By Ian L (@ahandleforian)
Boy I need MLS to get back in the full swing of things again, and not this cockneyed 80% of the good players are off on international duty and we’re trying to cram these matches in with four available subs kind of MLS either. Last week I did nothing but complain about Grant Wahl articles and MLS initiatives and I’m glad I had enough foresight to get my soap box reinforced with rebar, because I’m about to get back up on it again. Yeah, you know what I’m about to say. The All Star game.
So, a thing you won’t find surprising is that I don’t like it. Any of it. Not the way it’s currently done. I’m not opposed to an All Star game in theory but the execution makes it seem like a tremendous waste of time and resources. Here are the things that suck about the All Star game.
1. It’s in the middle of the season
Look, MLS rosters aren’t that deep. I know players aren’t exactly going 100% out there but any time you put 22 grown men and a ball out there, there is a chance that somebody’s going to get hurt. The NFL has this right. If you’re going to play a full on soccer match, do it at the end of the year. There’s a lot of dead time in the playoffs and plenty of good players who aren’t in the final. Go on and do it then. I know, I know, but then you couldn’t have some European team come in because there is no way THEY’D do a pointless cash grab friendly in the middle of their competitive season - but that brings me to
2. Enough with this European team nonsense
This was cool for a while, but at this point it feels a little desperate. Now look, I totally get that there were vast swathes of MLS history where picking 40 MLS all stars was going to result in some not so great players, but as much as this league touts it’s growth, I’d hope we aren’t there at this point in time. Think we can’t make a good game in 2019 out of East v West?
GK: Hamid (Guzan)
OD: Murillo (Ruan)
CD: Pirez (Robinson)
CD: Callens (Long)
OD: Lawrence (Morrow)
OM: Picault (Sapong)
CM: Pozuelo (Moralez)
CM: Medunjanin (Nagbe)
OM: Katai (Gressel)
FW: Nani (Rooney)
FW: Martinez (Heber)
GK: Frei (MiIler)
OD: Metanire (Feltscher)
CD: Zimmerman (Hedges)
CD: Opara (Segura)
OD: Smith (Adnan)
OM: Vela (Elis)
CM: Atuesta (Lodeiro)
CM: Kaye (Dos Santos)
OM: Rossi (Russell)
FW: Ibrahimovic (Wondolowski)
FW: Ruidiaz (Manotas)
That seems like a far more entertaining match than the one we’re going to see this summer. I know how thirsty MLS is for that “gets up at 6 AM every Sunday to cheer on Tottenham ‘otspur” demo, but if you think watching a friendly most of these players don’t want to play in is going to grab the hearts of those American bros who earnestly end their tweets with YNWA hashtags, applaud United’s commitment to the local lads, or still buy into that early 2000s narrative that Arsenal play the most beautiful football, then you need a wake up call more than they do.
Hey, here’s a crazy idea. A demographic you’re engaging with terribly are the Liga MX fans that live here. While you’re coveting that elusive demographic of Euro snob fans who think that sometimes continental players can’t keep up with the physicality of the English game or whatever tired aphorism the guy from Sussex at the pub likes to trot out after three pre-nine AM pints, Liga MX is scoring better TV ratings in the US than the EPL, Men AND their Blazers be damned.
So since they seem willing to do a collab with this whole Leagues Cup thing, why bother with all of that extra fixture crunch and instead have one showcase event with them every season? That could be a real and fun thing, have one of those trophies that gets held for the year or whatever. That’s an easy sell to me, but I’m fully willing to accept that there may be REASONS why this can’t occur. That’s fine. There are other options.
I know a lot of you haven’t gotten past those players I picked for my All Star games. I need you to come back to me here, and admit that even if you don’t like my choices (and honestly, they were chosen to just to give a sense of the kinds of teams you could make) I did a damn sight better than what we got because
3. Fans Suck At Voting
They are TERRIBLE at it. This one player that’s selected via EA’s FIFA 20whatever? That is weird and I hate that because I do not understand it. I also simply refuse to TRY and understand it, so miss me with that “it’s not that compli-” none of that please. FIFA has done enough to distort people’s understanding of soccer without letting it pick our all star teams. You want skynet? This is how we get skynet. Ok, I know. The point of an all star game isn’t to honor the best players so far that season (where would I get such a laughable notion)? It’s to drive interest and part of that interest is fan engagement and so we have voting. That’s not going to go away so what do we do? Well this is where things get interesting. This is where I release my big plan, yeah I’ll say it, The New Deal of Major League Soccer All Star games.
The Big Plan:
Fans still get to vote, but they vote on 14 players (none of them are selected via FIFA by EA because that’s super dumb). These 14 players can be any position any team, whatever. You’re voting for 14 players to become the captain of a five man team of their choosing that will play in a small field five-a-side tournament. You remember how the most awesome soccer commercial (and quite likely the most awesome commercial ever period) was this one:
I’m thinking something like that but probably not on a boat with the whole industrial Mad Max thunderdome vibe thing… or you know what? Hell yeah on a boat with the whole industrial thunderdome vibe thing. Why not? Even if we don’t get the boat, this would be a very fun thing to see.
The bracket would look something like:
The top two vote getters would get a bye through the first round, and then you seed downwards according to votes while alternating sides of the bracket. It’s going to be hard to find a network to cover this whole tournament, so assuming that’s not an option you do the first round of games on Saturday with a cool livestream presentation on the MLS website/Twitch/Twitter whatever, all of that stuff. Then you do the semis and the final on television on Sunday. The winners get a dope trophy, and we get to see the players we love doing cool soccer things in a completely different, low stakes, low impact, but extremely fun context. I haven’t watched the All Star game in years. I would be glued to this livestream.
Oh, and we can still rope EA into sponsoring some portion of this event even if we don’t let them pick a player via FIFA game voting. You know all those little skill competition things you do while you’re waiting for your FIFA game to load? They’ve done real life scale versions of those things. MLS has even done it! I didn’t know this happened! I love me some Brian McBride, Dwayne DeRosario, and I guess Mo Ali but let’s get the current players in there - and yes YES bring back GOALIE WARS. Goalie Wars would be the highlight of the weekend. Look at that video. You see that? That is some classic MLS right there. Blonde Landon. Silly things. East v West. Joe Cannon. The All Star game should be a celebration of MLS and what makes IT unique and awesome, not the occasion of bringing in Borussia Dortmund or whatever. The biggest problem with the All Star game is that it simply isn’t that much fun in its current state.
So yeah, East v West, End of Season, MLS vs Liga MX, super crazy mad max five a side tournament? - all of these would be improvements on the current format. I get that the object is to increase interest and awareness of the league while also giving the fans something to watch, I just think that all of these suggestions will do a better job of that - and I’d know, I have zero marketing and event planning experience and no knowledge whatsoever of contractual agreements or stipulations in regards to the current format! I know that GOALIE WARZ FIVE O’ SIDE TOURNEY OF MLS CHAMPIONS is just a pipe dream, but we should dare to GOALIE WARZ. It’s what Zlatan would want us to do. And you’ll do whatever Zlatan wants, MLS. Yes you will.