Jay Bell reflects on the gala of a week it was in MLS.
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Wednesday’s night’s 3-1 victory for AS Roma provided more evidence on both sides of the debate over what the format should be for the Major League Soccer All-Star Game.
The positives were numerous and in full display. First and foremost, the MLS All-Star game is an event, not a normal contest. It is not and should not be a measuring stick for the quality of play in MLS. The game brings in 20 players, most of which do not play together, and pits them against world class teams. Roma may be in preseason, but the players are still club mates and they are still top players. Francesco Totti will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the all-star game. He oozed class in this year’s event.
The display Sporting Kansas City and its fans put on Wednesday night followed the tone of the rest of the week. The pre-game and halftime displays were extravagant, the fans were active and they finally got the chance to erupt in second half stoppage time when the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez scored one of his vintage headers off an assist from Vancouver’s Camilo.
The exposure and the excuse to throw a party is the league’s top reason for leaving the current format as it is. New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry said emphatically after the game that he believed the current format is best for the league for the exposure it gets from playing high profile teams like Roma.
“Who will watch East vs. West in Europe? I’m telling you, no one,” Henry said.
“If all we are looking to do is to win a game, then easily you could set something up,” said SKC and all-star team manager Peter Vermes. “These are real games. These are real teams that come in here to play and sometimes results don’t go your way, but at the end – I still go back to it – it’s more than just the winning of the game. It’s really what the experience is for everyone that participates. It’s not just a game on Wednesday night. It’s everything that goes along with it.”
Vermes said he did not think that the result was the key focus. He felt that Wednesday’s match was about a vision becoming a reality for the club and its ownership.
“Everyone was talking about Kansas City, how nice everything was, how much buzz there was about this game,” said SKC defender Matt Besler.
The biggest news of the event was Commissioner Don Garber’s comment at halftime that MLS is planning to expand to 24 teams by the end of the decade. MLS expansion has become an even trickier proposition in recent years. A solid ownership group and a stadium are not the only factors anymore. New markets have to help the league’s value as a whole, which is precisely why the league pursued New York City FC.
Miami may be the clear frontrunner at the moment with the backing of David Beckham and Marcelo Claure. Once the group figures out a stadium situation and submits a legitimate bid, Miami will have the best chance of anyone because of the region’s soccer viewership. Orlando City SC is making noise with its pursuit of a stadium and an MLS team, but after that the race is wide open. The list of potential suitors also includes San Antonio, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Sacramento, Phoenix, Detroit and the Cosmos could eventually be a third team in the New York City metro.
Vermes was supportive of the continued expansion of MLS. He discussed the success of the most recent expansion teams and how they have competed from the start.
“I think it is fantastic for our league to keep expanding like we are,” Vermes said. “At one point, I thought maybe, ah, it may be a bit of a difficulty with regards to the player pool – how that starts to get thin – but I’m not seeing that. I think our teams are getting better. I think all of our clubs are getting better in their scouting as well.