All-Star Game Loss Doesn't Hurt or Help MLS

Loss on the pitch doesn’t hinder the off-the-pitch performance by MLS
by Herb Scribner   |   Thursday, August 01, 2013

MLS All-Star Game, Sporting Park, MLS

I was watching an international game recently with a friend who supports the Scotland Men’s National Team, Celtic, Rangers and Hearts. He said to me he could never sit down and watch a MLS game after being exposed to the English Premier League, the Champions League and international soccer.

Whenever I bring up the league, its faults or problems, he says, quite simply, “It’s MLS.”

All throughout AS Roma’s 3-1 win over the MLS All-Stars during the highly-publicized MLS All-Star Game at Sporting Park last night, his week-old comment stayed in my mind. 

We saw a lot of developments off the pitch for MLS throughout the week.

During the festivities yesterday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced the league would add 4 more teams before 2020. Speculation ran nuts last night about what teams will be a part of MLS’ expansion process. It’s a fun time to be a part of this league, especially when it’s slowly growing and reaching out across the country.

Garber also took to Twitter this week with a Twitter Q&A with MLS fans and highlighted a lot of the positives coming to the league. Unlike many of the other professional sports commissioners, Garber connected directly with the fans and made them feel a part of this growing league.

We heard all week about how Kansas City is becoming the soccer capital of America. Kansas City rose up – much like Salt Lake City did, and St. Louis and Indianapolis likely will – and became a soccer city in the blink of an eye. We got a close-up picture of how the league and sport are spreading through the heartland of America.

All of these are positives and show the progress, reach and power of the league – and that’s before players even took the field.

By the time AS Roma downed MLS 3-1 and Alessandro Florenzi lifted the MVP trophy, MLS already had the exposure it wanted. Even though the game was dreadful for MLS and little will be remembered from it, defeating a preseason AS Roma in a one-off game wouldn't have changed anybody’s mind about whether or not to watch MLS. In fact, a victory over an in-form Barcelona or Bayern Munich wouldn’t either. It's a single game, and leagues take time to grow a fan base.

The ASG, no matter the format, doesn’t help the league bring a lot of newer fans. It’ll attract casuals looking to attend an event – which isn’t many, since this year’s game was on a Wednesday – but it certainly won’t bring in those like my aforementioned friend who rather watch Manchester City than MLS All-Stars, especially after they hear a moderately good Italian side carved through the MLS defense in a 3-1 win. Your case for them to watch the league falls flat.

Roma is a quality side, and it’s usually in the running for the top of the table in Serie A. But I’m sure if Roma faced a sole MLS club – like Sporting KC, Montreal Impact, Real Salt Lake – the results would have been vastly different. The game itself – which many consider an indicator of where the league stands – really didn’t show how far MLS has grown on the pitch. And no match really will.

The current format, MLS All-Stars vs. Foreign Club, gives us a game in the middle of all the other celebration and festivities. After all, what’s the league without the game? I’ll admit it’d be fun to see MLS West vs. East again now that the league has developed in size. And it would bring more relevance to the Eastern/Western Conference format of the league.

It would be nice if MLS offered its players a chance for some fun with the All-Star Game, too. Playing in an East vs. West format, or something of that sort, would allow players to take unrealistic long shots, make fancy trick moves and have a bit of fun – it’d be a match between colleagues where the result doesn’t matter. It could be as sloppy and fanciful as ever, and it'd all be in good fun. You could tell that last night the results mattered for these players, and it’s unfortunate for MLS that its All-Stars, in the middle of the league’s celebration, found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline in such a bad game.

But there’s no reason for MLS to switch. Everything MLS wants – celebration, hype and exposure – it gets from the current format. A win or loss doesn't change the fact that all eyes are on MLS.

On the pitch, MLS was surely the loser. Its players were sluggish and out of sync, and AS Roma sliced through and didn't hold off at all. In the one thing that really matters – the soccer on the field – MLS failed completely. Just when MLS took a step forward with its 3-2 win over Chelsea last year, things fell apart with this loss to an inferior AS Roma. Facing foreign sides does nothing but hurt MLS' competitive credibility and its players.

Everything MLS did off the pitch, though, let us see where the league is headed, and because of this, MLS came out of its All-Star Game with a win, albeit a very small one.

The league surrounded itself with positive stories and unveiled its biggest piece of news in a long time – 4 more teams are coming. And that means this league, despite what a loss to Roma may indicate to some, has many exciting times ahead of it.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.
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