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MLS All-Star format works, but still requires some tweaking

Jul 23, 2012, 4:17 PM EDT

MLS All-Star 2012 logo

PHILADELPHIA – What’s worse than a 5-2 beat-down, like the one Major League Soccer’s overmatched All-Stars took two years ago?

A 4-0 beat-down, like the one Major League Soccer’s overmatched All-Stars took last year.

So here we area again, and the level of competition is not a bit diminished, even if the jersey color has morphed this year from Manchester United red to Chelsea blue.

The MLS All-Star game serves its purpose of attracting a short burst of attention from fans, networks, sponsors, advertisers, etc.  It’s like one of those big banners pulled along by a single-engine plane: it creates awareness among set of people who might not otherwise notice, who see it and consider it, if only briefly, while it flashes across the sky.

And I do love the format. In a wasteland of pointless all-star gray screens – baseball is the exception, whereas the rest are mostly empty calorie events for the sake of having an event – Major League Soccer’s unique format does manage to add a splash of color.

But one thing surely needs tweaking: either the level of competition needs re-assessing, or the methodology for MLS All-Star selection needs revision.

On the one hand, nobody who understands these things believes a collection of players with two brief practices – even a selection of abundant talent – can compete with the moneyed likes of Manchester United or Chelsea. Or with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or any other teams that have danced on the edge of MLS deciders’ dreams, some closer to fruition than others.

Those are real teams in the truest sense, assembled with an eye to roster balance, chemistry and placement of round pegs into round holes in terms of personnel that fit a manager’s idea of how the game is played. Plus, these are “All-Star” teams, too; most of Chelsea’s men are internationals who would take a DP tag here.

Meanwhile, the MLS All-Stars are a hodgepodge of mostly worthy talent assembled through the flawed vagaries of traditional all-star selection processes. Fan input is always part of this, and it probably should be – but let’s don’t pretend it will ever represent a best 11 or best 18. Nor that it will ever deliver the All-Stars their maximum competitive chance.

source: Getty Images

Which means this: the opportunity will always exist for Major League’s Soccer’s best and brightest to get clobbered – this year to be figuratively whacked and then dumped right into the Delaware River outside PPL Park (pictured, right).

Which wouldn’t be a big deal except for this: every time it happens, it validates the soccer snobs who don’t see MLS as worthy. And that’s an issue.

It shouldn’t be, but it is. There should be room for fans to love their La Liga, Serie A, Mexican league, English Premier League, etc., and still have a place in their soccer hearts for their local MLS outfit.  But plenty don’t, for whatever reason – and quality or the perception of un-worthiness becomes a convenient excuse.

As one MLS executive told me here in Philadelphia: “Every time we get beat badly in one of these games, the very fan we need to go get says, ‘See there. That’s why I don’t watch MLS.’ And it kills us.”

Major League Soccer needs those fans. It may not always be that way, but in 2012 it is.

  1. jerichowhiskey - Jul 23, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    We could always go for mid-table teams with a good fan base in the US.

    Looking it up though, we did win against Chelsea back in 2006 after they won the Premier League and many other times against other teams before ManU came about.

  2. smgraff4 - Jul 23, 2012 at 5:18 PM

    Or you can simply name the All-Stars at the END of the season and take them on tours of China, India, the Middle East, Australia, or Central America, or South America ahead of seasons in any of those places. If the European teams go on tours, why can’t MLS teams do the same? It builds the brand in places where soccer is not quite fully established and adds TV revenue in form of new TV contracts abroad.

  3. jelliot1978 - Jul 23, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    Sure so those same people who laugh at MLS getting thumped 4-nil by Man U will just say, ‘So you beat a second tier team’. It is a lose lose situation for those people. The All-star game may help in bringing a top team over and then while here they play other teams. Beating the All-stars isn’t the worry for MLS, it is how the clubs fair against them. If you play the Man U, Real Madrids of the world well then that is the key. No one is going to go oooo I am an All-star support but they will say they are a Galaxy, NYRB, Union or whomever supporter. Those are the games that matter, not this. This is just a marketing ploy to make money and it works.

  4. dreadpirate82 - Jul 23, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    The “Kansas City Wizards” beat Man U two years ago just a few days before the Big Boys beat up on the MLS All Stars. And they played with ten, after Jimmy Conrad got a red card. Of course, I remember Seattle getting thumped last year when Man U had all their World Cup players at the ready. I’m with you, Steve, in wanting it to be more competitive, but it’s going to be real difficult to find any consistency. The bigger the team, the better, in my opinion.

  5. jhalion - Jul 24, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    @smgraff4, great idea! This would definitely help to strengthen the MLS brand. The only obstacle I could see would be Concacaf champs league and scheduling issues but a 2 week tour would be a great way to allow our players to see the world while spreading MLS goodwill.

  6. manchestermiracle - Jul 24, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    There are plenty of friendlies throughout the year giving MLS exposure and experience with international teams. Why the all-star game isn’t composed entirely of the league’s own players (like every other sports’ all-star games) is beyond me. Expecting players from different clubs to be able to play together effectively once a year seems pretty stupid.

  7. footballer4ever - Jul 25, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    ” Why the all-star game isn’t composed entirely of the league’s own players (like every other sports’ all-star games) is beyond me”

    …because we are not other leagues. In fact, our league’s All-Star is the most attractive and appealling vs baseball, basketball or throwball’s AS games.

    Is it a perfect AS game, no, but it sure separates from the crowd and it makes us unique. Maybe MLS should try playing an All-Star game vs a high profile national team just to try something new. Who knows if that can be possible at some point?

  8. wampyr11 - Jul 25, 2012 at 9:25 PM

    I don’t know whether the All Stars team getting a thumping means much to anyone but the people who were trash talking the MLS anyway…and they’re already not watching. Any team thrown together like this is going to have a problem playing together when pitted against an organized, professional team of the quality of Manchester United, Barcelona etc. who’ve played and trained together all year. Making comparisons between them and the All Stars’ performance and then making a statement on the state of the whole of the MLS based on the result is beyond ridiculous.

    Speaking as an Englishman who only started watching MLS recently, the bigger issue I see is that in every MLS team you’ve got some great players who would easily hold their own in a Premier league side but they’re surrounded by others who’d struggle to make it into an English 2nd division team. That leads to some great play interspersed with a lot of quite glaring errors which makes some of us used to watching the European leagues roll our eyes and mock the MLS as amateurish. It doesn’t help when we see a whole bunch of old guys we thought retired a long time ago running around out there even if they are still doing great things on the field. I guess the only solution to that is a better youth system to create better home grown players or more money to attract top flight international players before they pass their sell by date. Not easy in either case.

    For me personally, the reason I started watching MLS was because I thoroughly enjoyed the passion and energy exhibited by the US national team over the past few years. Today’s game is nothing more than a meaningless exhibition match to me and it’s hard to see anyone else seriously taking it as anything but that.

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