Thursday, August 7, 2014

So Much for Goodwill

All the big European clubs are doing it.

Come to America, play a few friendly matches to tune up for the real "football" that starts in a few weeks. Sell some shirts, make some new fans from the burgeoning U.S. soccer culture. Goodwill tours can be very good business.

Except when there's no goodwill.

For ten years running, the MLS All-Star game has featured the best of the league (at some point anyway -- the fans seem to have a different idea of who the first 11 should be than me) against a European club. Fulham of the English Premier League was the first, followed by Chelsea, Celtic, West Ham, Man United twice, and others.

This year it was Bayern Munich, Champions League champ two years ago, finalist last year, winner of the most Bundesliga titles including the last two, chock-full of members of Germany's World Cup championship team, taking on the all-stars in Portland. Bayern is lead by Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach whose style and temperament I previously admired.

The game was several steps above the usual all-star game fare in any sport. The players played hard, actually defended, and scored two great goals. Bayern went on top through a fabulous strike by Robert Lewandowski. That remained the best goal of the game for 43 minutes, until Bradley Wright-Phillips unleashed an unstoppable shot of his own in the 51st minute to tie the game.


Then things really got interesting. Osvaldo Alonso, the tough midfielder for Portland's rival, the Seattle Sounders, received a yellow card for a hard challenge on Bayern's Shaqiri. It was a foul deserving of a booking, but not horrendous. Six minutes later, Landon Donovan, who had come on three minutes after half time, was the recipient of a gorgeous ball from Portland's Diego Valeri and put the Americans ahead 2-1.

With a minute of regular time left, Portland's Will Johnson was carded for a foul against Bastien Schweinsteiger, who was last seen receiving a public beating administered by various Argentines in the World Cup Final. When the match ended, Guardiola refused to shake MLS coach Caleb Porter's hand, with two of his assistant coaches shoving between Pep and Porter like jackbooted Storm Troopers, ostensibly to protect Porter from Guardiola's wrath. 

It's hard to tell which of the above events set Guardiola off.  While the refusal to shake Porter's hand after the match was presumably justified in Guardiola's mind because the match had turned out somewhat less friendly than Guardiola had anticipated, it was just as likely because the result of the match was something other than what Guardiola had anticipated. Guardiola's failure to even admit post-match that he had snubbed Porter certainly didn't shed any light on the matter.

Pep wags his finger at Porter while the SS begins to intervene in the background. 

But either reason exposes Guardiola's lack of sportsmanship. As if it was somehow Porter's fault that Alonzo and Johnson had chosen to go into those tackles hard. Again I find myself agreeing with Alexi Lalas: "This is a game of soccer. If you don't want to risk anything, don't play the game. Don't come here, don't come here for the money, don't come here for the pre-season, don't come here for the game."

Whatever goodwill Bayern had built through its whirlwind tour was squashed under Pep's designer loafers, rejected by his wagging finger. Childish and petulant are adjectives that come to mind. Guardiola's players seemed embarrassed by his snub of Porter as several stayed on the field longer than usual after the match to exchange shirts, talk with the all-stars, and acknowledge the fans.

It didn't help. I know I'm not rushing out to buy a Bayern shirt any time soon. I doubt that many others in the stands in Portland or watching on tv had a different reaction. And it can't have been the denouement that the Bayern brass was hoping for.

Goodwill indeed. Get your arrogant butt back on the plane Pep, and play your European football all you want. We play soccer here, and we play to win.

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