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Does the MLS All-Star Game need to change?

After watching the most recent Major League Soccer All-Star clash against Premier League champions Manchester United I began to think about the current format. For the second year in a row the Red Devils showed just how much talent they have as a team compared to the squad that MLS assembled. But really, is that much of a surprise? Even with the Union’s backstop Faryd Mondrag√≥n, the All-Star’s still couldn’t prevent a rather embarrassing defeat.

Since 2002 MLS has put together a team of all-star players that have been pitted against international talent. (There are two exceptions: in 2002 the MLS All-Stars played against the USMNT; in 2004, MLS had to go back to its original East against West format because Real Madrid had failed to qualify for an automatic Champions League berth and was forced to pull out of the game.)

Where is this all going?

The current format sucks.

It is true that the MLS All-Stars have had success against most of their European competition, but there is just something that seems off. For two years in a row the All-Stars have been picked apart by Manchester United. Some would say that the league should probably just pick a new opponent. Maybe it is time to pick something all together different.

The idea of assembling a random team of individuals that are eligible for selection via a fan vote, who then have to play against a professional team that has the complete advantage of cohesion and experience playing together just doesn’t work.

Under the current system, the point of the MLS All-Star Game is to showcase the top talent of the league to the rest of the world, to demonstrate that North America has a legitimate soccer league capable of presenting teams that can hold their own against some of the world’s best. Be that as it may, it is hard to imagine that the All-Stars, thrown together bunch that they are, will even play against the best of the best from a top international team. How much can the game really mean to the visiting team? Generally, isn’t is simply a preseason warmup against an opponent of decent quality? Maybe for half of the game the visitor fields its regular starters, but after that the substitutes come in and it looks like a completely different game.

Now, how about some brainstorming on ways to make the All-Star Game more interesting?

Keeping things the same

The view on keeping the current format is quite simple: simply rotate the competition each year and maybe not play against one of the top three clubs in all of Europe. The MLS All-Stars have beaten several good teams teams, including Celtic, Fulham, West Ham United, and even a star studded Chelsea team. Maybe Manchester United simply has the All-Stars’ number? No need to make any changes–just keep things the same with fans voting their favorite hometown picks to be assembled with players from the rest of the league and then see what happens.

Go back to the East v West?

For several reasons, it is not far fetched to think that MLS could do return to the old East Vs. West format. The league has added more teams since it last did an East vs. West-style All-Star game. There is now a larger talent pool. With the popularity that the US national teams have generated, there is much larger interest in the game of soccer. A strong East vs. West rivalry could be healthy for the league. The league could even create a trophy for the winning side that is either defended or exchanged each year to offer incentive for winning.

I’m personally in favor of this style, especially considering the expansion of the league. One thing that should be considered with this setup, though, is hosting the event at the end of the season–either before or after the MLS Cup is decided. If the All-Star Game was played before the Cup, then players on teams in the Cup final would obviously have to be excluded. However, if the All-Star game is played after the Cup, then the Cup teams’ players would be able to participate if selected. This format would also allow for a fan vote to still exist, or even a format where teams are picked by all-star captains.

Do we even need to play this game?

Some out there may suggest that the All-Star Game is no longer needed. The MLS has grown to 18 teams and a 19th is on the way next season. European leagues do not offer an all-star event, so why should the MLS? If the purpose of the All-Star game is to promote soccer in the North America, is it also important to test MLS talent against talent from abroad to assess progress, as well?

It is also true that other major sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, and MLB have their own issues with all-star games and no one really caring about them. I cannot remember the last time that I watched a Pro Bowl, or cared about an MLB All-Star game, particularly after players selected to the teams began to opt out of participation due to either real or invented injuries because even they do not care that much about the game. The one thing MLS has going for it that those other leagues do not is that the game is shorter and the players selected welcome the challenge of the international opponent. For now, at least, MLS players view their selection to the team as an honor.

Reader response anyone?

Now over to you. It is certainly possible that nothing much is wrong with the game and that the problem is that, like most teams in Europe, we are simply unable to beat Manchester United. Personally, I think the idea of growing an East vs. West rivalry is rather interesting. So readers, if you think everything is fine with the game, let me know why. If you have your own ideas for a new All-Star game format, share them. Or, if you think the game is just a big waste of time in the middle of the season, share that, too.

5 Comments

  1. I like the East vs West – but instead of the end of the year, why not the start of the year before everyone gets going? make the ASG based on last years talent etc. If you wait until after the playoffs, then you ahve guys who haven’t played in a month on the field, which isn’t easy. Have it at the start of the year and people are getting fitness, and it is almost like the Charity Shield.

  2. East vs west might work now that the league has expanded but I still think the game would favor the west and their larger talent pool, albeit the gap is somewhat closing.

    Selecting any team besides MANU would be a great choice right about now because the awareness that is being garnered from the all-star game is that the MLS is still way behind the big European names when it should be showing the progress the league has made instead.

    Also I don’t think getting rid of the all star game is a good idea either because MLS has one thing that other American leagues really don’t, and that is an all-star game that the fan base views as a major showcase of the league’s talent and not a signal to start a mid-season week vacation like it does for MLB. I wouldn’t mind seeing a shorter roster made up for the MLS side. In my opinion it’s not only the lack of cohesion from no training that kills our team in the all-star game, but also the mass substitutions that need to take place to get every name on the field. Yes people will be upset about players left off, but I’m willing to bet they will be more willing to accept a few less names in the showcase if it means the MLS side can get a better result than losing 4-0.

    • Unfortunately can’t agree that having less names will form a better result – the major factor really is the lack of cohesion. It is very difficult for players to get used to playing with each other – and when you go up against a team that has for years….

  3. At this point, I agree that MLS needs to show that Soccer has a big fan base in North America. Despite getting blown out this year, it was a big spectacle.

    I hate that we play Manchester United and I think they do need to do East vs. West and eventually, when MLS becomes a power, get rid of the game all together. The one advantage to Man U is that Americans get to see what a beautiful sport Soccer is when it’s being played by possibly the best team in all of football, which could and should in theory, turn people onto the game more.

  4. East vs. West is the way to go, or just forget about the game since I am also not a big watcher of these type of games. If we keep these games then the selection process needs to change: first of all with the coach. Why was Bakke selected? Then this voting online or by text also does not seem to work too well. I am not sure what the process should be but if you have east vs west maybe you have a better chance that all who deserve it actually make it.

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