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MLS Stars Discuss All-Star Format
“So it's not a free idea. I'm going to have to talk to him before this gets released.”
It was a rough night for MLS on Wednesday. The league’s All-Stars were trounced 5-0 by Arsenal in a match that was more of a lowlight compared to the goal of highlighting the league’s talent.
While being an unequivocally American event, MLS has decided to use the game to bring top-tier European talent to go up against a team that has less than a week of preparation. From 2005-2019, MLS All-Stars have gone against foreign teams such as Tottenham, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Real Madrid.
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New England Revolution captain Carles Gil hinted that both teams should try to be on an even playing field. MLS’ All-Stars only had two days of training (and one of those was spent playing soccer volleyball) compared to Arsenal who has inherent chemistry coming of a second place finish in the English Premier League.
“I think we need to try to be in the same condition,” Gil said. I think that they know (each other) very good. They are one of the best teams in in the world and we train one day and we play together so maybe it's better to do something like last two years or like you say, conference.”
The captain concluded that this year’s experience was still a good one.
The challenge with going against these European giants is that the gap in quality is evident. This was very much on display in D.C.
While some of it is due to the fact that Wayne Rooney’s All-Star side had no time to talk tactics and gel as a unit, there is no denying that MLS isn’t on the same level as the top teams overseas.
Rooney boasts a unique level of expertise on the gap in quality between MLS and the play over in England due to being a player in the English Premier League as well as MLS. He also managed English side Derby County before coming to MLS to coach D.C. United.
“Yeah, that's a good question,” Rooney said when asked about how MLS can close the gap between the quality in the EPL. “But I know the league has been working extremely hard to try and bring that gap closer and bring better players in or younger players more towards the peak into the league, which I think they are doing well. But we're talking about one of the best teams in Europe, I believe in Arsenal. This could happen to any team so it's very difficult when you're playing against a team like Arsenal. In terms of closing the gap I think that has been happening over the years and I'm sure that we'll continue to work and get closer.”
With the gap in quality on display, it makes fans wonder if the league should be going out of their way to play opponents who boast superior talent to MLS’ best players. Just last year, MLS used the All-Star game to continue to stoke the flames of the rivalry between the league and their Mexican counterparts Liga MX. Also in the early years of the league, MLS stuck to the traditional East versus West format.
So after the match, The Blazing Musket spoke to players in the locker room about the All-Star Game format. Nashville SC center back Walker Zimmerman believes the league should take a page out of the NBA’s book and possibly utilize a draft for the skills competition.
“I think it's it's great competition. You know, obviously, they (Arsenal) brought a great game. Personally I think East versus West would be a really interesting dynamic to look at again,”Zimmerman said. “I need to talk to Don (Garber) about it, but I think it'd be really cool. We see how the NBA does the draft and you don't have to draft the game because it's East versus West, But you can do a skill challenge and you get two captains who can draft players into the skills challenge of their choice. I think it's a really cool dynamic that should be explored. So it's not a free idea. I'm going to have to talk to him before this gets released.”
The center back continued on that it would be great to see the conferences battle out on the pitch for bragging rights.
“I think it would be fun,” he stated. “You always have banter with guys about which conference is better and I've been in both back and forth, back and forth and it's different every year. So it'd be fun. I think players would care a lot and it'd be a good environment and ultimately a good thing for the fans as well.”
While not on the same level of the top European leagues, MLS has grown a lot since it’s infancy. Who could imagine that one day the likes of Lionel Messi would be gracing the pitches of the United States?
With that growth comes a more talented player pool. A World Cup champion in Thiago Almada was playing for the MLS All Stars along with the likes of former FC Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig.
MLS veteran Kei Kamara believes that an East versus West format would better allow for the league to showcase all of the talent that exists in MLS today.
“I mean, it's fun,” Kamara said of going up against Arsenal. “You know, you can see how people love it, because they don't get to see those guys and it's amazing, everybody enjoys that. Yes, for me, the East versus West, bring the competition like the skills challenge and all these things is very entertaining and we have so many more stars in the league. It’s not just us that's here today, to represent the league. There so many other players that could be here. So, if that's the moment we can get it back then it will give more attraction also to the league.”
So it will be interesting to see what MLS decides to do for 2024. Will they stick with matching up against a European giant or could we see the league return to an inter-league battle?
While playing these historic clubs brings in a capacity crowd and likely plenty of dollars, is it worth it? The MLS All-Star squad is better than they showed on Wednesday evening and with more time to train likely would have put up a better effort. If the league schedule won’t allow for more training time, an East versus West matchup would allow for both sides to be on a level playing field.