When Clint Dempsey takes the field at Providence Park in Portland for the MLS All-Star Game, he is hoping to get a different reaction from the crowd than when he scored three goals for Sounders FC against the Timbers in a 4-4 draw back in May.
It’s not that he minds the jeers coming from the stands when he is on the road – quite the opposite, in fact. On Monday, he offered praise for the atmosphere created in the compact Portland stadium that will host the best in MLS against German champions Bayern Munich in the 2014 AT&T MLS All-Star Game.
“I’ve always spoken highly of the organization of the Portland Timbers. Their fan base is incredible, as well as Seattle’s. It’s enjoyable to come here even though you get the boos,” Dempsey told reporters at a press conference in Portland on Monday. “I think it’s a great atmosphere and it’s great for the league. It’s a place that I’ll always enjoy playing at and it’s good for the league that there are such passionate fans in the league.”
Sitting alongside Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler and Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls, along with All-Star coach Caleb Porter from the host Timbers, Dempsey fielded questions from the media that have converged on Portland for the All-Star festivities.
One common theme that emerged is that it will be a tough task ahead for the players representing MLS to get together in just two training sessions to face a world-class opponent like Bayern Munich.
“The best thing I can do is keep it simple. I need to manage the minutes of the players. That’s a priority,” Porter said, noting that the key is keeping the match entertaining by playing an attacking style. “You just want to let them go. The key is to highlight these players’ talents. This is a celebration of these players and their careers. It’s a showcase for the league and hopefully we can make it a competitive game. We’re going to try and make it exciting.”
Porter intends to play in two separate units – one in the first half and one in the second half – in order best ensure that he isn’t overly fatiguing any of the players who will return to their clubs and play regular season matches as soon as Friday.
His approach to the match is fitting with the festive atmosphere of the events in Portland. After the first training session on Monday, Henry was pleased with the good-natured, but competitive group on hand.
“It’s pretty simple. You get together, have a laugh and the boss will take charge what he can take charge of. It’s nice to be around those guys,” shrugged Henry, who will be participating in his fourth All-Star Game. “On Wednesday, you want to put a good performance out there. We’re going to try to do it against one of the best teams in the world.”
On the other side, Bayern Munich is a bit of a hodgepodge as well. While coming off another impressive season in the Bundesliga and with eight players returning from Germany’s World Cup triumph, Manager Pep Guardiola has been limited in how much he has been able to work with his full squad. Many of those World Cup players are expected to participate in their first training sessions on Tuesday and play roughly 15 minutes in the All-Star Game itself.
That opens the door for players like U.S. National Team star-in-the-making Julian Green. His play in the World Cup, scoring a goal in his 15 minutes of playing time against Belgium in the Round of 16, helped fuel a bump in the soccer culture that will continue with events like the All-Star Game.
According to Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery, it also attracts players from abroad to seek opportunities in MLS as the league continues its rapid growth curve.
“I think the soccer culture in America is very special and it has grown in previous years. There are players in Europe that are thinking about coming,” Ribery said through a translator. “There are a lot of talented young players in America. The soccer culture is great and I’m excited about it.”
One such player was Henry, who moved from Barcelona, where he played under Guardiola, to the Red Bulls in 2010.
Like Dempsey, he hopes for a welcoming reaction from the Portland fans on Wednesday.
“Usually when I come here they boo me. Hopefully they are going to be nice,” he laughed noting that he can’t even begin to compare notes with Dempsey, who has played three times at Providence Park with the Sounders. “Especially for him.”
Seattle’s leading scorer is one of five Sounders FC players named to the All-Star squad, joined by Obafemi Martins, Osvaldo Alonso, DeAndre Yedlin and Chad Marshall, though Marshall was scratched from the match due to injury.
Kickoff in the All-Star Game is scheduled for 6:30 pm PT with television coverage on ESPN2.