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MLS All-Star Game

'Surreal' MLS All-Star Game continues to be a fun mid-summer spectacle

Photo by David Banks/USA Today Sports

There will always be debates surrounding the MLS All-Star Game, and the 2017 iteration of the midsummer showcase was no different. Every summer, the suggestions and critiques resurface. Is this the best format to display the best MLS has to offer? What can change? How should we view an event that holds a different sort of meaning to all involved?

But, at the end of the day, the MLS All-Star Game is about the spectacle of it all. It’s about fun. It’s about a fantasy matchup combining the best the league has to offer. Wednesday night’s match against Real Madrid offered that and, at least for the players on the field, the message was consistent: All-Star Games aren’t about grand statements and league characterizations; they’re about amusement and enjoyment within a once-a-year spectacle.

That’s not to say Wednesday’s match was the most exhilarating exhibition in recent memory. It wasn’t. There was no Cristiano Ronaldo or Luca Modric. There were plenty of missed chances from a Real Madrid side playing within a mindset somewhere between preseason and playground. There weren’t goals aplenty as many would have hoped. There was even an unfortunate injury to Greg Garza, one which will have the Atlanta United brass fuming.

Still, there were fun moments. There was another Dom Dwyer goal in a summer where he just keeps popping up. There was the chance to see David Villa go against his former bitter rival. There was the opportunity to see Bastian Schweinsteiger play alongside Kaka, a historic pairing of two of the generation’s best midfielders.

For those involved, Wednesday was about fun and, despite the penalty kick defeat, the MLS All-Stars found it that way.

“I think it was a very interesting game for the spectators. Lots of chances,” Schweinsteiger said. “Ultimately, in the end, it went to penalties. Hopefully, they were entertained and that’s the most important thing.”

“It was a bit surreal. It was exciting,” Dwyer added. “We were unfortunate to lose on penalties, but it was a fun night.”

That’s not to say they didn’t care. The MLS All-Star Game isn’t all about fancy flicks and dream matchups. At the end of the day, any player at this level wants to win in everything from training drills to World Cup matches.

The MLS All-Stars wanted to win. Real Madrid, fresh off three preseason losses, wanted to win as well. There’s a relaxed atmosphere, certainly, but there’s still a desire to show well for yourself no matter what scenario you’re in.

For a majority of the match, it was Madrid that showed well. The reigning European champions fired shot after shot, 18 of which came in the first half. They conceded chances, too, with Sebastian Giovinco and Villa creating the best of them, but Madrid was certainly the aggressor on the day.

Borja Mayoral finally broke through with a second half goal, and the introductions of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema threatened to break the game open a bit more from there. Still, the MLS side found their goal as Dwyer fired home on a Dax McCarty rebound to level the match and force a spectacle within a spectacle in penalty kicks.

“What was good for me was the reaction,” head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We showed character and I think that the effort was appropriate and, overall, the image was good. At the end, when you get to the point where you have to go to PKs, it’s not easy for guys that expended a lot of energy and that’s it. So, I think they tried their best for sure. ”

At the end of the day, what takeaways can you truly walk away with following Wednesday’s match? It wasn’t an indictment of the league, just like it wouldn’t have been a true sign of progress if the MLS side thumped Real Madrid. It wasn’t a true display from a real team because, at the end of the day, the MLS All-Stars aren’t a real team. If you want to see where MLS stands, look at the CONCACAF Champions League, not a glorified friendly against a team trying to find the balance between getting fit and putting on a show.

What you can take away is the idea that the All-Star game is whatever you make of it. For many, Wednesday night offered a chance to bridge the gap between Europe an MLS, a chance to introduce new fans to a league still fighting for its own place among the Real Madrids of the world. It’s a chance to offer something different, something unique and, hopefully, something fans enjoy.

One just has to think about how far the game has come. From a few thousand spectators watching an East vs. West showdown to over 60,000 fans packing Soldier Field to watch the world’s best team, the All-Star Game has grown and grown, much like the league hosting it. If there is a sign of growth within this whole experience, it’s that a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Real Madrid and an MLS All-Star Team can sell out a football stadium. No matter what your view is on the game in this country, aside from the league’s first ever All-Star event,  that wasn’t happening a decade or two ago.

There will be more All-Star Games and there will be more debates and people will discuss ad nauseam how much they care or don’t care about the game. Now, the focus rightfully turns back to the regular season and the playoff push following a midsummer spectacle that provided another new experience for all involved.

“MLS is a really good level [of soccer],” Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane said.”We’ve seen really good players tonight. We saw a good game. The fans enjoyed it and that’s the most important thing.”

“On the other side from my experience in soccer, when you lose the game in PKs, sometimes it returns,” Paunovic added. “Hopefully, with the Chicago Fire in the final of MLS Cup.”

13 comments
  • TheFrenchOne

    “mid-summer spectacle”? A spectacle is defined as a visually striking performance or display. The 65 minutes that I watched were anything but. And most fans just excuse it away: “Madrid is still in pre-season form,” or “the MLS players only had a couple practices to get to know each other”. Then why are we continuing with this formula?

    I get that Garber is focused solely on the 60,000 fans, but I just think there’s got to be some better way. So the East vs. West didn’t show well 10 years ago, but maybe we have enough quality in our league, and big names, now to fill a stadium. Or do Americans vs. International players game.

    Full disclosure: I think all star games are pointless in any sport…

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    • UclaBruinGreat

      French let me shine a mirror on your comment:

      1. “And most fans just excuse it away … the MLS players only had a couple practices to get to know each other”.

