- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

When is a game not a game? Answer: When its a 75-minute Major League Soccer All-Star Game.

Yesterdays seventh annual MLS All-Star Game at RFK Stadium started as nothing but a mere opening act to Paulina Rubios halftime concert and then fortunately got better. D.C. Uniteds Marco Etcheverry was named the games MVP after leading a collection of MLS All-Stars to a 3-2 victory over the U.S. team All-Stars.

A severe weather system swept through southeast Washington and turned what started out as an entertaining match into a circus. At 4:14, referee Brian Hall stopped the game in the 20th minute because of a severe lightning storm and removed the players from the field. During the deluge that followed, fans ran out on the field and belly-flopped all over the field.

One fan ran toward the center circle, took off his shirt off and pulled down his shorts to expose more flesh than the scantily clad Rubio. He was apprehended by security and led off in handcuffs.

After a 58-minute weather delay, MLS commissioner Don Garber decided that playing a shortened 30-minute first half would be the best way to fit in the Rubio show and stay within televisions time slot.

When event staff rolled the pop stars stage onto RFKs water-logged field, its tires cut ruts in the pristine turf and scarred the playing surface for todays important Washington Freedom game against the Atlanta Beat. All this action happened before a goal had been scored.

"There were lots of thoughts of what possible solutions we could come up with, and things were changing minute-by-minute," Garber said. "Weather reports were changing, and we were getting those reports from the stadium [officials] that were in touch with the Weather Bureau.

"We knew that we had a very limited period of time that we needed to get in while we had fans that were standing in the aisles and while we were trying to keep a television audience. Coming back in and shortening the first half was a decision that we made, and we felt was the right decision in order to have a complete second half, in order to have a good halftime show and a field that needed to drain."

At no time did Garber consider canceling the halftime show in order for both teams to play full 45-minute halves.

"It was a decision that we believed was the right decision to make, we had the full support of our title sponsor, Pepsi, and we had the full support of our network [ESPN] to do it," Garber said. "But we felt the decision we made [to go on with the halftime show] was the right one based on what we were trying to deliver to our television audience and what we were trying to deliver to the audience here in the stands."

The 31,096 fans, some of whom who paid $55 a ticket, received at least 45 minutes of decent soccer. The full 45-minute second half featured five goals.

Etcheverrys goal in the 72nd minute broke a 1-1 tie. Bolivian teen-ager Joselito Vaca, who plays for the Dallas Burn, played a ball out of the midfield to Etcheverry inside the 18-yard box. From about 12 yards, Etcheverry used his left foot to chip the ball over U.S. team goalkeeper Juergen Sommer and give the MLS All-Stars a shortlived 2-1 lead.

"It was a little bit of luck," Etcheverry said. "Playing with great players today brings the best out of a player, and Im happy I scored a goal."

Four minutes later, Cobi Jones of the U.S. team tied the game 2-2 when he tapped in Brian McBrides cross with his right foot from a yard out.

MLS All-Star midfielder Steve Ralston scored the game-winner in the 81st minute when he rolled a ball to the far post past Sommer from about eight yards out on the left flank.

Landon Donovan, the U.S. teams golden boy, scored the games first goal in the 58th minute when he received a nice cross from Chris Henderson, who was out on the left flank, and slotted home a pretty right-footed strike.

One minute later, the MLS All-Stars tied it when the Burns Jason Kreis scored a nice sliding 12-yard goal after Kansas City Wizards midfielder Chris Klein rolled a cross into the box from the touchline.

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