MLS All Star Game preview: Surprise us, please?
I’ll just say it: I’d rather watch Real Madrid play almost any singular MLS playoff team in a friendly than spy Wednesday night’s MLS All Star Game in Chicago.
Realizing that it’s a terrific event for Chicago and not a bad thing for some younger All Stars hoping to catch the eye of new fans or suitors -- cough, Miguel Almiron and Kellyn Acosta -- I have a hard time thinking casual sports fans are aiming to lock themselves in for two hours or even 45 minutes of TV time.
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It’s not even particularly special for the All Stars themselves. Nemanja Nikolic played against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League last season. David Villa has lined up across from Real on numerous occasions, and the same can be said for Giovani dos Santos, Kaka, and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Heck, ol’ Basti knocked Real out of the UCL, period:
So forgive me if my excitement level for watching the match on television is linked directly to my pleasure at having a live match to monitor during my PST shift (and for that early August opportunity, MLS, I applaud you). Now in person? Heck yes, live soccer!
I’m neither the fun police nor a hater of All Star Games in general, but honestly I think we’re past this.
Consider this same premise, but now conducted intra-league. Sure it’s going to be harder to fill up a giant venue, but you’re still talking about Kaka, Villa, Schweinsteiger, and Giovinco in the same building, a clarion call for MLS, soccer, Germany, Brazil, Spain, Italy, and American fans.
Now would I prefer Real vs. the MLS All Stars in a Best of Three super series with the All Stars given more than five minutes to train together? Sure.
Would I sign up for an in-game gimmick that leads to must-see TV? Yeah, sure (How about: if the All Stars win, they get to actually participate as Real in the club’s first group stage game against a European minnow. Almiron, get ready to meet FC Astana of the Kazakhstan Premier League!).
I don’t blame MLS for having the event, but I’m far past the point of “This’ll be great.” And I think 99 percent of American soccer fans and a strong number of sports fans are past the point of needing primers on who Real Madrid is, or will be sold on this game “mattering” as some sort of MLS litmus test.
Major League Soccer is so, so much better than when Michael Parkhurst, a 2017 All Star, trotted out for the All Stars’ 2-0 win over Celtic in 2007. Much better. It’s even much improved from the highly-publicized waxings doled out by Manchester United in the 2010 and 2011 editions.
I get why Real Madrid wants to play the game and boost their global brand. I get why the host cities want in, and why MLS feels like “It ain’t broke so we won’t fix it.”
Yet as those of us who watch MLS regularly can often wonder how Toronto FC or New York City FC might fare in meaningful matches against low-tier teams from the Bundesliga, La Liga, or the Premier League, or as part of a ‘our best 20 versus your best 20' showcase against the Football League Championship or 2.Bundesliga, I can guarantee you even the biggest MLS honk doesn’t think anything about this game merits projecting the result in a single meaningful way.
Pardon me for not shining my shoes.
Now I suppose this year is as good as any to project MLS All Stars rebounding from a loss to Arsenal to claim a fourth win in six years. The men are in better shape and form thanks to the unorthodox MLS season, Cristiano Ronaldo is not available, and Real didn’t exactly shrink from the weekend’s Stateside Clasico versus Barca.
Being one week from Tuesday’s UEFA Super Cup Final against Manchester United in Macedonia, Zinedine Zidane will have his eye on putting his squad in well-oiled order, so perhaps that will provide more fire in Real’s belly.
Call it 3-2 to the All Stars, and we’ll see you in Astana.