Javier Hernández scores v. MLS All-Stars (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Let’s get one thing out of the way right away: all-star games are stupid. No matter when they’re played, either in the middle of the season like soccer, basketball, hockey, and baseball, or at the end of the season, like football, they’re an exercise in stupidity. They take up time in a busy schedule and, more importantly, they risk injury in what is, in effect, a meaningless game. And, since most take place in the middle of the season, an injury can ruin a team’s chances in the second half, the playoffs, and the championship. Not only that, but the games are, in general, ragged because players haven’t played together, which, in soccer, results in a lot of missed passes and other miscommunication. On the other hand, the league gets to shmooze with sponsors and make some easy money.
With that said, a young-ish Manchester United squad outclassed the MLS All-Stars. In fairness, Landon Donovan played 15 minutes and Edson Buddle didn’t play at all (due to the CONCACAF Champions League game the night before against the Puerto Rico Islanders). Yet the MLS All-Stars looked like an all-star team: great individual talent and lots of miscommunication. There was a slight difference in how the teams prepared. United’s youngsters were hungry and went all out (Federico Macheda scored 2 goals in 12 minutes and should have had a hat trick a few minutes later). The MLS players saw the game for what it was: an exhibition. I cannot fault either side.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s central theme on the current North American tour is to see what the young players can do. The MLS All-Stars offered a good challenge because they were quality competition. Despite the miscommunication, the players are individually very talented and are on a different level than a regular club team (no offense to the Kansas City Wizards, which defeated United 2-1). Nevertheless, Fergie is giving the young players lots of minutes, trying to decide who will stay and who will go out on loan. The aforementioned Macheda has made a good impression so far, with well-timed runs and attacking aggression, both of which are needed. And Javier Hernández, the Mexican international, made a wonderful impression in the all-star game. Both will likely stay with United and get a lot of playing time in cup matches. Similarly, I don’t know much about Tom Cleverley, other than he was on loan at Watford, did well, and was hurt in April, but I liked what I saw in the all-star game. The only tragedy is that none of those players are center backs.
Not all was well, despite the 5-2 scoreline. Nani should be dominating a game like that, especially against a young defender like Kevin Alston. Yet Nani was nowhere to be found and he was eventually removed in the 61st minute for Hernández. I’m not a Nani fan. I think he’s one of those players who has the talent but won’t ever put it together, despite brief flashes (like at the end of last season). I think Fergie should have sold him earlier this summer, but I guess he’s sticking around for another year at least. The back line is still a problem. I realize that both Fabio and Rafael are young but both want to play significant minutes this season. To be fair, their pace down the flanks would be an asset. While Fabio has shown signs of maturity, Rafael still gets too emotional, especially about bad things. It takes him out of the game and will be costly (again) this season.
The real problems were the two center backs. Both Peanut Head and Jonny Evans repeatedly made horrifying mistakes. I don’t like Wes Brown (and I never have) and I can’t understand why Fergie continues to stand by him. He needs to be replaced ASAP. Evans’s problems, on this night, at least, had more to do with laziness than anything else. He’s young enough that he can fix that and become a useful player. Indeed, he has proven useful at various times over the last couple of years. But United still need a quality center back so that Rio Ferdinand does not have to play every game. I don’t know who that man is, but Fergie needs to act to find Nemanja Vidić a permanent partner.