Commentary / MLS

What even is the MLS All-Star game?

Photo from the 2012 All-Star Game by Earl Gardner

Alright, so, I know what the Major League Soccer All-Star Game is. It’s a good old-fashioned American money grab.

Let’s take the league’s best players, throw them in a starting lineup (even if guys are out of position), and lose 3-0 to the third-best club in Spain. It’ll be fun!

Sorry, that’s not really fair. Sometimes it’s the fourth-best team in England.

I get why the MLS All-Star game is a thing. The fans vote on the players, Chad Ochocinco judges a skills competition, and a big European club is on display in the U.S. It’s like any other major sport in America where they take a quick break in the middle of the season and make some money by throwing all the best players together.

MLS is just following the leader, and that’s the problem.

Can you imagine Atletico Madrid or Manchester United or Juventus stopping their season for a few days so some guys could play in a charity match? Last night was just another game in a preseason tour for Atletico — literally a friendly. They played a 19-year-old kid against MLS’ best players and he scored. Sure, João Félix is the third-most expensive player in history and going to be a mega star, but the fact remains that one side of last night’s match was a serious soccer club, the other was a joke.

And when I say the MLS’ best players, I mean not the MLS’ best players. Are you really going to tell me that Brad Guzan is better than Andre Blake? Or is that he’s American and more people watching the match know who he is. He plays for Atlanta United, it will look way better than a Union player. Also, are we sure Kai Wagner isn’t the best left back in the league right now? And let me get this straight — Graham Zusi is one of the best defenders in MLS. Got it.

From a soccer perspective, it’s pretty hard to take the lot of players seriously. I know it’s a popularity contest and it’s all about ratings and big names and television but, like, why? Why does it have to be that way? How much money did the league really make in Orlando this week and how much does a 3-0 result cost them down the road?

Good soccer sells itself. The top leagues in the world don’t need gimmicks or skills competitions to draw people in. Is it realistic to put MLS in that category yet? No, but you’re supposed to dress for the job you want, aren’t you?

I’d like to know what the players think of the All-Star game. Not Zlatan or Chris Wondolowski or the guys that get there automatically. I mean the average MLS players that were back with their clubs training this week. Is it really that fun for them to watch or would they rather have half their starting XI (Atlanta United) in training? You know, practicing for that league they’re trying to win.

In that case, the Union should be glad that a couple of their guys got snubbed. Jim Curtin probably loved not having to send Wagner or Monteiro to Orlando for a few days of… what, exactly? Here we are — almost two-thirds of the way through the season with clubs making playoff pushes — and key players are missing training to watch Wayne Rooney hit some volleys in front of judges. Things are a little bit different for Blake as a goalkeeper, but from a soccer perspective and a getting-better perspective and a we-just-got-drummed-by-Montreal perspective, what did Blake really gain from being on the roster? A line on his resume?

Given the circumstances and the time table of it all, could we really blame a top player for bypassing the All-Star game? Wouldn’t “I’d like to stay with my teammates and prepare for the remainder of the season” be an acceptable take? It would almost have to be. Just imagine a player in the Premier League having to make that decision in the middle of the season.

This problem isn’t unique to the All-Star Game; MLS scheduling as a whole is something else. Did you know the Union are playing a friendly against Pumas UNAM on September 7th? A meaningless international friendly against a Mexican side. From the Union’s website:

The Union knocked off Eintracht Frankfurt in a friendly, but this season they are setting their sights on one of Marco Fabián’s youth club’s biggest rivals. 

Be there, and be ready for a breathless pace as these two squads look to show they are the kings of 2019.

I just… what? Ok, so the match may mean something personally to Fabian and it may draw a lot of local Mexican fans to the match, but why September 7th? Why, literally, at the most important time of the Union’s season? This friendly will be coming in between Philly hosting Atlanta United and LAFC. Those are arguably the two best teams in the league and now Curtin has to worry about fielding a lineup to play Pumas.

Why? I bet Curtin doesn’t want to hear “money.” That match is being played for the same reason the MLS All-Star match was played last night and it’s about time the league starts taking itself seriously.

Until then, Atletico Madrid fans and Tottenham fans and Roma fans will laugh at the team their club is facing on a preseason tour. Until then, MLS will be tied down by the shackles of American sport. Until MLS strives to be bigger, they never will be.

5 Comments

  1. I would be very happy if MLS abolished the all-star game. It’s a waste of time and energy, and risks injury to players.

  2. The baseball all star game was invented in 1933, during a period when attendance was down, as were player salaries. It was thought that by pitting the best players from the two leagues against one another, interest in the game itself would be renewed. In addition, I believe the money generated by the early baseball all star games helped fund player pensions, and baseball players in the 1930s and 40s were generally not well-paid. To draw parallels to the current state of soccer here, many MLS players are not well paid. Do they get a cut of the all star game profits? I don’t know. Does it increase interest in the league? I think it may, perhaps not by much, but it may.

  3. US Soccer/ MLS and fans might never shake the inferiority complex. Gotta grow. Gotta market. Gotta talk about “10th best league in 10 years,” yadda, yadda. I get it. Gotta make money to keep the league afloat. I think the only thing I like about the MLS All-Star game is the unique format. Playing a big European club theoretically broadens the interest a bit to fans who might not otherwise pay attention to the league. That said, if the league wants to shake its retirement league status, I’m not sure it should be rolling out Brad Guzan and Zlatan and Schweinsteiger. Nothing against any of those fellas, but, c’mon. To be honest, I’ve never bothered to watch a single one, so I can only stand on so high a soapbox.

  4. I would tell you Guzan is better than Blake. Career accomplishments, international play, MLS achievements. Yeah, kind of hands down.
    .
    Blake is about the 7th-10th best keeper in MLS.Oops, just checked MLS Stats. Revise that lower. Blake is in Kenny Kronholm territory.

  5. Scott of Nazareth says:

    Instead of an All Star game they should do a league wide single elimination 3v3 tournament with pug goals.

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