Tab Ramos thrilled the crowd that landmark day at Giants Stadium by nailing an absolute beauty of a goal. It was July 14, 1996, date of the first MLS All-Star game in the debut season for an upstart league. A venue with so much soccer tradition, thanks to the Cosmos' dance through the sporting stratosphere, had just been granted yet another historic moment.
That was but one lasting All-Star memory. A dozen MLS All-Star encounters have provided a distinguished list of memorable moments or occasions. Here they are:
10. Gender equality. It's a little embarrassing now to admit, but I thought the schoolboy high jinks in 2001 were pretty cute at the time.
The otherwise anonymous Jim Rooney ensconced himself in All-Star lore with a gag that will surely -- in your quiet moments, pray for this -- never be duplicated. Following his late goal in San Jose, Rooney ripped off his jersey to reveal a sports bra, a tribute to local girl Brandi Chastain, who uncorked her celebrated lingerie moment just down the coast in Los Angeles. A few minutes after Rooney's antics, Landon Donovan netted the equalizer in a 6-6 score-fest, then revealed that he, too, was set up for the sports bra bit.
Donovan was 19 at the time and sported a burst of white hair. The site of a bleached blond Donovan skipping around in a sports bra is one that surely threatened to retard the development of mankind.
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9. Format change. A precipitous drop-off in "wow" factor from Year 1 to Year 2 prompted league officials to alter the format in 1998. Out: the traditional domestic sports format of conference versus conference. In: U.S. vs. the world, as the league's American stars took on the foreign flavor providers at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. As the Bruce Arena-led U.S. assemblage looked very close to the 1998 World Cup team that had recently (and quite ingloriously) returned from that disastrous French flop, a big 6-1 Yankee win that day could reasonably (and quite sadly) be considered the high-water mark for the '98 squad. Sigh.
8. Free scoring. Players treat defense in All-Star games the way most of us treat a spill in the break room: It's just something we leave for the next guy. Still, seven goals before the break? That's a little much.
And yet, there it was, in the 2000 East-West contest at Crew Stadium. Indifferent goalkeepers and defenders were doing everything except picking up balls and throwing them in. Cletus (a.k.a. Clint Mathis) had one past Tony Meola after about 90 seconds. The East won in a rout, 9-4.
7. Say who? Those early All-Star games, in the old East-West format, were only "All-Star" in the academic sense. Players, coaches, fans, etc., did vote on members of two squads. But, really, can you cull two full teams of true "All-Stars" with only 10 or 12 rosters from which to choose? The "créme de la créme" factor gets watered down brutally.
Not to embarrass anyone -- because I'm sure these are all outstanding human beings -- but the All-Star alumni list includes the likes of Chiquinho Conde, Damian, Geoff Aunger, Dario Brose, Steve Pittman and Khodadad Azizi. I've written about MLS since Eric Wynalda hooked in that first goal at Spartan Stadium on that special night back in 1996. But I remember thinking as Azizi made his appearance in the 2000 All-Star contest, "If that guy walked right up and hit me with salmon, I wouldn't know who he was." And he was an All-Star!
6. Goalkeeping showcase. Still, there were some distinguished performances in those early matches. One thing that diminished quality of selections can never change: All-Star evenings will always provide amply opportunity for goalkeepers to come up heroically. Mark Dodd did just that with five saves, including some gems, while blanking the East in the first half in 1997. Just as memorable, however, was how Jorge Campos, who had imitated a forward in first half, got shellacked when he put on the gloves. Campos did make six saves, but also allowed five goals as the East rallied for the 5-4 win on a rainy afternoon in Giants Stadium. Brian McBride smashed home the 88th minute game-winner.
5. Total disaster. The most memorable aspect of 1999's showcase is how forgettable the whole thing was. Truly, precious few people actually witnessed the match from San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium; we'll call it the "Gigli" of MLS All-Star shows.
Some of it was the league's fault; some was just jacked up luck. San Diego was a bit of an oddball selection, one that hastened then-commissioner Doug Logan's demise. The idea was to introduce an MLS presence to a city that didn't have one, but the gambit just didn't work. Only 23,000 (announced) showed up.
The match was set for an ABC telecast, but the network giant chose instead to stay with the breaking story of the search for John F. Kennedy Jr.'s missing plane. The match got kicked over to ESPN2. And back then "The Deuce" was still just a rumor around many cable systems.
4. A Big Four scalp. Ok, it was just a "friendly." An "exhibition." And Chelsea had barely removed the balls from the bags in preseason training. Still, it was Chelsea, ya know?
In mid-summer of 2006, everybody associated with MLS could be forgiven a little swelling of pride when the league All-Stars triumphed over the Special One and his Blues. Dwayne De Rosario supplied the big moment, scoring off a Ronnie O'Brien pass in the 70th minute as MLS prevailed at Chicago's recently opened Toyota Park.
3. Border rivals. In 2003, Major League Soccer shifted once again away from the East-West format in favor of the current arrangement, where the league's leaders host a foreign club. The initial opponent, inside a packed Home Depot Center, was Chivas de Guadalajara. Nobody quite knew what to expect. All-Stars or no, there was a chance the cohesive unit of well-regarded Mexican club would take the league's brightest lights out to the wood shed and beat 'em silly. This was, after all, a league still on spindly roots, just 8 years old.
The match had a true competitive spirit, with hustle and real tackles to supplement the usual All-Star menu of offensive delights. So, there was much relief and celebration when DaMarcus Beasley hit the clincher, his second goal of the day, in a 3-1 league win. MLS players celebrated the "W" exuberantly. For better or worse, the afternoon provided some validation to a league that still needed some.
2. Full house. That initial, illustrious MLS All-Star game was probably the most memorable overall, with more flair than a good Office Space bit and a generous supply of righteous hair boys (Hello, Carlos Valderrama and Marco Etcheverry). Giants Stadium was alive with 78,000 excited regional supporters who weren't yet beaten down by a bad MetroStars franchise.
A Brazilian friendly as the second part of a doubleheader had a lot to do with the crowd size. Still, the kickoff that day was a remarkable moment. To launch the league's first All-Star showcase before a packed Giants Stadium -- that certainly qualifies as a special instance in time.
1. Simply unforgettable. Ramos supplied the greatest moment in the grandest MLS All-Star game with a sublime volley for that debut goal. Maybe it wasn't Marco van Basten against Russia in the '88 Euro final, but it was a dandy nonetheless, as Ramos brought down a long pass with his chest and then hit a Stinger Missile of a volley. Boom! Upper right! It really was an unforgettable strike, one worthy of the moment.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.