Cuauhtemoc Blanco just made Sven-Goran Eriksson's job as Mexico coach a lot more difficult.
The wily Chicago Fire striker and Mexico international scored once and set up another goal for Colorado Rapids midfielder Christian Gomez to lead the MLS All-Stars to a 3:2 win over England's West Ham United in the 2008 Major League Soccer All-Star Game at BMO Field in Toronto, Canada.
"The goal he (Blanco) scored, it was fantastic and he's a guy you want on the team," said All-Star team and New England Revolution coach Steve Nicol on Blanco. Blanco took a pass from FC Dallas' Juan Toja inside the penalty area, faked a defender and then curled his shot into the top corner of the goal to put the All-Stars up 2:1 just before halftime. Earlier, he used a cheeky backheel pass to spring Gomez for the goal that tied the game at one.
Despite playing just the first half, Blanco had one of the stronger performances of the evening to earn the game's MVP award. His deft passing and accurate shooting will make it difficult for Eriksson to overlook him when the former England coach selects his squad for the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers next month.
"All you can do is play hard and play well and hope you get called up to the national team," said Blanco through an interpreter. Blanco, who made his MLS debut in Toronto last season, wasn't the only CONCACAF North Zone player to make an impact. Canadian and Houston Dynamo midfielder Dwayne De Rosario scored what proved to be the game-winning goal on a penalty kick in the 69th minute.
De Rosario came on for Toja 10 minutes earlier and immediately changed the complexion of the game with his pace and ability to get into open spaces. His substitution opened up the game leading to better passing, quicker ball movement and good scoring chances the rest of the way.
De Rosario's drive through the penalty area forced West Ham defender Lucas Neill to take him down in the 69th minute and draw the penalty kick. Dramatic goals seem to be De Rosario's forte as he had the winner in the MLS All-Stars' 1-0 win over England's Chelsea FC in the 2006 game. He also won the MLS Goal of the Year honor in 2004 and 2005.
"We put them back on their heels," said the Toronto native who was playing before many family and friends. "We got a chance to score and I'm glad I got the game- winning goal." All-Star coach Steve Nicol would have brought him in earlier, at the start of the second half, had De Rosario not played the night before with the Houston Dynamo in a make-up game in Washington against D.C. United.
"For me, this is a dream come true, growing up in Scarborough (Toronto)," said De Rosario on the game and the All-Star experience in Toronto. "I always wanted to play in my hometown in my home stadium especially in a game of this magnitude." Together, De Rosario and Blanco provided a glimpse of the skill that will be on display in the "Group of Death" World Cup qualifying group that includes Mexico, Canada, Honduras and Jamaica.
Striker Dean Ashton was the bright spot scoring both goals for West Ham United, which beat the MLS's Columbus Crew 2:1 in a friendly on Tuesday in Columbus, USA. West Ham United, based in the east end of London, finished 10th in the English Premier League last season. With the win, the MLS All-Stars remain undefeated against international club teams. The MLS All-Stars have played international clubs four of the last five years and faced EPL opposition for the third time in four years.
In 2003, the MLS All-Stars beat Mexico's Club Deportivo de Guadalajara, departing for the first time from the east-west All-Star format. The All-Stars beat England's Fulham 1:0 in 2005 and then followed that with 1:0 wins over England's Chelsea FC and Celtic FC of Scotland in 2006 and 2007, respectively. The game was every bit the spectacle that Toronto soccer fans expected.
David Beckham finally made his much-anticipated Toronto debut since joining MLS last season and played the entire 90 minutes. An ankle injury foiled his Los Angeles Galaxy and MLS regular season debut last season on 5 August and an international call-up to England forced him to miss this year's game against Toronto FC. He didn't disappoint as every free kick and corner kick from the BMO Field record crowd of 20,843 drew "oohs" and "aahs" and dozens of camera flash bulbs throughout the stadium.
"We knew it was going to be a good game," said Beckham. I sat on the bench and saw the players enjoying it. I think the crowd had fun and tonight there were a lot of special occasions." England's captain almost sent the crowd into a frenzy just missing the top left corner of the goal on a one-timed drive off a cross from Colombian Juan Pablo Angel of Red Bull New York. "We said we were going to take it seriously and we did," said Beckham. "We proved that we can come together, play together and win together as a team."
The raucous Toronto fans also lived up to their reputation. From the opening whistle, they threw streamers, chanted and called for Toronto FC defender Jim Brennan to enter the game. Their calls were finally answered when both De Rosario and Brennan entered the game together, generating a roar from the crowd and easily the loudest moment in the game. "It was amazing. It's hard to describe it." Brennan said of the chants. "You know, you're sitting on the bench having the fans scream for you to come on, and you know like I said it'll be something that I'll always remember." "I was under a bit of pressure," Nicol joked of the fans' chants for Brennan. "But I handled it." Minutes later, Canadian and Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad substituted in for starting goalkeeper Matt Reis of the New England Revolution to put all three Canadians on the field at the same time.
In all, four CONCACAF countries were represented on the MLS All-Stars with players from Canada, Mexico, USA and Grenada. Grenada's Shalrie Joseph (New England) joined Americans Reis, Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Frankie Hejduk, (Columbus) Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles) and Steve Ralston (New England).
The game's festivities got underway when parachutists dropped from the sky carrying a large Canadian flag and also an award that was used in a pre-game ceremony to honor former Canadian goalkeeper and 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup MVP Craig Forrest.
They ended with Conrad, the All-Stars captain, hoisting the victor's trophy up high.