This wasn’t your average exhibition game. No, this was business.
The MLS All-Stars gathered at PPL Park for the annual midseason showcase, this time against English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea FC Wednesday night.
Eddie Johnson’s goal in stoppage time lifted the MLS All-Stars to a stirring 3-2 victory, sending most of the record crowd of 19,236 into a frenzy.
In other major sports, the All-Star Game is a glorified exhibition game.
For MLS players, it’s different. Since the league debuted in 1996, there has been a steady progression to prove its mettle against other top leagues around the world.
When this game rolls around, the players want to win — badly.
“That Chelsea team didn’t come here and just mess around,” said LA Galaxy star forward Landon Donovan. “They came to play and they played most of their guys 60 minutes and they played hard. While we’re not jumping through hoops because we beat a team in preseason, I think there was a lot of really good individual performances. We came to win and we’re very, very happy we got the job done. It’s important to us.”
It’s important to clubs such as Chelsea FC as well because they’re in preseason training. The result doesn’t matter in the standings, but it does matter.
“There are some great players on the MLS side as well and you can see the league growing and the players are as well,” said Chelsea FC defender John Terry. “They are in the middle of their season and are in great fitness and they showed that.”
Jimmy Nielsen, the starting goalkeeper for the MLS All-Stars, understands the ramifications as well as any player with his plethora of experience in Europe.
“We are all competitors and for MLS, there’s still a lot to prove everyday,” said Nielsen, who plays for Sporting Kansas City. “I signed in MLS in 2010 and it’s getting better all the time. We have a lot of talent here and it’s great to see. This was a terrific win for our league against a special side such as Chelsea.”