PORTLAND, Oregon - The MLS All-Star game was an entertaining affair on Wednesday night at Providence Park in Portland, as the hosts staged a second half comeback to defeat Bayern Munich by a score of 2-1. Goals from the New York Red Bulls' Bradley Wright-Phillips and the Los Angeles Galaxy's Landon Donovan saw the All-Stars overcome a wonderful Robert Lewandowski first half volley for the Germans.
Purists are critical of the All-Star game; they believe that a mid-season fixture can only result in fatigue for the players at best, or injury and a lengthy spell on the sidelines at worst. Yet the game was played at a surprisingly lively pace, as Bayern showed their class early on.
Regarded as one of the best club teams in world football, Bayern were excellent in the opening 45 minutes. Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri pulled the strings for Bayern in a central attacking midfield role, while the duo of Lewandowski and the ageless Claudio Pizarro caused havoc with their movement up front. That Bayern were only up 1-0 at the break was down to some desperate defending and heroic goalkeeping from the All-Stars.
Wholesale changes at the half for the hosts made the second half a sight to behold.
Wright-Phillips, the leading goalscorer in MLS right now, hammered a strike past Tom Starke in the Bayern goal to bring the All-Stars level in the 51st minute before 14-time All-Star Donovan scored the game's winner in the 70th minute, latching on to a Diego Valeri cross before calmly beating substitute – and German World Cup winner – Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal.
The game even had a bit of bite to it in the second half, as Osvaldo Alonso and Canadian international Will Johnson made their presence felt in midfield, putting in the requisite crunching tackles that we have come to expect from both players. Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola was not a happy man at the final whistle – in part because of the rough treatment his star players came in for in the second half but also, I'm sure, because he simply hates losing, regardless of the "friendliness" of the competition.
It was a highly entertaining match in front of a raucous crowd – if you've never been to watch a game in Portland, put it on your bucket list because you won't regret it – but it would be foolish to draw any sweeping conclusions about the state of the game in North America from one result.
Pre-season training is for players to find their form and fitness, and Bayern Munich's objective in this game was entirely different to the All-Stars. A glance at the Bayern bench in the first half showed just what a stunning wealth of talent Guardiola has at his disposal. World Cup winners like Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm and Mario Götze all entered the match in the second half for a short appearance, as did Dutch star Arjen Robben. Their brief cameos delighted the sellout crowd more than they did anything to rescue Bayern from defeat.
The All-Stars looked a reasonably cohesive bunch – something that cannot always be said for such squads. Far too often, players in such games look like they have only just met, which is often the truth. Credit has to go to All-Star head coach Caleb Porter for scrambling together a simple, yet effective, game plan on such short notice.
For the purists, don't expect this game (or the midseason "friendly" that is popular with MLS clubs) to go away any time soon. MLS is still in its infancy as a league, and the general consensus is that such games are growing the awareness of MLS around the world.
My advice to you is to do what Luke Wileman and I did on Wednesday night – sit back, enjoy the ride and marvel at the talents of some world-class players on display.