The MLS All-Stars lost to Manchester United 4-0 last night in a scoreline that doesn’t reflect how the game went. The MLS’s stars played well in the first half, sticking with the Red Devils for the full 45 minutes but found themselves down 2-0 at the break. In the second half, United took control and outplayed the MLS, leading to a 4-0 final scoreline.
But my issue isn’t with the final score. Yes, the MLS deserved better, but that’s how soccer – and sports – work. United took their chances very well and the MLS missed a couple of golden opportunities. What is a problem is that this game is seen as a referendum on the state of soccer in America.
The MLS All-Stars get to practice for a couple of days and then are tossed on the field together and expected to compete with the top teams in the world. You can compare individual players at each position around the field and Manchester United will generally have the better players, but the gap is closing.
However, if you just look at the scoreline or even watch the game, you wouldn’t notice that. Many of United’s players have been playing with each other for years and the team has been playing friendlies around the U.S. for the past month. They are in preseason mode, but are finding their form. And they are used to playing with each other.
Rooney and Berbatov play off each other well. The defense holds the backline and communication around the field is significantly greater for the Red Devils.
The MLS stars were coached by New York Red Bull’s coach Hans Backe, who has actually coached just a few of the players before. He doesn’t know their strengths or weaknesses and his lineup is more guessing than knowledge.
The MLS stars are doomed from the beginning. Yes, they can certainly pull out a win, but Manchester United had a huge advantage last night entering the game (beyond their talent).
And why is this a problem? Because potential soccer fans around the country watch parts of this game or read the scoreline and believe that soccer in this country is continuing to struggle. The fact is, it’s not. The skill quality is higher than ever before, the fans and stadium atmosphere are louder than ever before and the league’s reputation is growing throughout the world.
The MLS All Star game as it is now is a terrible way to represent the state of the league. So let’s take a book out of other American sports and make it an East versus West game. Or get rid of it altogether. The All-Star game is an American idea that doesn’t exist in leagues across Europe and we’re starting to see why.
All Star games in other sports struggle each year to draw large audiences and reporters write plenty of articles on how to spice them up. MLB’s All-Star game now determines home-field advantage for the World Series (not a good idea). The NHL had an All-Star player draft this past year, like choosing teams on the playground. The NFL changed the timing of their game.
But none of those changes have really made the games great. So MLS’s attempt to bring about an exciting All-Star game by playing England’s best is laudable for its creativity, but in the end, it hurts the league more than it helps. So, either get rid of the All-Star game for good or suck up poor ratings to have this typical American event that has struggled in the country’s most popular sports.