By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 24, 2023) US Soccer Players – American sports culture as a whole naturally informs a lot of what Major League Soccer does, and rightfully so. For MLS, the issue is finding a balance between what some view as the more “authentic” approach to the game, a misnomer, to be clear, and a more unapologetically American style.
While the influence that the most popular leagues and clubs in Europe have on the landscape of American soccer is impossible to deny, and perhaps more importantly, impossible to resist, MLS doesn’t simply follow European soccer in its quest to convert Americans to the game. When it comes to the annual MLS All-Star Game, the league takes its inspiration from American sports.
Despite a complicated and busy schedule that includes a full 34-game regular season for each team plus a month-long pause for the expanded Leagues Cup and various continental and domestic cup competitions, MLS is committed to playing the All-Star Game.
This season, a collection of the league’s best performers from the first half of the year will take on English Premier League outfit Arsenal. Arsenal’s involvement as the MLS opponent returns the league to the all-star game format it used for 15 years before 2021 when it switched tack and brought in an all-star team from Mexico’s Liga MX to play its best and brightest.
Speculation that MLS might turn back to an East vs West format this season, or some other format featuring two teams made up of MLS players proved to be just that. The logic behind a return to an intraleague all-star match, as in the early years of the league, is obvious. The format provides a showcase for an additional team of players. An East vs West or similar format would also bring MLS back in line with the all-star competitions put on by the other major American sports leagues. Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL all play mid-season all-star games with two teams of players from their clubs.
With Arsenal, MLS can spotlight the return of former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and now Arsenal player Matt Turner. He won the MVP for the All-Star Game playing for MLS in a win over the Liga MX All-Stars in 2021 that required penalties. Then there’s MLS All-Star coach Wayne Rooney.
The boost MLS gets from playing Arsenal gets bigger if the Gunners get back to winning major trophies this season, a strong possibility with the club currently sitting atop the Premier League standings, eight points clear of 2nd-place Manchester City with 10 rounds to play. Come July, when the MLS All-Star Game festivities commence in Washington, DC, Arsenal could be the reigning Premier League champion. That alone is worth the interruption to the MLS season.
In fairness, it’s only an interruption of a kind. The All-Star Game is a midweek event, which means it doesn’t force MLS to stop play to squeeze it into the schedule. No weekend dates will be lost. The regular season can continue a few days after the game, as it has in every season the exhibition has been played.
This year, however, the regular season won’t resume following the festivities in DC. Instead, MLS and Liga MX will kick off the Leagues Cup two days after the All-Star event. MLS will pause its season for a month to conduct the first-of-its-kind clash of two leagues in a World Cup-style event.
The quick turn to the Leagues Cup illustrates MLS’s focus on continuing to create a mutually productive relationship with Liga MX while leaving space for the All-Star Game. This year’s edition against a well-known club team is a return to an approach the league knows very well.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
More From Jason Davis:
- League A and beyond in the Concacaf Nations League
- Auston Trusty is part of the USMNT center back picture in March
- LAFC puts the focus on player development with Red&Gold Football
- LAFC is the latest defending MLS Cup champion to try to add a Concacaf Champions League title
Photo by Tony Quinn – ISIPhotos.com