Billed as a friendly, this game has a lot of meaning for fans of America's Major League Soccer. Recently expanded to 14 teams with the inclusion of the Seattle Sounders, who were once coached by Jimmy Gabriel, it is the newcomers who got the giant's share of what the yanks call their roster for this seasonal "All-Stars" game.
There's nothing to compare in the English football league... fans get to vote for their favourite players from the past season, and the squad is augmented by the coaches' choices. Interesting to see how coach Dominic Kinnear gets the group of individuals to blend as a team... They actually have a fairly solid record against prestigious competition from Limey Land and are "4 for zip" going into this game, as the Yanks would say:
David Moyes has a squad of 19 players to chose from, and presumably unlimited substitutions are allowed, so most are likely to get a game as they see this test in the summer heat, at an altitude of 4,450 feet in this suburb of Salt Lake City, a definite fitness builder. The stadium, home of MLS side Real Salt Lake, is on the cozy side, only holding 20,000 but the game will be broadcast live across the USA on ESPN2 – and in HD – the first time Everton have been on TV in the USA in High Definition. The result doesn't really matter... but don't be telling them Yanks that!
Last night, Everton played the second game of their US tour at the Rio Tinto
Stadium in Sandy, near Salt Lake City, Utah. This is the second time is as
many years that Everton have played a game that could almost be considered local
for me (I live north of Denver). Their opponents were the MLS All-Stars, a side
made up of all the best players (of any nationality) playing in MLS. The prize? – the mighty MLS Cup. Out of 4 games in the last 5 years between the All Stars
and British opposition, West Ham, Celtic, Chelski and Fulham have all failed to
beat their American opponents.
Hibbert at right back, Roger and Joey in the middle and Baines on the left made up the back four with Timmy, Neville, Rodwell and Osman across the middle. The front two were Saha and Fellaini – the big fellah with the even bigger hair playing behind Louis. Everton started well, Saha got a shot off and for the first ten minutes Everton looked comfortable. Osman made a couple of long runs but suffered from poor service – overhit passes weren't made any easier by the heat and the 3,000 ft elevation of the capital of the Mormon church.
Just under 15 minutes into the game, one of the MLS defenders gifted the ball to Louis by playing a weak pass from a throw in across his own 18-yard box – almost straight to Louis' feet. Saha took a touch and blasted it wide of the keeper into the corner of the goal... 1-0. As I watched this suicide pass, it reminded me of the one Yobo made a couple of seasons back when he did the same for Rooney to score as we lost to Manchester United.
This goal seemed to wake up the All-Stars and for the next 20 minutes they started to control the game. Osman looked sharp when he got the ball but there was little from Timmy, Rodwell seemed well off the pace and although Neville put in a couple of challenges, Everton were unable to string much together in midfield.
The most threatening play from Everton seemed to come from, of all people, Tony Hibbert, who made some decent runs up the right wing (trying to make up for his poor FA Cup Final?) but Everton's front men were unable to make much from them. Conversely Baines was unable to get down the left and Osman got no service from him at all. MLS controlled the middle.
After half an hour or so, they got a deserved equaliser. Casey, the thug from Colorado, easily muscled Baines off the ball, got in a decent cross and after a knock-on in front of goal, one the MLS players arrived at the far post to slice the ball home. Joey was in no mans land, Hibbert nowhere to be seen.
With 5 minutes to go, Osman and Tiny swapped sides but it had little effect. MLS were unlucky not to go in to half time 2-1 up, Casey got a decent header to a good cross and stretched Howard into making a decent save. Half time, 1-1, Howard kept us it in with a two or three excellent saves.
Second half, the Blues kept the same 11, MLS changed their keeper and brought on Landon Donavan. MLS stepped up the pace and had a couple of quick attempts on goal. Moyes's first changed was to bring on Jo for the ineffectual (but no worse than any of the other Everton players) Fellaini.
Then with half an hour to go, the MLS keeper injured his thigh dealing with a routine cross and was unable to continue. This presented MLS with a problem as they had already used their sub keeper. A laughing Moyes told the MLS manager he should put an outfielder in goal but he quickly relented and allowed Casey Keller to return to the field.
Jo was looking sharp up front but Everton were running out of steam. With 15 minutes left, Donovan was presented with an open goal two yards out. His scuffed shot hit the post, rebounded across the face of goal and was cleared by Baines.
Cue wholesale change by Moyes. Vaughan, Wallace and Baxter replaced Saha, Tiny and Osman. All three showed some good play, Wallace being confident to take the ball from the back to the half-way line but again little further penetration from the blues. Rodwell got booked for an obvious trip, then Hibbert got in a good cross but Jo put it over the bar.
The last Everton chance was another header from Jo after a Baines free kick, again going over the woodwork. More MLS pressure followed, Wallace cleared off the line from Casey but after 3 minutes added time, the ref blew up and the game went to penalties. Tim Howard had kept Everton in the game with a string of fine saves with MLS out shooting Everton something like 19 to 2 in the second half.
Everton went first, the ref kept Vaughany waiting for 2 minutes only for him to slice high, wide and handsome. The first MLS penalty from Donovan was slotted home. Jo stepped up, looked confident but put a tame shot easily within reach of Keller. First 2 pens missed and it looked like Everton would go the way of all the other British teams against the All-Stars...
Then, a ghost of a chance, great save from Howard. Baines, Neville and Lescott all stepped up to score, Howard made another save with his feet and after 5 pens each it was 3-3. Rodwell coolly scored, then up stepped Arsenal has-been Ljungberg only to see Howard make a great one handed save. Game over.
The Blues became the first team to beat the MLS All-Stars and win the MLS Cup. Deservedly, Tim Howard took the Man of the Match (called MVP – Most Valuable Player over here). A miserable looking Phil Neville stepped up to get the trophy, mumbled a few words into the mic and then slunk off with the cup like a married man who's just been told he's got herpes.
So, an Everton victory but, just like the game over here vs Colorado Rapids last year, Everton won when they didn't deserve to – even a draw would have been harsh on the All Stars.
Undoubtedly, Tim Howard was the best Everton player and two-handedly kept Everton in the game. A notable mention for Hibbert, who had a good game going forwards. Jo looked sharp and creative, Saha equally sharp but neither managed to impose themselves (Saha's goal was a gift I could have scored).
The defence looked rusty, some decent individual play but not the brick wall it was so many times last year. The Everton midfield lacked craft and imagination, Osman being the only one who looked like he would unlock the MLS defence. The 3 youngsters brought on in the second half all showed promise while Rodwell made little impact overall.
These games seem to give little clue as to what the next season will hold, last year against Colorado we looked worse but still managed a respectable fifth. For me, I think Everton will make a top 6 finish as long as we can sign a couple of players, get Jag and Mikey back, keep hold of Lescott and most importantly hope our strikers stay fit. If not, well you just don't know – hell, it's always fun supporting the blues.
|2009-10 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|MLS All-Stars (4-4-2)|
|Keller (46' Thornton (62' Keller))|
|Marshall (45' Soumare)|
|Conde (62' Hurtado)|
|Holden (62' Morales)|
|Beckerman (45' Johnson)|
|Montero (45' Donovan)|
|Blanco (62' Arnaud)|
|Subs not used|
|Osman (76' Wallace)|
|Cahill (76' Baxter)|
|Fellaini (55' Jo)|
|Saha (76' Vaughan)|
|Subs not used|
|Gosling (Intl Duty)|