Sandy » At least, the Major League Soccer All-Stars provided some drama.
Though they did not want to become the first players in league history to lose to an international opponent, they could only watch in amazement as Everton's Tim Howard made a wonderfully acrobatic save in a dramatic penalty-kick shootout to win the 14th annual MLS All-Star Game in front of a record crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night.
"He's a world-class goalkeeper," Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman said. "He's been doing it for a bunch of years ... and we expect nothing less from him."
On a glorious summer evening that RSL had eagerly anticipated since it opened its $110 million stadium last season, Howard won most valuable player honors with a scintillating performance that included three blocked shots in the 4-3 shootout victory. His final save came when all-star Freddie Ljungberg tried to chip a soft shot down the middle; Howard dove to his right, yet reached back to deflect the ball with his left hand before smothering it as it trickled dangerously near the goal line.
"He had me, for the most part," Howard said. "But I was just able to get a little piece of it."
The loss was the first ever for the MLS All-Stars against an international opponent, yet only slightly spoiled the experience for the home side.
RSL's Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson and Javier Morales all played, to the delight of the 20,120 fans who attended, and even coach Dominic Kinnear came away happy -- despite saying before kick-off how badly he wanted to win.
"I absolutely loved the game," he said.
It was the first time an MLS All-Star Game had ever gone to penalty kicks, which were contested without an overtime period being played following a 1-1 draw in regulation. Though Landon Donovan converted for MLS on his first penalty, Howard made two blocks before RSL's Johnson finally equaled the two kicks that Everton scored against goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Both teams converted their fifth kick - Everton's Joleon Lescott and Conor Casey of MLS did the honors - before the shootout moved to sudden-death.
Then, Everton's James Rodwell beat Keller to his right, and Howard worked his magic.
"Once again, Tim Howard has proved that he's certainly the best goalkeeper in America," Everton coach David Moyes said. "And if he keeps playing the way he's doing at the moment, it might not be just America."
The MLS All-Stars looked somewhat sluggish early on, and gave up a painfully easy goal in the 12th minute when Everton's Louis Saha stole a soft backpass from Stuart Holden fired past Keller. But Holden made up for it in the 26th minute, when he tapped a pass from Casey across the mouth of the goal to Houston Dynamo teammate Brad Davis for a nearly point-blank equalizer past a scrambling Howard.
"After we scored, we settled down and played some good stuff," Kinnear said. "As the game wore on, we seemed to be the most dangerous team and created some good chances in the second half."
Indeed, the all-stars applied some good pressure as regulation wound to a close, with Landon Donovan hitting the post in the 75th minute and Howard punching away a header from Davy Arnaud in stoppage time. Howard had made another spectacular save in the first half, diving to parry a Casey header.
"For a goalkeeper, there's always a little luck involved," Howard said.
Not everybody felt so good after the game, with Ljungberg being carted off the field after his final kick and taken to a hospital after the game with a migraine headache, and Morales limping around on what appeared to be a tender ankle. Still, by most accounts the game was a ravishing success.
"All in all," Beckerman said, "it was a great week."
Key moment » With Everton leading 4-3 in a penalty kick shootout, Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard dove to his right, reached up with his left arm and blocked Freddie Ljungberg's shot to give an international team its first-ever win against he MLS All-Stars.
He said it » "He had me, for the most part. But I was just able to get a little piece of it." -- Howard on Ljungberg's shot.