We have nearly reached the end of the silly season in the United States.
Not in regard to transfer rumors, which will continue to circulate worldwide for weeks, but we are about to see the other side of international friendlies in the States. For years now, US Soccer and MLS have regularly played host to barnstorming European powers of the game, who sweep through the country playing against each other and domestic sides. Huge crowds pay good money to watch scrimmages that neither side takes very seriously, and the climax of these exhibitions is the MLS All-Star Game.
Tonight the MLS All Stars will face Bayern Munich. Well, most of Bayern Munich. Well, most in terms of number of players, not in terms of talent. Like the majority of these summer friendlies, the match makes sense only on economic terms, but such considerations carry decision-making. The logic goes that All-Star festivities involving only MLS players did not sell in the past, and hosting a superclub (especially one with a budding American star in reserve) attracts attention and sells tickets.
Isn’t that thinking outdated, though? The last All-MLS All-Star Game took place in 2004, and the big names scoring the goals were Guevara, Eskandarian, Ching, and Kreis. As great as those players were in their day, I doubt they even had a Q-rating, while World Cup marketing campaigns (some more recent than others) has been built around the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry, etc.
While MLS has the stars to potentially make an East vs. West game interesting, the league seems to want a popular team in their marquee event. Conveniently, few teams have a bigger presence the United States Mens National Team during a major international competition, and the USA will compete in a major tournament, or two, during each of the next five summers, hosting most of them. The 2015 Gold Cup, 2016 Copa America, 2017 Gold Cup, 2018 World Cup, and 2019 Gold Cup will take place in their respective Junes, and should the US qualify, they would also send a team to the Olympics in August 2016. MLS should strongly consider going back to a USA vs. the World format, this time hopefully even bringing the national team coach into the fold.
Advantages for US Soccer and Jurgen Klinsmann
Chance to work with players that aren’t yet eligible. The All-Star Game is not sanctioned by FIFA, so Klinsmann’s team includea players seeking US eligibility, like Darlington Nagbe, Ozzie Alonso, Diego Fagundez, etc.
Check-in with US mainstays. 11 players on the current All Star roster took part in Klinsmann’s 30-man World Cup camp, eight of whom he took to Brazil. National teams don’t get to play together often, and every chance a manager has to work with them is precious. Landon Donovan’s presence could well be awkward, but that would add to the drama of the event.
Evaluating fringe players. Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer, Seattle Sounder Chad Marshall (withdrawn due to injury), and DC United’s trio of Bill Hamid, Bobby Boswell, and Sean Franklin are the only American All-Stars who were not in the camp. Others would join these ranks on a full American 18, whether by selection of Klinsmann, commissioner Don Garber, or others in MLS.
Beyond this, the new addition to All-Star week, the Homegrown Game, could serve as a youth national team match, pitting the league’s young stars against a youth national team every year.
Potential USA rosters (those not on current roster are in bold):
Goalkeepers (2): Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
Defenders (6): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Boswell (DC United), Sean Franklin (DC United), Seth Sinovic (Sporting KC)
Midfielders (7): Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders FC), Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Diego Fagundez (New England Revolution)
Forwards (3): Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City) (status)
Goalkeepers (2): Jaime Penedo (LA Galaxy), Raul Fernandez (FC Dallas)
Defenders (6): Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), José Gonçalves (New England Revolution), Jamison Olave (New York Red Bulls), Gonzalo Segares (Chicago Fire), Hassoun Camara (Montreal Impact), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Columbus Crew)
Midfielders (6): Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew)
Forwards (4): Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders FC), Erick Torres (Chivas USA), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City) (status)
Of course, as stated earlier, the biggest factor in decisions of this nature is money, and some monetary forces are at odds with one another as to the feasibility of this solution. MLS would save on expenses, as they would no longer need to pay exorbitant appearance fees to European clubs. On the other hand, a pseudo-official national team could draw Nike and Adidas into direct conflict over what the USA All-Stars would wear. Nike pays a great deal to outfit the national team, while Adidas does the same for everything MLS.
Hopefully this and any other obstacles could be overcome for the sake of an All-Star Game that truly promotes the league and provides an opportunity for the national team. With a new collective bargaining agreement pending, this could be the perfect time to restructure this event, and MLS might as well do everything in their power to improve it.