SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It was a day of mixed emotions for the MLS All-Stars.
The 2016 All-Star Game was filled with sunshine, though it was a bit warm on the field. With Arsenal providing the opposition, fans were treated to entertaining play at times. And it's not often that the likes of David Villa, Kaka and Didier Drogba are all seen on the same team; MLS manager Dominic Kinnear was impressed by the talent of his side.
"I think when you look at the roster, it's a who's who of football over the years," he said. "We were joking around in the coaches' room that most of the guys, if you ever get in trouble, just pass to a guy who's won the Champions League or a World Cup or a World Footballer of the Year award and we'll be in good shape. It just shows the depth of the talent we have on this team."
Yet to a man, the day was tinged with disappointment for the hosts, as the Gunners prevailed 2-1 thanks to Chuba Akpom's 87th-minute winner. That sentiment was epitomized by Drogba. The Montreal Impact forward scored against former teammate and current Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech and one would have thought that would have left him elated. It did briefly, but the result killed much of his buzz.
"Every time, I want to score goals," said Drogba. "I want to help my team to good games. I always think that a goal I score when we lose, to me it doesn't count. Just for the fact because I scored against Petr, the result matters more than my goal ... and it's a bit disappointing for me to lose this game."
Drogba added that he spoke to Cech afterward, and the Arsenal keeper was more than willing to trade conceding a goal for a win.
"I will have fun with Petr because I scored," he said. "But he already killed me; he said, 'This time I gave you the goal.' It means a lot. But apart from that, the result, no, I'm not happy with the result. So it won't be a good memory."
Granted, this isn't the kind of result that sticks in the craw for months on end or leads to sleepless nights. This was a friendly, after all. But the competitive drive runs deep, no matter the stakes.
The same is true for Kinnear. Throughout his playing days and now into his coaching career he remains as fiery a competitor as there is. But the San Jose manager was forced to deal with an odd kind of calculus: As much as he wanted to win, keeping his players healthy was his primary objective. That meant plenty of substitutions and limited minutes for everyone involved.
"If I send a player home and he's injured, it falls on my shoulders. and I didn't want that to happen," Kinnear said. "So that's why the minutes were shared in spirit the way they were. I just tried to create a little bit of balance and work with the fan ballot and what we saw through the season here.
"Obviously, we dealt with the big names and the younger players and went up to them individually and said, 'Hey, how do you feel? Want to make sure you're feeling good going into the second half of the season.' And the players were very open and honest with me and that's what led us to picking the team that we did."
Kinnear largely succeeded in that endeavor, though nerves were sent jangling in Dallas when Kellyn Acosta went down momentarily thanks to a robust challenge from Francis Coquelin.
But the preservation factor also meant the All-Stars' edge in fitness over Arsenal was blunted at times by the disjointed soccer on the field. That said, the approach was appreciated by the MLS players, especially now that the back half of the regular season is underway.
"Dom did a great job of expressing to us that he wants us to have fun and be competitive in the game, but one of the biggest things was he wanted everyone to go home healthy and have a strong second half of the season," said Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman. "I think we accomplished all of those things this week."
In the end, it was left to Kinnear to provide a broader perspective. He grew up in nearby Fremont and recalled going to Quakes games as a kid at Spartan Stadium. Now he calls the sparkling Avaya Stadium home, and to him, the growth of the sport nationwide has been inspiring.
"I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd be sitting here at the table next to Didier [Drogba] and being on the same field as him and some of the great Arsenal players," he said. "I would have loved to win the game; it would have made this experience a little more positive. But when you take a step back and realize some of the crazy things that have happened in this area -- Manchester United coming last year [to play San Jose] and Arsenal coming this year -- a lot of good things are happening for American soccer right now."
In time, perhaps that viewpoint will be remembered most.