Colombians Lead MLS All-Stars to Victory

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – While David Beckham is the headliner, players like Juan Pablo Angel and Juan Toja could be every bit as important to the future of soccer in America. The two Colombians, who came to the States this season to play in the MLS, each scored goals Thursday night to lift the MLS All-Stars to a 2-0 victory over Celtic FC.

Beckham wore a suit, watched from the commissioner’s suite and made a brief appearance on the field between halves. During a halftime interview, he said his much-anticipated debut Saturday with the Los Angeles Galaxy could be delayed by a nagging left ankle injury that has been slow in healing.

Nobody wants to rush it because he’s here for the long term _ five years, over which he’ll earn $32.5 million and become the top ambassador for soccer in a country that has simply refused to embrace the sport over the decades.

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“For one of the biggest sporting nations in the world not to have soccer as one of its top three sports is pretty amazing,” Beckham said. “So, if I can help grow the game here, then I want to be part of that.”

Angel, the All-Star MVP on Thursday, took the same leap of faith this year, bidding adieu to Aston Villa of the English Premier League to play for the New York Red Bulls. He might be the best player in MLS, though neither his arrival nor his contract ($1.5 million a year) are on the level of what Beckham has received.

But players like Angel will be important if the MLS is to start being recognized around the world as more than a minor league.

More than just Beckham’s arrival, it’s the overall quality of play that figures to make or break this league in the long run, as soccer aficionados decide whether to pay attention and top soccer players decide whether they want to forgo established leagues around the world to play at places like Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.

A crowd of 18,661 saw the MLS boys put on a pretty good show against Celtic FC, which is still working its way into form but is, nevertheless, the two-time defending champs of the Scottish Premier League.

In the 36th minute, Angel took a pass from Dwayne De Rosario, made a nice move past goalie Artur Boruc and tapped the ball to the back of the net with his left foot for a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half, a free kick led to a scramble and Toja came up with the ball and had a wide open look at the net to make it 2-0.

Boruc made a pair of point-blank saves in the first half and turned away Eddie Johnson’s penalty kick to keep the game from getting further out of hand. Johnson and De Rosario spent much of the night distributing in the Celtic end.

This marked the third straight year that MLS’ best has beaten a team from overseas in its All-Star Game, a point that certainly won’t get lost among commissioner Don Garber and the rest of the league brass as they pitch the quality of their product.

This game aside, it’s clear that Beckham’s arrival buys the league some time to capture imaginations out there. Even his arrival at the stadium for a game he wasn’t playing was enough to draw a crowd and bring out more than a few cameras.

“Oh my God, Oh my God,” swooned one teenage girl as she snapped a photo on her cell phone.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” soccer fan Jesse Fillerup said outside the stadium as he watched Beckham enter. “But everyone knows, he won’t be able to do it on his own.”

A service of the Associated Press(AP)