The United States prides itself in being the best at many sports. Basketball, baseball and football are not internationally competitive, as the U.S. is always the dominating force.
This is not the case, however, in one sport: soccer. Ever since play began in 1996, Major League Soccer, or MLS, has never been known as a prime soccer league. Instead, it always took a backseat to European and Latin American leagues and rightfully so. The U.S. Men’s National Team has never won an Olympic gold medal or even made it to a World Cup Final.
MLS players are often overlooked in the international community, as historically, most of the best MLS Stars are former European or Latin American players past their prime. But once a year since 2005, the MLS All-Stars get to compete against a distinguished football club and prove to the entire world that American soccer is alive, well and thriving in the international community. It is an honor for MLS All-Star Players to be selected, but mainly a responsibility for them to help beat the invited guest clubs.
This year, two Bear alumni received that honor: David Bingham and Steve Birnbaum. Birnbaum and Bingham were the core duo behind Cal’s 2010 NCAA Championship run before they lost to Akron in the regional finals.
Bingham, the San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper, ranks fifth among all goalies in save percentage (75%), and sixth among all keepers in saves (66). Birnbaum, a young, up and coming star, was one of Cal’s best players and was drafted with the second overall in the 2014 draft. Since then, he has become one of DC United’s best and most aggressive defenders along the backline.
Birnbaum has started 56 games for DC United since 2014, and the young defenseman has made his mark as one of the best defenders in league. This year, he was on the US Men’s National Team that placed fourth in the Copa America.
During the friendly, which was played at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium, it was extremely surprising that All-Star Coach Dominic Kinnear of the San Jose Earthquakes decided not to start Bingham, his own keeper. Instead, he went with Jamaican star goalkeeper and Philadelphia Union’s 2014 number one draft choice, Andre Blake. But the decision to play him over Bingham might have very well cost the All-Stars the victory.
Over the past 11 contests, the MLS All-Stars had lost only four times and have five wins in eight contests against English clubs. With a decent history against European clubs and wide range of talent, it seemed reasonable that they would have a close match against London’s Arsenal F.C.
The early pace of the match was one of the most important X factors anticipated for the game. But as the match got underway, it did not seem to be a problem at all. Both teams were getting prime scoring opportunities in the first couple of minutes, but Arsenal was the first to capitalize on the All-Star’s terrible miscommunication.
In the 10th minute, the Arsenal midfield found Costa Rican attacker Joel Campbell with a long ball in the box. Blake came out, but was not able to communicate well with defenseman Laurent Ciman and ended up fouling Campbell during the shot. Campbell drilled the penalty right past Blake, which gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead. If Coach Kinnear had started Bingham, who was known for his communication with his defensemen, the entire situation might not have happened.
The next goal happened in stoppage time of the first half when MLS Star Didier Drogba put the ball past former Chelsea teammate, Petr Cech, evening out the score at halftime, when Blake was subbed-out for Bingham. The former Bear was able to hold off the Arsenal attack numerous times in the second half, giving the All-Stars several opportunities to take a late-game lead.
One of the better opportunities was when Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski had a scoring chance in the box on a breakaway in the 82nd minute. Wondolowski just barely overpowered the shot and his home stadium fans were in awe, as they were not used to seeing their best attacker missing such a great opportunity to give his team the lead.
But as accomplished of a keeper that Bingham is, he was unable to hold off the world class Arsenal attack for long, as Chuba Akpom scored in the 87th minute. As the game slowly finished, the young Arsenal team became the first London Club to beat the MLS All-Stars.
Contact Siva Sambasivam at [email protected].