- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

Today's Major League Soccer All-Star Game at RFK Stadium should be a celebration for MLS staying in business seven years as well as a tribute to the national team's run to the quarterfinals in June's World Cup.

But the league cannot claim responsibility for the U.S. team's surprising success, which MLS officials appear eager to use any way they can.

Almost half the national team plays abroad. That includes players like right back Tony Sanneh, who was forced to go to Europe because MLS would not meet his modest salary demands when his contract expired with D.C. United four years ago.

"This game will celebrate all that is great about our league and our sport," commissioner Don Garber said yesterday at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown. "Importantly, our league made a statement as well. Led by the 'MLS Strike Force' of Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Mathis, Josh Wolff and Brian McBride not to mention defensive pillars Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos and Pablo Mastroeni and MLS alumni Brad Friedel, Tony Sanneh and Frankie Hejduk we've proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Major League Soccer, in seven short years, can and has produced world-class talent."

The MLS All-Star Game is a dubious stage for such pronouncements. Players are not going to go all out and risk injury which makes this just a glorified exhibition no different from all-star games in other sports.

"I wouldn't call it a farce," national team defender Jeff Agoos said. "If you look at every other all-star game, I don't think you've got guys flagrantly fouling guys going for a layup and throwing their best pitches or playing their best defense."

With a knee injury to striker Clint Mathis, nine players from this year's U.S. World Cup team will be available for today's game, which features the national team vs. the MLS All-Stars. Here's how seriously both teams are taking this game: The U.S. national team went to the White House to meet President Bush instead of working out. The MLS All-Stars, meanwhile, played a game called "monkey in the middle" for about 20 minutes in the sweltering heat, then wrapped up practice.

"I haven't been a big fan of the last couple of All-Star Games," said Dallas Burn forward Jason Kreis, who will play for the MLS All-Stars. "For me, maybe it's not the greatest experience to come out and just see who can showboat the most. I hope it's going to be a more competitive game because that would be right up my alley."

Historically, MLS All-Star Games have been noncompetitive affairs, with defenses taking the afternoon off. Last year's game ended in a 6-6 draw. In 2000, the East beat the West 9-4. In 1999, the West beat the East 6-4.

For many young MLS stars like Burn defender Ryan Suarez, New England Revolution striker Taylor Twellman and Chicago Fire defender Carlos Bocanegra, this game offers a chance to show national team coach Bruce Arena there is younger talent ready to step up and represent their country.

Conversely, Suarez and Bocanegra don't want to make a bad impression and get smoked by somebody like Donovan for a goal.

"I think a lot of people have a little bit in the back of their mind about the national team maybe jealously, a little bitterness, so that could bring some fire to people," Bocanegra said.

In an attempt to induce competition, U.S. Soccer reportedly will give each member of the national team $2,000 if it wins. The MLS All-Stars won't receive a cash payment for winning, although most players have bonuses written into their contracts if they make the All-Star team.

"I think it will be a little bit of a real soccer game," Arena said.

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