In what amounts to a fairly sizeable upset, the MLS All-Star team defeated English club Chelsea 1 – 0. Chelsea is the two-time champion of the English Premier League, has 14 players on its roster that played in the ’06 World Cup and has a $200 million payroll bankrolled by Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovich. Essentially, this is the English version of the NY Yankees who probably have 5 players whose annual salary exceeds the sum of all the MLS All-Stars.
I had the privilege of watching this game in bar with the sound turned off. This meant I avoided the awful ESPN announcers. I think that it was Dave O’Brien and Marcelo Balboa. MLS put on a good performance with Houston Dynamo Dwayne De Rosario scoring the game winner on nice near-post shot from just inside the eighteen yard box. MLS had a number of chances and was the far fitter team. It also did well to survive the Chelsea onslaught in the final twenty minutes. The English champions, however, did not play particularly well. The team was still in pre-season form with poor fitness and finishing.
There have generally been two takes on the result, either it was huge for the MLS or that it doesn’t really matter. In my mind, the reality is a combination of these two positions. It was a big win for the MLS because it gives the league good PR here in America. It can point to this win and say it really is a legitimate league with good players that can compete with some of the best teams in the world. This result may not mean this for true soccer enthusiasts but it does matter for the casual fans because these people probably would expect, like De Rosario said, that the MLS All-Stars would get “spanked” by Chelsea.
On the other hand, it did not mean a lot to Chelsea. The club had only been practicing for one week after having spent some time vacationing and the team was still trying to integrate new super-stars Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko into the line-up. Manager Jose Mourinho iterated these thoughts when he stated “Without legs, it’s very difficult to play football. My players without legs. For me this was a training session against other players. And no more than that.” I’m sure that Mourinho and his players would have preferred to win and not have to suffer the smack that they will receive for losing to the lowly MLS guys. But, it was only a preseason match for Chelsea against a bunch of MLS guys who were trying to impress other European clubs. So the motivation levels were obviously quite different.
So, in the end the match meant a lot in terms of PR for the MLS and making good impressions for the MLS All-Stars but it was only an ego-check for Chelsea.