      If it is East vs West the same issue would still exist. This game finished 1 to 1 because if you watched you noticed that both teams made a big effort at defending well and played well defensively. There were lots of chances both teams just didn’t score this time. This happens in soccer all the time.

      2. “Full disclosure: I think all star games are pointless in any sport”.

      Then just don’t watch it or care about it. It seems like your preference would be for the All-Star game not to exist. If that’s what you want then don’t watch it and don’t care about it and it would be like it doesn’t exist for you. The other people that do want it and do enjoy it under the current format will continue to enjoy it, watch it, and go to the game. Win win for you and everyone else.

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      • TheFrenchOne

        Well, by that logic, any SBI poster who complains about the poor performance by a player or by his favorite team should just follow your advice and just stop watching soccer entirely. Maybe don’t turn on the news either…? Last time I checked, complaining, critiquing, and offering personal opinions about the soccer landscape was the driving force behind this site.

        Beyond that point, I complain about the All Star Game mostly because (1) I think it’s a waste of the MLS players’ energy, (2) it subjects them to unnecessary injury risks (see Garza, Greg), and (3) it disrupts the already congested summer schedule (don’t get me started on the friendlies that MLS teams play…).

        I guess I should just be glad that MLS hasn’t stooped to the level of homerun derbies and slam dunk contests (or free kick shootouts and bicycle kick contests)?

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      • UclaBruinGreat

        “Well, by that logic, any SBI poster who complains about the poor performance by a player or by his favorite team should just follow your advice and just stop watching soccer entirely.”

        C’mon French. I know that even you know that is a ridiculous comparison. Some of us arguing over whether Jozy or Bobby should start at striker is way different than what I said above about your post. If you want the All-Star format changed that’s fair, but to say it shouldn’t be played at all is different and that’s where my point rings true. Your post is more in line with somebody, let’s say me, not liking Blink 182 and because I don’t like them then I think they shouldn’t tour at all. That doesn’t make sense. I can simply not go see Blink 182 in concert and not worry about it. For the record I do like Blink 182.

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      • TheFrenchOne

        UCLA: You didn’t address my 3 points. Yeah, I don’t like the whole concept of an ASG (I did make some suggestions on how to tweak it), but I also raised some practical issues why the ASG detracts from MLS and individual teams/players.

        And for the record, I don’t like Blink 182, but I’m happy you.

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      • UclaBruinGreat

        (1) I think it’s a waste of the MLS players’ energy.

        They are athletes. They get paid to use their energy to play and entertain us. If people show up to watch then it is not a waste.

        (2) it subjects them to unnecessary injury risks.

        This is the most overused line in sports. As an athlete you use your body for a living and you can get injured at anytime. Players can get injured practicing so should teams not practice at all? etc. etc. you already know all the arguments.

        (3) it disrupts the already congested summer schedule.

        So what? That’s not a fan problem.

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      • TheFrenchOne

        (1) “They are athletes. They get paid to use their energy to play and entertain us. If people show up to watch then it is not a waste.”

        It’s a waste to play a game that will not result in better standing in MLS or advance in the U.S. Open or Concacaf CL.

        (2) “This is the most overused line in sports. As an athlete you use your body for a living and you can get injured at anytime. Players can get injured practicing so should teams not practice at all? etc. etc. you already know all the arguments.”

        You practice to get better. You play in the ASG game to … what? rub elbows with Madrid’s third stringers? Garza/ATL was fortunate that his recovery time is only 10 days. Could have been far worse.

        (3) it disrupts the already congested summer schedule. “So what? That’s not a fan problem.”

        As a fan, I’d rather see players who are fit and well rested, not someone who just wasted their energy or injured themselves in a game that will not, in any way, help my favorite team to move up in the standings.

        Look, I get it. Neither one of us is going to budge from our respective position. But I don’t mind the philosophical sparring on how to improve Soccer in America.

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  • Adam M.

    My yearly All-Star Game question is always: If this MLS Starting XI were a real team, how would they do in the EPL? I think the answer to that is a pretty good gauge on the league’s quality. I think Villa-Altidore-Giovinco-Kaka-Schweinsteiger-Bradley-Howard makes for a respectable core There is a lot more World Cup and European hardware there than in a typical midtable EPL team. But the defenders aren’t quite there. Maybe they survive a relegation fight, but more likely they give up too many goals to survive.

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  • BSU SC

    I attended the game and it was a spectacular atmosphere. I’m sure the vast majority of the fans in attendance would say that they had a great time. I hope MLS sticks with this format of inviting world class teams to play friendly matches against the best players in MLS.

    Like

  • Quit Whining About Soccer in the US

    “There was even an unfortunate injury to Greg Garza, one which will have the Atlanta United brass fuming”

    There were 60,000 there paying money, with ESPN broadcasting for about 2.5 hours in prime time.
    If the ownership is fuming it is because it was their player and not someone else.

    The other thing is…much to my dismay….this format ain’t going away anytime soon.

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  • Rob

    Football wise this game is pointless. How the MLS “stars” do against Real Madrid’s 4th stringers tells you absolutely nothing about the quality of the league.Only a fool would deduct otherwise.

    Like

  • Mo

    The players seem to enjoy going up against these famous clubs; a bunch of fans showed up to watch; gets better TV ratings than any regular season MLS game. Bottom line; ASG ain’t going away. An MLS US XI versus MLS world XI might be worth a try in the future

    Like

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