Large crowd was about the only plus for MLS in All-Star game
More than 70,000 fans saw vaunted Manchester United crush the MLS All-Stars
Kevin Alston's weak pass in the match's first minute seemed to set the tone
The All-Stars had a few bright spots, but they couldn't rally from a 2-0 hole
HOUSTON -- Just in case anyone forgot that gathering up a bunch of talented players and hoping they figure it out on the fly is a dicey gambit, Manchester United reminded everyone during Wednesday's MLS All-Star contest.
The English giants put a 5-2 stinger on the MLS collection, only the second time Major League Soccer has lost in seven such contests in this format.
The only win for MLS was at the gate: A crowd of 70,728 under the roof at Reliant Stadium was the largest to see a soccer game in Houston and the fourth-largest ever to watch an all-star game in any professional sport in the United States, according to MLS.
None of Major League Soccer's All-Stars could relish the result, but none seemed too upset about it, either. If you're going to be on the business end of a Texas butt-whuppin', taking it from the world's wealthiest and most storied club probably provides some small measure of consolation.
"I don't think we necessarily came into the game to figure out how to try to steal a result as much as we tried to give players an opportunity, tried to put on a good show," MLS All-Star coach Bruce Arena said. "Even though the result didn't go our way, a number of our players showed well, and I'm really optimistic for the future of our league."
New England Revolution right back Kevin Alston was one of those who had a nice evening -- after one seriously bad moment, that is. Alston got the ball caught under his foot and his weak pass over toward teammate Jamison Olave was easy pickings for Manchester United's Federico Macheda. Just more than 20 seconds into the game the Red Devils' reserve striker slipped a ball calmly past MLS goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts for a shockingly fast lead.
Oddly, former MLS All-Star Stuart Holden did something very similar early in last year's contest in about the same place on the field as Everton put the first blemish on Major League Soccer's mark against foreign opposition.
It got little better from there as Manchester United was clearly not here to drop and defend. The proud club's loss Sunday to Kansas City probably lit a little fire under Manchester United, as well. The MLS side needed about 15 minutes to adapt the speed of the game, to dig in against the pressing style of Sir Alex Ferguson's side. The MLS players, some of whom met only Wednesday morning and who couldn't hope to orchestrate much coordinated movement, struggled to cope, even against a Man U team with perhaps only five true starters on the field to begin the match.
Macheda drifted away from his marker to put his club up by two after 13 minutes. It would be another couple of minutes still before the MLS All-Stars even threatened, as Juan Pablo Angel's free kick finally gave Red Devils goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar something to do.
Hometown man Brian Ching briefly made it look like a close game, striking on a close-range header off David Ferreira's free kick in the 64th minute. But Darron Gibson's pinpoint free kick for the visitors made it 3-1 in the 70th minute and removed any lingering mystery. Three minutes later, Tom Cleverly beat both MLS center backs (Wilman Conde and Omar Gonzalez by that time) for a fancy and well-worked goal off Darren Fletcher's classy pass. And finally, Man U's new Mexican signing, Javier Hernandez, got in cleanly behind the MLS defense and calmly put a bouncing ball over Nick Rimando for No. 5.
Ferreira and Ching worked the left side to feed Dwayne De Rosario, who cleanly beat Manchester United first-teamer Wes Brown for one of the best MLS moments, his 90th-minute goal.
Player ratings for the MLS All-Stars (scale of 1-10, with 10 as best):
Donovan Ricketts (5): The MLS goalkeeper couldn't do much on either of Manchester United's early goals, but he sure didn't need to play around with the ball and give up No. 3, which he nearly did.
Kevin Alston (5): The New England Revolution right back recovered fairly nicely from his early bad moment -- but what an awful moment it was, a sloppy pass that led to a goal and put the wheels in motion for a bad MLS night all the way around.
Jamison Olave (6): Real Salt Lake's big center back had some important interventions, stretching and lunging as danger approached. He was never a big part of the problem.
