Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola summed up the spectacle of this MLS All-Star Game with his final public words before concluding his commitments in Portland. He responded to a question about the physical nature of the game and then took an unexpected turn after he deflected the inquiry.
He said he wanted to return with Bayern Munich and play the MLS All-Stars again next year.
“I expect they are going to invite us back next year to try to make our revenge,” Guardiola said after the All-Stars claimed a 2-1 victory. “I’m going to prepare a little bit better. Now we will be sure what is going on. We will prepare much better. That will do, I hope, our invitation.”
Guardiola’s emotional response to the proceedings offered a fitting cap to the way this rather dramatic All-Star Game unfolded. MLS craves a chance to push the league into the spotlight and tempt more fans to sample its fare. This setting — a sold-out, raucous crowd at Providence Park with the German champions on the other side — provided the platform. The players on the field took full advantage of it to deliver a show worthy of its name.
Memorable moments and talking points emerged at every turn as the match progressed. Robert Lewandowski produced a goal of genuine quality to give Bayern the lead. Thierry Henry nearly mustered a stunning response with an audacious bit of skill before taking perhaps his final All-Star curtain just after halftime. Bradley Wright-Phillips equalized. Landon Donovan struck the winner and then summarily exited. All of the German World Cup winners made their late cameo appearances to considerable applause. Guardiola even blew off Caleb Porter at the final whistle after his team failed to procure an equalizer and suffered through a few too many unnecessary tackles in defeat.
Passion is often hard to locate in these sorts of exhibitions, but the buildup to the match, this night and those events provoked it somehow. It felt real, as Donovan noted. It felt genuine. It felt like everything mattered.
It is exactly the sort of investment MLS needs to increase its relevance and stoke debate across wider platforms. The game inspired reactions and stirred sentiment even though it held no tangible meaning. As Henry rather sagely noted, it didn’t matter, but it did. And the fare on the field and in the aftermath showed it.
These sorts of nights occur from time to time, but the grand nature of this particular evening represented a step forward for the league. This match counted even in its practical irrelevance.
“I’m proud to be a part of this league,” Donovan said. “For many years, those of us in this league were sort of looked down upon for staying here and playing here. This was a big moment for our league. We understand that the game doesn’t count for anything. We know Bayern are in their preseason and their best players didn’t play, but they were still competitive. Those guys wanted to win just like we did. Anytime you can get a result against a team like that, it’s always good, no matter what the circumstances.”
These particular circumstances constituted another positive development for a league still trying to find its footing and push its way towards the relevancy it seeks. The anticipation and the excitement surrounding the game here in Portland represent the exception, not the norm. These sorts of nights provide a foundation to build upon to transform the dynamic.
It is incumbent on MLS to find a way to transform these one-off spectacles and the fervor surrounding the World Cup into more sustained and expansive interest in its league. It is a long and winding road given the task at hand, but the contributions of the players on the winning side and the magnitude ensure some progress made along the way.
This night in Portland provided memories to take forward along that journey. They were enough for Guardiola – whether in anger or in frustration or in some other emotion – to immediately want another chance to participate again and set things right. His response provided exactly the sort of verdict required to deem the night a success.