Work in Sports
On the Pitch
MLS All-Star Game wet and wild in Columbus
By Jeff Green, CNNSI.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- They expected it to be wild, but Soccer City, U.S.A., also threatened to be wet on Saturday for Major League Soccer’s fifth All-Star Game (3:30 p.m. ET; ABC).
As the standing-room-only crowd filed into Columbus Crew Stadium, only the stands were shining yellow. The gray skies threatened to dampen the “Soccer Celebration” of inflatable games and hot-dog vendors in the parking lot surrounding the stadium. Temperatures were in the mid-70’s, with thunderstorms in the forecast and an 80 percent chance of rain.
“If the weather stays like this, it’s not too bad,” said MLS vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche, enjoying the cool pregame breeze. “If.”
The latest edition of MLS’ annual goal-fest showcased the only stadium built specifically for MLS, which the league hope will set an example for other investors to follow.
“Every time I drive to the stadium, I say, ‘I can’t believe it happened in Columbus, Ohio,” said Crew coach Tom Fitzgerald.
In the locker rooms, the East and West coaches took different approaches to the match. West coach Bob Gansler turned in his list of projected substitutions to officials before kickoff, while the East’s Octavio Zambrano opted to put off his decisions until halftime.
MetroStars coach Zambrano welcomed legendary German libero Lothar Matthäus back to his starting lineup for only the second time since he returned from Euro 2000. Matthäus had been out of the MetroStars lineup -- and embroiled in controversy -- with a strained back.
“I feel better than four weeks ago, but still not that good,” Matthäus said Saturday before the game. “But I start back with the team tomorrow night in New York. “I will likely come back good in 10 days or two weeks.
“I hope I can play 30 to 35 minutes [in the All-Star Game],” Matthäus said. “Hopefully, we can make a good game for the fans.”
Zambrano was forced to scratch D.C. United midfielder Marco Etcheverry from the starting lineup, replacing him with New England Revolution midfielder John Harkes.
The East squad also opted to swap the positions of D.C. United’s Jaime Moreno and the MetroStars Clint Mathis. Voted in as a midfielder, Mathis was moved up to forward, while Moreno slid back into the center of midfield alongside Harkes.
Wizards coach Gansler planned to play starting defensive midfielder Chris Armas of the Chicago Fire for only 30 minutes. Armas returned to action for the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup this week after two weeks of U.S. national team duty, and he was scheduled to take the field Sunday as one of three over-age players allowed on the U.S. Olympic team.
East All-Star Jeff Agoos, a left-sided defender, was also scheduled to play Sunday for the Olympic team.
The only player projected to play the full 90 minutes by Gansler was Colorado Rapids defender Marcelo Balboa -- whose team just happens to be returning to action against Gansler’s Wizards on Wednesday.
Armas and the mostly under-23 U.S. Olympic squad was set to take on England’s Bolton Wanderers in Indianapolis in a warm-up match. Sunday’s match will be Armas’ fourth in eight days.
“I kind of did myself in after the U.S. Open Cup game on Tuesday after coming in from Costa Rica,” Armas said before the All-Star Game. “I’m not just tired; I’m a little sore in my left hamstring. Actually, it’s up a little higher.
“It’s just a leisurely game,” he said of the All-Star match. “Hopefully, I won’t do any more damage. If I feel anything at all, I’ll come out early.”
A U.S. Soccer Federation official said before the All-Star match that Olympic coach Clive Charles would be in Columbus on Monday to announce the team’s only other preparation match before leaving for Sydney.
No exact date or opponent was yet determined for the August match at Crew Stadium. Previous discussion had included Cameroon.
Asked whether he believed the reported financial troubles for Barbados would keep them from showing up for the World Cup qualifier against the U.S. in Foxboro, Mass., on August 16, the official said, “FIFA won’t let that happen.”