely to do something extraordinary in Henry after the first 45 (paging Omar Bravo to the courtesy rebound, please) was the death nell. Props to some lovely link-up play on the first goal, though Tim Ream opened up Broadway by dragging behind Jamison Olave and all but shooing Anderson toward goal. Ream was shaky tonight. Park's goal was nice, and Berba redeemed a terribly lazy first half (shocker) with an otherwise terribly lazy goal, which some situations do call for admittedly.

That's where I'll quit with the analysis. This was for the fans, not the players. Nani and Rooney and all the rest wanted a vital fitness jumpstart before the EPL grind starts. Beckham and Henry were merely avoiding injury before we kick down the stretch in MLS. I'd heard MLS' all-star side had about two days total together as a team, and even that was piecemeal. Compared with the reigning EPL champs and CL runners-up? Meh. At its core, this was a worthwhile event, even if the scoreline doesn't necessarily advertise it. It drew fans, it drew interest and it likely drew TV ratings.

My worry is not the game's format, which I like, or the result, which is ultimately pointless, but the perception. MLS is still culling fans from the rank and file, pulling in those on the periphery who've been charting the league's rise. For most of us, we'll see through this match to what it really was. The average fan will see it for what it seems to be: another subpar display on an international stage from a league still middling well below its American counterparts. Americans are used to rooting for their sports, used to rooting for the best. This was, well, proof they can't have that here.

Screw 'em, you say? A popular sentiment, to be sure. But it is the interest from these fans, the t-shirt fans, the leeches, that will help in our drive for better TV deals, bigger revenue, better flocks of players. Most diehards hate the idea of opening up the gates to the fairweather fans among us. It is a sentiment I can certainly understand. Reality dictates otherwise. Some of those fans tend to turn into lifetime supporters. The ones that don't, the majority, at least drive up interest and merchandise revenue, two things MLS has in relatively short supply, though this is always changing for the better. Start winning these games, meaningless though they may be, and some folks perk up and take notice.

In any case, mostly positive thoughts tonight. What do I take from it? Manchester United is a very good soccer team. Incisive, yeah? That's why they pay me the big bucks. Now lets get on with this MLS season thing.

- Will Parchman

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