All-star games are exhibitions. In other words, they do not matter.
Professional leagues across the United States have all-star games that usually turn into a whole week of events. The week of events for the hosting city can help celebrate its team or a new stadium that was recently built. Concerts are held and there are games featuring future stars to celebrate the halfway point of a season, and the league itself. Major League Soccer has tinkered with its All-Star format multiple times; it's tried East vs. West, MLS USA vs. MLS World, and MLS All-Stars vs. a guest team like we'll see in Arsenal. This game usually takes place in late July, during the dog days of the season.
However, coaches don't want their star players leaving the team. New York City FC Head Coach Patrick Vieira provided an example of this with some recent comments.
"I don't care at all about that game," Vieira stated. "I think it's really frustrating because you're losing players who go to an exhibition game. We have games that are more important than that exhibition game."
Vieira shares such concerns with many fans and coaches about an exhibition played in the middle of the season. Just this week, Orlando City's Kaká was named the captain for the MLS All-Star team even though he was plagued with injury for the majority of the first half of the season. There isn't a Lions supporter who won't hold their breath when Kaká and first time all-star Cyle Larin are on the field. Every year we celebrate when they are subbed off the field as we avoid the possibility of meaningless injury that can happen during this game.
The coaches want the players to stay with their teammates and continue to build upon the chemistry they have created over the year. The format, which currently pits MLS All-Stars against a major club in Europe, has started to lose its luster, leaving many to wonder if this setup should be tweaked. It can be debated whether or not the league should go back to an East vs. West setup, or bring in the Liga MX All-Stars, or do what the NHL did this year and make it small-sided games with lots of scoring and action with a monetary bonus to the winning team. Time will tell on what the league will have to do to make this game exciting and put less stress on its stars, but the question that will always be posed will be: why have the game?
The answer is that MLS is a business and needs to sell its brand.
The All-Star Game is a major way to sell the brand and players of American soccer. Every year we field the same arguments about the ASG. The first question is usually why have the event and the second comes after the match regarding whether or not this a good barometer on American soccer after a huge win over a (weakened) European side. This game gets MLS into the spotlight for a couple of days where we argue about items that will never change.
There will always be an All-Star Game because of these debates that are sparked not only in the soccer market media, but the national media. There were many discussions last year when the MLS All-Star team defeated Tottenham Hotspur and the year before against Bayern Munich of whether the league has established itself among the great leagues of the world. The problem is these arguments are based on one game with a team that isn't comprised of young American soccer players, but former world stars. The TV ratings for the game are not anything special, as the game takes place midweek.
Nevertheless, next year, the All-Star Game could possibly be hosted in Orlando. This game will be something the city would embrace as a host, but which ASG format would be best for the league and the business? Let us know in the comments below.