MLS is ready to double the ante for its annual All-Star competition in 2010 by creating two separate teams for the Eastern and Western Conferences to compete against two international powers.
This July 29, EPL Everton and keeper Tim Howard compete against the MLS All-Stars at Utah’s Rio Tinto Stadium, the seventh and newest soccer specific stadium in the country. But the truth is, that even in 2009 there’s plenty of talent to form another complete squad, and play and win both Everton and another powerful side. The summer international All-Star competition is fairly balanced; although the overseas teams are in preseason, the All-Star teams have only a couple practices together and with a new coach.
For the past four years MLS easily won its international sided All-Star matches:
2008: West Ham 3-2 (Cuautehmoc Blanco, Christian Gomez, and Dwayne De Rosario)
2007: Celtic 2-0 (Juan Toja, Juan Pablo Angel)
2006: Chelsea 1-0 (De Rosario)
2005: Fulham 4-1 (Jeff Cunningham (2), Ronnie O’Brien, Taylor Twellman)
2004: East v West
2003: Chivas Guadalajara 3-1 (Ante Razov, Carlos Ruiz, Damarcus Beasley)
2002: All-Stars 3-2 USMNT
2001: East v West
2000: East v West
1999: East v West
1998: USA v World
1997: East v West
1996: East v West
The incentives for Eastern and Western Conference All-Star teams are plentiful.
1. Abundant talent: With improved young American players and eight international spots in each of the fifteen parity-driven teams (16 in 2010), MLS is a league with a tremendous scale of ability ranging from basic to extraordinary.
2. Player incentive: Provide the better talent an opportunity to play and be seen playing at a higher level. The prospect of advancement is an incentive for players to compete in MLS, as well as for scouts and foreign coaches to observe player prospects and the league’s progress.
3. Develop international relationships: Foreign clubs can learn from American sports management and marketing, and MLS can learn much about player development and improving the league. There are major opportunities in expansion teams, loans, and tournaments yet to be realized.
4. Increased competiton between East and West conferences: At the current rate of expansion and if the international roster and salary cap is increased, as recently suggested by Commissioner Don Garber, the league could rethink competition and scheduling in a variety of ways. It’s possible the league could split into two separate conferences meeting only in the playoffs, and this could be a step in that direction.
5. Increased profit: Two competitions provide twice the ticket revenue with less than twice the cost of one event, and also increased opportunities for sponsors.
6. Challenge: Drawing only 20 players from 15 teams and saying, “This is the best we can do”is not enough. There are easily forty world-class players in MLS.
Many possible facilities, increased promotional opportunities
With the US lobbying to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022, this is an excellent opportunity to promote the many high quality soccer facilities in this country. Ten different venues have hosted the game and three (Giants Stadium in NJ, RFK Stadium in DC, and Crew Stadium in Columbus) hosted it twice.
Limitations in terms of opponents are based on estimated ticket sales, and opponents with higher appearance fees could be scheduled for larger venues. Although Rio Tinto Stadium has soccer seating for only 20,000, this is viable for English and other teams already invested in the US and seeking to expand their brand.
Goal.com recently noted the benefit in doubling the number of MLS players playing in this competition, but completely missed the boat by suggesting the two sides play each other. Six times the East and West North American conferences competed, but the format works against the international nature of soccer, continues the isolationism that has hurt the sport in this country in many ways. While claiming MLS is “missing the opportunity to promote itself by simply fielding two teams of its own best players” author Seth Vertelney forgets that much of the world has had few opportunities to observe the improved quality of MLS player, and thus the results of an East v West format would carry little weight both internationally and domestically. Vertelney proposes both domestic sides be elected by fan vote, because “This match is for them, anyway.”
But maybe not, maybe there’s more involved. It’s a romantic notion, but some might see increased international competition on a grander scale, that the US is ready to play ball with the rest of the world on their terms.
The 2008 MLS All-Star roster:
|East||New England||Matt Reis|
|East||Toronto FC||Jim Brennan|
|East||New England||Michael Parkhurst (now Nordsjaelland)|
|East||New England||Steve Ralston|
|East||New England||Shalrie Joseph|
|East||New York||Juan Pablo Angel|
|West||Kansas City||Jimmy Conrad|
|West||LA Galaxy||David Beckham|
|West||FC Dallas||Juan Toja (now Steaua Bucuresti)|
|West||Houston||Dwayne De Rosario (now Toronto)|
|West||Colorado||Christian Gomez (now DCU)|
|West||FC Dallas||Kenny Cooper|
|West||LA Galaxy||Landon Donovan|
Additonal 2009 MLS All-Star candidates
1. East, DCU, Fred
2. East, CLB Guillermo, Barros Schelloto
3. East, DCU, Luciano Emilio
4. East, DCU, Ben Olsen
5. East, NE, Jay Heaps
6. East, NE, Chris Albright
7. East, NY, Macoumba Kandji
8. East, CLB, Chad Marshall
9. East, CLB, Gino Padula
10. East, NE, Taylor Twellman
11. East, CHI, Brian McBride
12. West, SEA, Kasey Keller
13. West, SEA, Freddie Ljungberg
14. West, SEA, Fredy Montero
15. West, SJ, Bobby Convey
16. West, SJ, Arturo Alvarez
17. West, RSL, Chris Seitz
18. West, KC, Davy Arnoud
19. West, RSL, Kyle Beckerman
20. West, SJ, Darren Huckerby
21. West, COL, Colin Clark
22. West, HOU, Brian Ching
23. West, CHV Paulo Nagamura
24. West, KC Jack Jewsbury
25. West, RSL Javier Morales
26. West, RSL Yura Movsisyan
27. West, FCD Dave van den Bergh