Being one of those fortunate enough to attend this year’s MLS All-Star Game, to be renamed the MLS Legendary Club Ass-Kick Fest; I wanted to post my impressions of the evening.
I arrived in Denver on Wednesday night and headed to one of the few Denver pubs on the FSC Pub Guide. Not exactly teeming with patrons donned MLS gear, but at least The Dream Team was on. I found out a day too late that I should have been at the British Bulldog or ESPN Zone. My bad, but how can you consider yourself unfortunate when you can score double tall Crown and Cokes for the price of a regular. The next day, both Denver papers were packed with All-Star information. I mean the game was on the front page with plenty about the team, Beckham and Celtic on the inside. There were even, fairly written pieces by sports columnists in both papers. Sadly, the Rocky Mountain News soiled their good name the next day by publishing a Bernie Lincicome piece. However, this anti-soccer piece was missing the typical Lincicome venom. This was a pleasant surprise given the terrible coverage the All-Star game received last year in Chicago. The Denver press treated the game as a major league All-Star of any league and for that I applaud them.
Outside the stadium, there was a bit of an All-Star village with skills challenges and player autograph signings. This was the site of the only FIRE representation of the evening. Ivan Guerrero and Matt Pickens were at separate booths and seemed to be pleasantly surprised to see a FIRE jersey at the proceedings. Diego Gutierrez was also in the Park promoting his charitable work.
Simply stated, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is the best soccer facility I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. The complex is sprawling with a ton of lighted soccer fields for the yutes. Parking was free and it was on a paved surface. Are you reading this FIRE fans? Free and Paved. Rather than being subjected to the odors of the Argo Corn Starch facility, the DSG complex smells more like a golf course. The exterior of the stadium is nice and about the only area of the stadium that doesn’t surpass Toyota Park. After entering the park the opulence of DSG versus TP became clear. Management here figured out how to install a stadium club store that featured not only a ton of Rapids merchandise, but jerseys and scarves of every team in the league as well as a number of popular teams from around the globe. C’mon league wake up! Further, they managed to work all their merchandising facilities into the building and had no need for cluttering their wide concourses with blue and white outhouse merch booths. Imagine that! MLS or the Rapids did drop the ball here in that they didn’t offer two big-ticket items that would have flown off the shelf: 1. David Beckham jerseys (only 100 delivered to the park) 2. Mastroeni All-Star jerseys. The stadium has plenty of concessions areas with reasonable queues. It is also possible to easily walk all the way around the park. As one circles the facility, the south concourse has something that will make every FIRE fan green with envy. In what looks like a garage (but easily could be, of lets say a firehouse) sits a Cantina. The Cantina opens to the concourse with two large garage doors. There are also two large garage doors opening to the outside of the stadium. The outdoor portion of the Cantina features seating a beer booth and a couple of foosball tables. The garage structure has concessions on one side and a full bar on the other. The roof was adorned with flags from around the world. The Cantina is, in short, the perfect addition to a soccer stadium. Another nice feature of the park flanks the club seating section on the eastern concourse. On the concourse and the first level of seating, the Rapids offer box seating for four at a patio table with a server. Tremendous idea!! On top of all that, we were far from the first people to leave the game and it only took five minutes to exit the parking area. Kudos to Kronke for creating this facility it is truly top-notch.
Delayed for ten minutes due to lightening, the match eventually kicked off with Celtic only fielding a handful of their normal starters. This gamble by the Celtic coach seemed to work well for the first fifteen minutes as the MLS All-Stars could seem to find a rhythm producing a tedious feel to the match. Then DeRo and the Boyz (no H in that one) got rolling and started testing the flanks via Ronnie O’Brian and MLS revelation and number one Jimmy Page fan Juan Toja. Ricardo Clark was an early standout and seemed to really give the rest of the All-Stars confidence with a run right through the Celtic defense that was eventually snuffed out. Eddie Johnson started playing a bigger and bigger role in the match and eventually drew a clear penalty kick in the 30th minute, but Johnson’s effort was saved but Celtic keeper Artur Boruc who had a tremendous night despite the score line. The All-Stars broke through in the 36th minutes as DeRo fed Juan Pablo Angel in the box. Angle took a deft tough to evade a charging Boruc the slid the ball between the posts. Eight minutes later, Celtic failed to clear a DeRo free kick that bounced to the feet of an onside Toja who slipped the ball under the leg of a sliding Celtic defender to put the All-Stars up 2-0. The second half witnessed wholesale changes by both sides, but none of the subs would hit the back of the net. The 2-0 score line would hold for the second half maintain the MLS All-Stars undefeated status under the “vs. the World” format.
It was refreshing go to an MLS all-star game with a heavy pro-MLS crowd. Certainly the Celtic fans had greater cohesion of wardrobe, but the numbers were 70/30 in favor of MLS supporters. Heck, the Rapids supporters even tried to get an “MLS, MLS” chant going, which is more than could be said for the FIRE’s Section 8 last year. The Rapids fans did their best to make FIRE fans feel at home by displaying signs and wearing T-shirts begging for the ouster of their coach and GM. Ah, the comforts of home! I also had the pleasure of taking my cousin to his first professional soccer match. Although I don’t thing he’ll be buying Rapids season tickets anytime soon, he is likely to visit the facility again. Small steps!
Depeche Mode once sang, “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumors, but I think that God has a sick sense of humor.” This line took on relevance on Thursday as the soccer gods sat the writer of the US Soccer Snob Blog next to, yes, a Euro Snob. For most of the evening we sat in blissful ignorance of each other. I did pick up that he wasn’t rooting for MLS despite not donning a green and white striped jersey and not having a trace of an accent. No big deal, however the dam broke near the end of the second half, likely as combination of his frustration with his team and my vocal drunkenness which you’d think a Celtic fan would celebrate. Without any further adu, I give you, the conversation from hell:
Me to my cousin: This score is surprising since I’m sure that the All-Star would be the underdogs in this match.
ES: Actually, they were favored.
USSS: That’s surprising given the way the league is looked down upon around the world.
ES: Well it is an all-star team.
USSS: That’s true! I have no doubt that all the MLS players could play in the EPL.
ES(laughing dismissively): You’ve got to be kidding! Donovan is too much of a wussy to play in Europe. Did you see the World Cup last year?
USSS (set off): First, Donovan doesn’t want to play in Europe and second of all his performance was largely due to Bruce Arena’s positioning. You can’t expect Donovan to be effective chasing headers all game against a massive Czech backline. Have you watched a soccer game before today?
ES (noticing my jersey): You’re a FIRE fan, what the hell do you know?
(Cousin observing nervously)
USSS: I know enough about the f*%kin game to tell that you have no idea about what your taking about you f*$kin Euro poser.
ES (sheepishly): I don’t appreciate the profanity; there are children around here.
USSS: Ok, I’ll give you that one, but please try to watch a game sometime.
(Five minutes of silence elapse until full time is blown.)
USSS (extending my hand): I appreciate your passion for the game. Have a nice evening.
Had a few laughs in a facility, saw an interesting game, got a good result and got to go off and a Euro Poser. I highly recommend experiencing all four!