PORTLAND, Oregon — By most all accounts, the MLS All-Star Game was a rousing success for the league. All-Star sides had won just one of the last five games, and they made it two wins in three years with a deserved 2-1 win over a collection of largely second-team Bayern Munich players. The rowdy atmosphere was a fitting end to what MLS should view as a largely successful week.
But it was hard to ignore the contentiousness of the game’s final 15 minutes, which cast a hard-edged pall over the match’s waning moments.
When the whistle for full time blew, Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola was hot. He wasted little time stalking to the the cluster of referees in the center circle, forcefully slapping a few of his players’ hands and denying coaching counterpart Caleb Porter’s in the process.
The final 10 minutes of Bayern Munich’s 2-1 loss to the MLS All-Stars was choppy, and it was made all the more tense by the late substitutions of recent World Cup winners Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller. When hometown midfielder Will Johnson felled Schweinsteiger with a high challenge with minutes left in the match, which forced the German to the ground clutching his ankle, Guardiola erupted on the sideline. Minutes before, Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso clattered tricky midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who less than two months ago led Switzerland to the brink of an upset of Argentina in the World Cup. Guardiola was similarly nonplussed.
Unhappy with the rough treatment in a glorified friendly, Guardiola spent the final minutes of the game in a state of anger that bordered on lividity. It probably didn’t help his nerves that a handful of his best players had just flown 12 hours to play less than 15 minutes in a friendly before immediately hopping back on a plane for Europe.
The turnaround for that group of seven, which also included Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Arjen Robben, was less than 24 hours.
When the final whistle went, Guardiola briefly unloaded on referee Jair Marrufo before stalking off the field. In the post-game press conference, Guardiola insisted he didn’t see Porter, but video clearly showed him wagging his finger at the opposite sideline as he walked onto the field. Guardiola said after the game that Bayern Munich might expect to return to try and level the score.
“I hope they invite us next year so we can try and to make the revenge,” Guardiola said. "I will prepare a little bit better and we will be sure of what is going on and we will prepare much better. We will do it; I hope our invitation is coming."
For Porter, the postgame heat was all part of the fiery profession both men inhabit. Porter is no stranger to postgame emotion, but he was explicit that he didn’t set up his team to break down the game with overt physicality.
“As coaches, your job is on the line and you need the best guys in these games,” Porter said. “I understand completely why there was some emotion there. But we certainly didn’t mean to do anything negative in the game. We have the utmost respect for their players. Pep, the guy is an idol of mine. There were a couple tackles that went wrong.”
The game itself started poorly for the MLS side, which watched as Polish superstar striker Robert Lewandowski, who recently leveraged a move from rival Borussia Dortmund, laced a no-doubt rocket over Nick Rimando’s outstretched paw in the eighth minute. It was exactly the kind of rocket most fans expect out of an All-Star game featuring the defending German champs, but the groans from the MLS contingent in the audience were audible.
Bayern started five players who can expect to log significant first-team minutes this season, but the real heavy-hitters were all on the bench for the majority of the game. Even teenage U.S. World Cup goal-scorer Julian Green started on the bench before he was subbed on for a 45-minute stint in the 37th minute. To some degree, that allowed the MLS side some space to operate, which it found in the second half.
MLS found the breakthrough when New York Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips one-upped Lewandowski with a phenomenal goal in the 51st on a full sprint on a ball that bounced off the turf before he unloaded. MLS continued to press, and fittingly the winner came on a typically Landon Donovan finish in the 70th. Diego Valeri set up Donovan with a peach of a through ball, and Donovan’s crafty goal past recent sub Neuer gave MLS the lead it kept. Donovan immediately sprinted to the Bayern Munich fan section to celebrate.
“The players were tremendous,” Porter said. “It was every single player. I thought they played the game the right way. They looked brave and I thought they were tremendous, both halves.”
One of the game’s brightest lights was, unsurprisingly, Thierry Henry. The old hand’s future is uncertain, but he looked like a spry young player on Wednesday, making steaming runs from deep, setting up teammates with his deep bag of tricks and nearly scoring a wonder goal on an effort from 25 yards in the first half. Porter changed out every player at half except for Henry. That allowed the decorated Frenchman a standing ovation from the crowd in what could be his last All-Star game.
“It was an honor for me to be (Henry's) trainer,” Guardiola said. “He helped me a lot in my first year at Barcelona. He was very important to win the treble. I’m very happy for him, that he’s still playing. He deserves the best.”
As for a rematch next year to which Guardiola alluded? Porter is all for it, even if he won’t be on the sideline this time.
“Good. We look forward to it,” Porter said. “I won’t be the coach, so I can go down on top against Pep.”