While they are far from a soccer-centric tradition, all-star games have long been a staple of American sports culture. Major League Soccer is no different, even if the format of the game remains up for debate.
Thursday night will see the MLS All-Stars collide with Arsenal, continuing the recent tradition of pitting the league’s elite against top-level European opposition. The format has been in place since 2005, bringing teams such as Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United stateside in recent years for the midsummer match.
The current format features plenty of positives. In what is essentially a friendly game, fans are given the chance to see their favorite teams on home soil in what always seems to turn into a semi-competitive match. The event collects MLS’ best and unites them against a familiar foe to the casual fan, exposing the league to a wide variety of people in the process.
However, many believe that the league, and American soccer culture as a whole, has outgrown the format. European teams regularly make preseason stops in the U.S. to feed the needs of the Euro-centric fans, while many fans of MLS have grown tired of seeing the league face European squads in what is essentially a lose-lose situation. Should the All-Stars win, it is because of the rust displayed by the preseason European side, while an MLS loss is seen as damning for the league as a whole.
Options remain, even if the league has maintained the status quo for over a decade.
Reverting to an East vs. West format may take away some of the casual eyeballs that join for the All-Star game, but one could certainly argue that the league’s standard has caught up with the idea. An East team would feature such stars as David Villa, Kaka and Sebastian Giovinco, while the West would boast Clint Dempsey, Giovani dos Santos and Jermaine Jones. The league’s talent level has risen exponentially over the past several years, giving both conferences plenty of talent to work with, including U.S. Men’s National Team stars and international legends.
Still, the league may not be fully ready for that step, as it takes away some of the allure of an All-Star game. An option that remains is the idea of pitting MLS’ elite vs. those of Liga MX, even if it would involve some hurdles in working out the details with the Mexican league. Those hurdles may prove too much, but the idea of a North American clash would give the All-Star game a special dose of competitiveness should the two leagues meet on the field.
Another idea that could increase competitiveness through pride is the idea of pitting the league’s top American stars against their international counterparts. While the American group would enter with some semblance of chemistry with multiple USMNT regulars in the fold, the idea of seeing Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard mix with up-and-comers like Keegan Rosenberry and Brandon Vincent would provide several fun storylines.
Finally, there’s the idea of scrapping the All-Star game altogether. The idea of the midsummer friendly is a very American one, and doesn’t always blend in with the soccer landscape. New York City FC head coach Patrick Vieira recently bashed what he sees as an “exhibition game”, one that takes players away from their team in the thick of the playoff race. All leagues recognize some sort of Team of the Season, and perhaps MLS would be best served in saving the friendlies for European sides in preseason.
With that being said, what’s your preferred All-Star game format? What would you like to see MLS go with in the coming years?
Share your thoughts by voting in the poll below, and explain your reasoning in the comment section: