Yesterday, we were treated to quite the spectacle as the MLS All-Stars overcame Chelsea 3-2. The game lacked the tenacity or tension of a competitive fixture, but it was quite a spectacle with the fans with a little bit of controversy to boot.
As always, I like to be as careful as possible drawing too much from a friendly fixture designed ultimately to recognize the hard work of the MLS' top players and entertain the fans. Nevertheless, every game, friendly or not, has lessons which can be drawn from it, and we're here to point those out.
Last year, Charlie Davies' triumphant return to form under the tutelage of Ben Olsen and the DC United staff was one of the headline stories of the MLS Season.
This year, Eddie Johnson's successful return to the MLS with the Seattle Sounders, after many loans and an ultimately poor spell with Fulham, has been a major headline story for the league.
And while it hasn't been played up too much to this point in the season, Johnson's winner over Chelsea marks the 180 degree turn his career has taken in a short span of time.
Of course, there are many more heights for Johnson to hit after this game; he can still aim to return to the full USMNT, which is in need of a regular, productive striker alongside Jozy Altidore. Johnson can still help the Seattle Sounders move into the top three of the Western Conference and experience playoff success.
Eddie Johnson's movement was excellent last night, and even though his goal was more than a touch fortunate, it was well-deserved for a striker whose career has had more than its fair share of misfortune.
Some might criticize me for making too much of friendly, but having watched Chris Pontius play for DC United live in my time in DC, I can say that he is a classy striker.
He takes good touches, doesn't try to do too much with the ball and strikes the ball with power and precision.
Pontius has gradually improved as a striker, and in his fourth season with DC United, he has already scored more goals (nine) than he has in any previous season.
Now I know there are plenty of US MLS strikers who are currently doing better than Pontius but have failed to make an impact internationally. Kenny Cooper and Chris Wondolowski are two great examples.
But Pontius hasn't even had a chance yet, and on the back of yet another solid performance against the champions of Europe, I think he's owed at least the opportunity to show what he can do. The worst that can happen is that he disappoints in a few games and is overlooked in the future.
At the age of 25, in his prime, and constantly improving, Pontius can be a real asset for the USMNT. You heard it here first.
It may have been just a friendly, but of all the Chelsea midfielders who got playing time in this game, Lampard was easily the most impressive.
He scored his goal with supreme ease, but his movement wrecked havoc for the MLS defense throughout the game. In the buildup to his goal, it was Lampard who took the shot on goal that resulted in the corner for his goal.
Since it was a friendly, stats aren't readily available on Lampard's efficient passing or his ability to break up play, but he did both of those duties with ease for Chelsea when not charging in the box with the team's offense.
This performance, along with his earlier preseason performances, only serves to confirm that Lampard is far from done with Chelsea. And the club is all the better for it.
Lukaku started his preseason brightly with two goals against the Seattle Sounders, but after a disappointing performance against Paris Saint-Germain and another one vs the MLS All-Stars, it's looking like Lukaku might need a loan move to become a more complete player.
Lukaku clearly has the build of a great target man, and he's got pretty good pace for a centre-forward of his size. But his positioning still needs some work, and his dribbling could be much better than it presently is.
From his two years with Anderlecht in Belgium, Lukaku has become very good at heading goals into the net off crosses. And while that is a vital skill, it won't get him playing time at Chelsea by itself.
Multiple reports have indicated that Lukaku is close to a loan move to Fulham; and while there will be decent competition in the form of Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega at the club, his potential should help him earn at least a few starts to prove himself. From there, it's up to him to prove he's the player we all think he can be.
Ives Galarcep, noted FoxSoccer.com columnist and supporter of MLS, was keen to point out after the 2012 MLS All-Star Game that this victory was very different from the one that the MLS recorded over Chelsea in 2006.
Great night for MLS. All-Stars looked sharp against Chelsea, played them well, showed some real quality tonight. DeMerit my MLS MVP tonight
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) July 26, 2012
From the vault, my column on when MLS beat Chelsea in 2006 All-Star Game, so you know why I say progress has been made: es.pn/NVZa28
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) July 26, 2012
The match was indeed a major improvement. Unlike in 2006, Chelsea had had a good amount of time to prepare for this match and were in the midst of their preseason, not simply kicking it off.
More importantly, the MLS All-Stars boasted quality all over the pitch in this game, not simply up front like in the 2006 MLS All-Star Game where Dwayne De Rosario scored the winner.
They didn't always look good in defense, but they were able to equalize twice when Chelsea went ahead. Furthermore, when both sides made their substitutes, the MLS had enough quality on the bench to keep attacking.
This game wasn't about just Thierry Henry, David Beckham and Dwayne De Rosario; the MLS All-Stars had quality in every part of the pitch and it showed, with quality performances from Jay DeMerit, Eddie Johnson, Chris Pontius, Chris Wondolowski and multiple others.
Personally, multiple MLS games this season have convinced me to start valuing the MLS as a league worth watching and following. The MLS All-Star game was just one more such game.