By Michael Lewis
Sometimes even the best laid plans of leagues, commissioners and sportswriters can go awry.
Exhibit A: the 2002 MLS all-star game at RFK Stadium on Aug. 3 of that year.
As if the league didn’t have enough troubles because it had cut the number of clubs from 12 to 10 prior to the season and almost went under. But the owners and commissioner Don Garber decided to plug away.
Mother Nature, which has the first and last words on everything on this planet, forced the game to be delayed for 58 minutes because of monsoon-like conditions in the first half. Moreover, the weather led to the opening half being cut by 15 minutes to accommodate a halftime show by pop singer Paulina Rubino. Adding insult to injury, the match was switched from ABC to ESPN at 6 p.m. to allow for local news.
My lede in the New York Daily News:
WASHINGTON — It rained, thundered and flashed lightning on American soccer’s big parade yesterday.
In what was to be celebration, mostly of Major League Soccer’s role in the success of the U.S. national team’s World Cup run, the MLS all-star game turned into a struggle just to get the game in.
About a month prior, the U.S. surprised the world by reaching the quarterfinals in the World Cup in Korea/Japan, the team’s finest finish in the competition since Uruguay 1930.
“We felt it was the right decision to make on what we were trying to deliver to our television audience and to our audience in the stands,” Garber said afterwards.
The decision was criticized for the league’s decision to cut 10 minutes of the match in favor of the halftime entertainment.
It certainly wasn’t a popular decision for some of the participants.
“They could have mixed Paulina’s concert to play 10 minutes of soccer,” said Dallas Burn forward Jason Kreis, who scored one goal and set up Steve Ralston’s game-winner in the 81st minute in the MLS all-star’s 3-2 win over U.S. World Cup veterans before 31,096 spectators.
Garber admitted he had considered calling off the match at one point. “There were lots of thoughts about the possible solution,” he said. “Things were changing minute by minute.”
Well, at least the game was finished, even if it was only 70 minutes.
“This is the league’s showcase,” he said. “Every year this is where we need to bring ratings and popularity to the game.”
As for this sportswriter, instead of driving or flying down to the nation’s capital, I decided to take an Amtrak roundtrip to the game for something completely different.
Fortunately, I made my reservation late enough so I wasn’t sweating too much on whether I was going to make my train on time.
If this scenario occurred today, I always would have the option of writing on the train and sending it to the newspaper via that method. But back in those days, there was no such thing as wireless.