With Kansas City locked into All-Star Game fever, the razzmatazz and splendor of a top foreign team visiting US soil has got everyone in a frenzy.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
Up until 2002, there was just the good old Eastern conference vs. Western conference format. So why has that now become a thing of the past?
There are multiple reasons, but can East vs. West become a thing of the future?
I’m not so sure about that. But I hope so. After Chivas Guadalajara became the first foreign opposition in 2003, MLS went back to the East vs. West format for the 2004 game.
But that didn’t last for long and since then Fulham, Chelsea (twice), Celtic, West Ham, Everton, Manchester United (twice) and now AS Roma have been the benchmark for MLS’ best to pit their wits against.
However, after trolling back through the history books (well, it’s a website now but you get the idea) the early days of the MLS All-Star Game seem like a distant and mystical land.
From the 9-5 wins, extremely awesome mullets and hideous jerseys to over 70,000 at Giants Stadium, back in the mid 90s the ASG had a different vibe to it. Now it seems classier, Macklemore was out wooing the crowd yesterday in KC and a whole plethora of events have been lined up this week.
It is not just about the soccer. So why does a foreign team have to turn up and join the party? Because, like I said, an ASG really isn’t about the soccer.
These top European teams treat the game as a friendly as they prepare for the upcoming league season, while many people around MLS treat the game as a measuring stick to see how the players compare to some of Europe’s finest.
But there is no need to invite another team to compare MLS’ elite against. No need. Regardless of the inferiority complex that exists in the minds of US soccer fans vs. other regions of the world, MLS is doing great. So let the All-Star Game be a celebration that includes a plethora of the best players in the league, not just a limited number because there can only be 11 starters.
Yes, I know teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and tomorrow’s opponents Roma help sale tickets and create more interest in the game. But from where I’m standing there are always going to be MLS fans from across North America flocking to this game. Even if a big-name European team isn’t present.
My proposal is that the East vs. West format returns for the 2015 season. Next year’s ASG has already been slated for Portland’s JELD-WEN Field and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has already said “the biggest global name” will be rolling into town.
So after that, can we return to East vs. West and crazy 9-5 scorelines? I get that MLS doesn’t want to be like MLB, the NBA or NHL. But a one-off game between the best of Major League Soccer’s East and West conferences would certainly be an occasion to savor.
That said, so will tomorrow’s game at Sporting Park. Enjoy celebrating the success of MLS.
Maybe one day it will be East vs. West again. Maybe.