Chad Marshall (7): The best young U.S. center back not in South Africa delivered his usual crisp passing out of back. Defensively, he always looked in control.
Heath Pearce (6): A good, solid 74 minutes of work on offense and defense. Rafael did beat Pearce once, but Nick Rimando bailed him out. Juan Pablo Angel probably could have done better on one first-half, driven cross from the FC Dallas defender.
Sebastien Le Toux (5): He started at left midfield but busily moved around, filling in the middle as Guillermo Barros Schelotto or Javier Morales tried to work outside to find space. Still, Le Toux never produced anything special.
Shalrie Joseph (6): He was very busy in his holding role -- and fairly exposed in a midfield diamond that looked like it had been tossed together, which of course it was. Joseph's passing wasn't always the best, but it is hard to find channels against Manchester United, especially when he's doing the work for two men.
Javier Morales (6): RSL's creator in midfield, playing ahead of Joseph in the diamond, he got on the ball often and helped keep possession when a lot of teammates couldn't. One sweet through ball into Angel should have reaped more.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto (4): He's usually so smart about the game that he overcomes the 37-year-old in him through positioning and wits. But Manchester United's men are pretty smart, too, so the Columbus Crew playmaker looked a tad slow in this one.
Marco Pappa (3): Chicago's live-wire attacker was absolutely invisible for 30 minutes. He took a couple of shots in the 15 minutes afterward, although neither had much menace. Not exactly a night to hang his hat on.
Juan Pablo Angel (4): Not very impressive stuff from the Red Bulls leading scorer. He couldn't do much with the balls he got inside the penalty area and wasn't a particularly effective as a target man beyond the 18.
Nick Rimando (7): Played the second half but made almost a entire game's worth of quality stops. Three saves were highlight worthy. Gave up three goals but wasn't particularly culpable on any of them.
Omar Gonzalez (3): A tough ask, as a disjointed team in front of the young L.A. Galaxy defender became more helter-skelter as subs streamed on and off. That said, he didn't have a great night. He may have kept Javier Hernandez onside on the fifth goal, too.
Jeff Larentowicz (4): Colorado's blue collar worker was asked to come in at halftime and sit deep to help Joseph stabilize the middle, which he did. His passing and possession suffered from Man U's relentless pressure.
Bobby Convey (4): Got loose once early in the second half but his pass into the penalty area was dubious. Played left midfield upon his halftime introduction, then at left back as Arena emptied the bench and moved players around.
David Ferreira (6): Another halftime sub, he did a lot of what Morales did in the first half and, popping up in different spots and energizing the offense. He supplied the free kick on Ching's goal and later drew a foul at the edge of the penalty area.
Brian Ching (6): Yet another halftime sub, the Houston Dynamo striker got loose for the first goal and otherwise did his usual scrapping around and fighting for second balls over 45 minutes of action.
Jaime Moreno (4): If Schelotto looked a little slow, Moreno was even slower, a bicycle trying to keep up with speeding cars on a highway. The MLS' all-time leading scorer just couldn't offer much to this game.
Wilman Conde (4): Entered in the 63rd minute as a replacement center back and soon got himself into trouble; he was booked when he needed to bring down Javier Hernandez 30 yards from goal.
Landon Donovan (5): Like the other L.A. Galaxy stars, he was limited Wednesday after playing a night before in CONCACAF Champions League action. He did immediately know the speed of the game, at least, so he was up to the job straight away.
Dwayne De Rosario (6): He likes these All-Star games, so it's a shame he could play for just 16 minutes after also playing a competitive match a night earlier. His well-taken 90th minute goal helped put a little finishing shine on the game for MLS.
Brad Davis (5): The Dynamo man was set-up brilliantly by Ferreira late, but put his point-blank effort too close to Edwin van der Sar. He did hit the post with a real cracker from 40 yards in the dying moments.