Article by Luke Lohr
[Note: this article was originally published on January 24, 2012. Only some text has been added.]
The Philadelphia Union will be hosting the 2012 MLS All-Star game at PPL Park. Philadelphia is an ideal location and few could argue they do not deserve to host such an event. They have a lively crowd who are passionate, knowledgeable and they have a facility which rivals every stadium in MLS save perhaps for LiveStrong Park.
Only the fact that Peter Nowak is expected to coach the team is more troublesome than the format. Nowak has been the embodiment of inconsistency this season and with so many rumblings of unhappy players in his camp, one wonders what incoming players will think when they arrive under his tutelage to face Chelsea FC. Consider the awkwardness of players like Califf, Le Toux or Mwanga should they be voted and asked to return to PPL and Nowak. How will this effect the squad?
The frustrations that comes from an announcement like this though are unrelated to location any longer. Rather, the frustrations come with the inevitable announcement of a foreign opponent, in this case Chelsea FC.
Long gone are the days of an East vs. West format as Major League Soccer has adopted the sound business model of inviting foreign power-houses to take on the league's elite. The foreign opponent has its merits. It brings attention above all else. That attention means advertising dollars which allows the spotlight to land squarely on the potential for profitability in MLS. Recent opponents in All-Star matches include Chivas de Guadalajara, Chelsea FC, Celtic and Manchester United. Those teams are flashy and fun but they defeat the purpose of an MLS All-Star game.
In matches with foreign opponents, the MLSers are set up for failure by their own employer. How ridiculous is this?
When the All-Stars convene they arrive to a mini-camp where they practice together for two-three days and then are thrust into a match-up against one of the most talented teams in the world. Not only is their opponent boasting extreme talent and big names, but they are familiar with one another. They are a true team, not a collection of players who compete against each other for 34 games suddenly asked to work together in a high pressure environment, lacking any real preparation.
How is this acceptable? In recent matches the "All-Stars" have fallen by embarrassing scorelines to foreign opposition. Most recently, by a 4-0 scoreline to Manchester United.
This goes against the spirit of this All-Star match.
The All-Star game should be a high scoring love affair with the league. The purpose of an All-Star game is to put the league on display and celebrate the beauty of the game, played by the league. East vs. West formats allow this. Matches in which forwards are celebrated and goals rain aplenty are the most fun for fans to watch and they break trend of "Anti-Soccer" fans who say the sport lacks goals. Fans can celebrate their players and witness attacking soccer that is FUN.
If you watched the above video, you witnessed Manchester United scoring four unanswered goals against Major League Soccer. Four goals by foreign players against the home league. Now watch these highlights from the 2000 MLS All-Star match which featured SEVEN goals in the first half. All scored by MLS players, for MLS players:
Consider also the 2001 MLS All-Star match. On display were the youth movement: Landon Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley, Santino Quaranta and Bobby Convey. Three of them went to World Cups and the match also put a young Tim Howard on display for all. On top of that the game was 6-5. Eleven goals scored, all by MLS and for MLS.
All-Star games should celebrate the success of the league. How long until we return to the rewards of attacking talent within the league and let go of a dependence upon foreign opposition? Would an East vs. West format fail to fill a stadium at PPL Park? Rio Tinto? CenturyLink Field? JELD-WEN Field? LiveStrong Park?
The league has a fantastic array of talent. Allowing it to be put on display properly is worthwhile. If the league want's a team to defeat Chelsea, then each player should be hand select by a panel of coaches to take on that particular opponent and not voted on by so my different outlets. Taking on foreign talents is a job for an MLS Select team, not an MLS All-Star team.
There is a better, more rewarding way to celebrate the league's All-Star talent then setting them up for failure. How long until it is recognized?