In a clever video starring MLS players throughout training camp and players across the pond in London, MLS announced that Arsenal will be the opponent for the 2016 MLS All-Stars.
This marks the second time in recent years that Arsenal will have a preseason tour in the United States, with their latest appearance in 2014 being their first since 1989. Following the AT&T MLS All-Star Game on July 28th at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA, they’ll play a friendly against Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara on July 31 at Stub Hub Center in LA.
The All-Star Game is a distinctly American aspect of MLS. Throughout its history, the showpiece game has taken on many iterations including East vs. West (the traditional conference matchup of the other major American sports leagues), MLS USA vs. MLS World (pitting American vs. International MLS players), and MLS All-Stars vs. “International Club,” which has been the format since 2005.
Nine of the last 12 MLS All-Star opponents have come from the English Premier League, with Chelsea and Manchester United facing the MLS All-Stars twice each. Other teams have included Scottish giants Celtic, AS Roma of Italian Serie A, and the German powerhouse Bayern Munich. The latter match led to one of the most infamous moments in MLS All-Star Game history – the Caleb Porter and Pep Guardiola handshake incident.
It’s fair to say that fan opinion on the All-Star game is very divided. On one hand, with the current format, fans have the opportunity to see the best MLS players play a match against a major international team. However, MLS players are in mid-season form while the European competition are only in preseason training. On the flip side, the MLS All Stars are not a team, merely a collection of players thrown together and asked to compete against an established team of players.
The current format can also come across a popularity contest, with the most popular, and not always most deserving, players getting picked to the squad. Given that it’s an exhibition game, do you give the fans a chance to see Robbie Keane, Gio dos Santos, Kaká, Sebastian Giovinco, Fabián Castillo, Dom Dwyer, and Michael Bradley line up to play a match together, which potentially increases television ratings as well? Or do you reward a larger pool of MLS players who have had strong first halves of the season?
With 2016 marking the 12th consecutive year of the current format, I’m in favor of a new format starting in 2017. Something to inject some life into the competition, especially as TV ratings of the All-Star Game continue to be a mixed bag. I’m in favor of the All-Star Game moving to an MLS vs. Liga MX format, as least for one season. It would be competitive as players want to showcase their league as the best. It can extend the rivalry from matches in the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League. And with multiple MLS players leaving this offseason for Liga MX, you have the story line of them returning. The timing also works out as the All-Star Game falls right around the start of the the Liga MX Apertura, so players would be closer to match shape than European counterparts.
Which format are you in favor of? East vs. West? The once-used MLS USA vs. MLS World? MLS vs. “International Club” continuing? MLS All-Stars vs. Liga MX All-Stars? Something else entirely? In the meantime, we’re looking forward to this year’s game against Arsenal, which is sure to bring the crowds.