The first All-Star Game
July 31, 2013
When MLS All-Star games are discussed, the early years are usually dismissed. "Oh, how quaint!", the message usually is. "East vs West. Har, har, har!" And the MLS 2.0 fans strokes his ironic mustache, embellishing the glory of defeating a European squad in the middle of their summer vacation. Har, har, har indeed.
Let's not let that shortsightedness get in the way; as useless as all All-Star games are (no matter the format), few spectacles could compare to what transpired in 1996, when an iconic double-header filled the stadium to its brim. 78,416 made their way out to Giants Stadium that day; at the time, the second-largest crowd in the history of the Meadowlands, second only to some guy named Karol Wojtyla. You might know him as Pope John Paul II.
The MetroStars were duly represented on MLS's East side. Tony Meola, Roberto Donadoni, and Tab Ramos started, while Giovanni Savarese came off the bench. And it was Ramos who scored the first ever goal in all-star history. 14 minutes in, Tampa Bay's Carlos Valderrama swung the ball over to the unmarked Metro. Ramos took a bounce of his chest and slammed a rocket past LA's Jorge Campos. The New Jersey crowd exploded for their local star.
The West would respond through Preki and Jason Kreis, which brought us to the match's 69th minute. Future Metro-for-a-minute Steve Rammel made a run to the receive the ball at the endline, and centered it. West goalie Mark Dodd got a hand on it, as the ball rebounded to the path of -- who else -- Savarese. Metro's original hero tapped it in from close range, and the game was tied.
The game stayed level until two minutes left, when Valderrama fed Mutiny teammate Steve Pittman. The slow-footed defender entered the penalty area unmolested and slotted the winner past Dodd. But the dramatic ending was only the appetizer.
The second game saw Brazil take on the FIFA XI, which featured some of the best players in the World (and John Harkes). Iconic names like Marcel Desailly, Fernando Redondo, Michael Laudrup, David Ginola, Metro wannabe George Weah, and -- yes! -- Lothar Matthaus lined up to take on the World Cup winners. Brazil featured later Metro rumor Ronaldo -- then known as Ronaldinho(!).
The stands of the stadium turned into the sea of yellow, and they were not disappointed. Bebeto, often rumored at the time to come to Metro, opened the scoring with a header into a vacated net. Some guy named Jurgen Klinsmann tied it, but Roberto Carlos tallied the winner for the Brazilians in the 79th minute from an acute angle.
A year later, MLS came back to Giants Stadium for the All-Star game, deciding to stage it on a Wednesday night. The affair was much more subdued, and was played in front of a paltry 24,816. Metro would have to wait 14 years to host its next such match, doing so in 2011, when Hans Backe-led MLS lost to Manchester United 4:0.
But the MLS 2.0 fan should know about that one...