By Ridge Mahoney
The friendlies are piling up thick and fast, and so far, so are the embarrassing losses for MLS teams, which is not the sole reason they are of only passing interest, at least to me.
Manchester United 7, Seattle 0.
Manchester United 4, New England 1.
Bolton 2, Houston 0.
West Bromwich Albion 3, Portland 2.
Los Angeles Galaxy 1, Real Madrid 4.
Vancouver 1, Manchester City 2.
San Jose 2, West Bromwich Albion 1.
Philadelphia 1, Everton 0.
Go Quakes!! Go Union!!
I mean, they are about as meaningful as watching Chelsea beat an All-Malaysian League XI, 1-0, on a disputed Didier Drogba goal that deflected off the goalkeeper and the post, then bounced on the goal line while not appearing to cross it. That game aired live on Fox Soccer Channel Thursday morning and will be repeated a few times, but will drop off the programming list once Chelsea moves on to play the Thailand All-Stars. Still, the stigma will live in infamy.
If that scandalous decision during Chelsea’s preseason tour of Asia can’t convince FIFA president Sepp Blatter to adopt some form of goal-line technology, what hope is there?
So as interested as I am to see if 17-year-old Christian Hernandez can duplicate his goalscoring heroics in Philly’s conquest of Everton against a somewhat better opponent in Real Madrid, how the Red Bulls react to being thrashed by Colorado while facing a good FC Dallas team, and whether the Rapids can follow up that 4-1 rout by beating New England is really more relevant, if not necessarily as aesthetically compelling.
Not that there aren’t curiosities to be savored, such as Quakes’ keeper David Bingham belting a 90 yarder past a sun-blinded West Brom keeper and into the net on a bounce. Or the goal scored by Hernandez, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy U17/18 Player of the Year who is not yet under contract to the Union. He’s of great interest even if the Everton result isn’t.
Unless they are crippled by the searing summer heat, Man U will probably paste Chicago on Saturday as badly as the two MLS foes they’ve already faced. More important for the Fire and its fans is the pending debut of recently signed playmaker Sebastian Grazzini, who has trained with the team for about a week and is being touted as the No. 10 in-residence.
MLS teams don’t want to be embarrassed in these games, but neither do they want their first-teamers unnecessarily exposed to possible injury. So some of the regulars start, a few more come in as subs, and some stay on the bench. On both sides of the ball there are veterans mixed with eager young players, and depending on which combinations are out on the field, the play can be sharp or disjointed or sporadic, or shift suddenly from one to the other.
For more than a decade, the league has used these games – especially its All-Star Game, which will showcase Manchester United next Wednesday at Red Bull Arena – as a method by which to prop up its teams as competitive with top clubs from around the world. Such a mantra sells well with sponsors and makes for snappy sound bites, and the MLS players surely want to prove themselves, but virtually all of that traffic flows one-way.
A good exhibition is entertainment and not much more. Some fans will cynically state that the friendlies are a welcome relief from the drudgery of regular league competition. True enough, but slogging through tough times can pay off, as RSL fans discovered in 2009, and Rapids followers learned last November. Crew fans who waited more than a decade celebrated loudest and longest in 2008.
What to watch for this weekend? Start with this ….
Last year, a teenage goalkeeper named David de Gea stymied Clint Dempsey and his Fulham teammates in the Europa League final. Last month, de Gea helped Spain’s U-21 team win the European championship. On Saturday, de Gea is expected to play his first game for Manchester United since Atletico Madrid sold him for about $30 million.
He’s only 20, and is competing for the slot left vacant by Edwin van der Sar with two other keepers on the roster. Maybe Grazzini will test him with a free kick or try to lob him.
Now, there’s a back story that gives the game relevance. Beyond that, the show is just a show.