The MLS All-Star Game: What Does It Mean?

We are preparing for Wednesday night’s MLS All-Star Game between the MLS all-star lineup selected by the fans, coach, and commissioner and their opponents, Tottenham Hotspur. To do this, we need to understand what the ASG means, where it comes from, and where it could go.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, home of the Colorado Rapids and for now, the MLS All-Stars. All photos by Chandrima Chatterjee.

Dick's Sporting Goods Park, home of the Colorado Rapids. All photos by Chandrima Chattarjee.

ASG History

Originally in 1996, the game began as an east-versus-west competition. It continued this way until 2001 (with a brief departure to MLS USA v MLS World in 1998), with the games ending in a high score for both sides. Games were low on competitiveness. In an attempt to bring competitive spirit to what was a laid-back friendly, the format was switched to an MLS All-Stars vs. “guest” format from 2002 on. Except for 2004, when Real Madrid pulled out at the last minute to play in Japan, that format has continued since then.

Since the change of format, scores have been lower, possibly an indication of the increased competition. The game has brought huge international clubs to the US, like Chelsea, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich. The US and England have historically shared more than just ASG competition; players like Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and DeAndre Yedlin have crossed country lines to play overseas, and sports ownership groups like Kroenke Sports Enterprises own stakes in both MLS and EPL teams. The All-Star Game format allows for the players to experience the different styles of play in a friendly environment while allowing fans of the visiting team to see their favorite players in their own home.

Drew Moor, appearing in his first ASG at his home park.
Drew Moor, appearing in his first ASG at his home park.

All-American All-Stars

The ASG is treated differently in different American sports. For example, the NFL’s Pro Bowl is significantly less competitive than regular season games. Players chosen to play regularly do not attend, and the game itself draws low viewership. The rules are changed so that the players don’t get hurt, but that results in fans not necessarily wanting to watch. In Major League Baseball’s version of the ASG, the outcome of the game decides which league — American or National — has home-field advantage in the World Series. This change was made in 2003 to increase the competition in the exhibition game. In the NBA, the game is fairly non-competitive and the scores run up even higher than an ordinary NBA game.

What can MLS take away from these other leagues? Rather than providing a change to the setup, like the MLS vs. guest setup, an incentive to play hard and win could come from an outcome like the MLB game. Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids coach and coach for the MLS side at Wednesday’s ASG, has suggested as much. In addition, the NFL’s Pro Bowl has suffered so much from things like special rules, players not playing in the game, and venue changes that it is perennially (or so it seems) in danger of being cancelled. This could serve as a warning that keeping players and fans engaged is key to the game’s success.

A mix of Spurs fans and MLS fans filled the stands at Tuesday's open practices.
A mix of Spurs fans and MLS fans filled the stands at Tuesday’s open practices.

Prepping for the Game

It’s hard to say what we’ll see tonight. Some of the players on the MLS side have been here many times and may not be as pumped to play in an exhibition game. Some, like Drew Moor, are here for the first time and are visibly excited. Pablo himself has said these are some of the “most talented” to represent MLS. What you can definitely expect is a great atmosphere, awesome fans, and a wonderful experience.

Yesterday we had a chance to catch up with some of the MLS All-Stars themselves. When asked who he was looking forward to joining on the field, Omar Gonzalez responded that he’s “looking forward to playing again with Matt Besler… David Villa, Kaka, you know, those guys, I’ve seen what they’ve done and all the highlights.”

Bradford Jamieson IV, a member of Tuesday night’s Chipotle Homegrown selected team, is looking forward to seeing players from outside his team on the pitch. “David Villa is someone I can look up to as a striker and overall good player. Gyasi and [Juninho] are role models on the field and off the pitch, daily.” The implication here is that although Jamieson himself is not an All-Star selection, he is looking up to the All-Star team as role models. This game serves as a venue for younger players to see legends on a big stage.

Kei Kamara gave some good life advice while discussing soccer, noting that “if you want to make a name for yourself, you have to be sharp every day.” He also said that “the 12th man does help you out” in the game, meaning that more fans is always better — hopefully we’ll have a strong crowd at the ASG to back him up Wednesday night. “It’s great for me to be selected, and I’m honored to be here, but again, it’s an All-Star Game and not a World Cup, so I’m here to enjoy it, to, you know, really enjoy my time here.”

The MLS All-Star team.
The MLS All-Star team.

MLS All-Stars (original, as announced)*:

Goalkeepers: David Ousted (Vancouver Whitecaps), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Drew Moor (Colorado Rapids), Chris Tierney (New England Revolution)

Midfielders: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Castillo (FC Dallas), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Kaká (Orlando City SC), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew SC), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), David Villa (New York City FC)

*Since the roster was announced, Chris Tierney, Michael Bradley, Steven Gerrard, Sebastian Giovinco, and Robbie Keane have withdrawn due to injury. They have been replaced by Sam Cronin (Colorado Rapids), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew SC), Juninho (LA Galaxy), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids), and Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy).

Tottenham Hotspur:

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris, Michel Vorm, Luke McGee, Tom Glover

Defenders: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, DeAndre Yedlin, Danny Rose, Ben Davies, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Kevin Wimmer, Jan Vertonghen, Federico Fazio

Midfielders: Nabil Bentaleb, Harry Winks, Mousa Dembele, Josh Onomah, Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli, Tom Carroll, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela

Forwards: Harry Kane, Shaq Coulthirst

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