The All Stars Align

Leave it to Landon Donovan to help make the All-Star Game actual news, then upstage the ever-loving hell out of it. 

The time will come to take a look back at the most beloved/hated American soccer player, but (a) he's retiring, not dying (b) he's got a few games left - don't write the end of the story before the end of the story, otherwise you're left wondering what happens, like in the Iliad (c) everyone and his freaking ferret are churning out retrospectives on the man, and you need to read yet another instant rehash of Landon's career about as much as you need a set of talking brine shrimp.

Meanwhile, yeah, the All Star Game has become pitifully stale, but unlike Landon, it's going to be around next year. So let's address some of the issues, shall you?

The game, and Bayern's godsend of a reaction to it, probably put an end to speculation that the format would return to East vs. West.  Nick Rimando longed for the good old days:

Maybe there could be something up for grabs for the winner, MLS Cup in the East or the West. It was good back in the days when it was East vs. West, competitiveness and fun at the same time.

I hesitate before contradicting someone as important to league history as Nick Rimando, but this is 100% wrong.  They looked like they were fun to play in, but they weren't exciting to watch.  So unpopular was the 1999 version in San Diego that it helped cost Doug Logan his job.  The NBA and the NFL can get away with clowning around in their all-star spectaculars, but MLS couldn't and shouldn't.  (The idea that home field advantage in a championship should be at stake is something no serious sport would ever consider, and I don't know where Rimando got such a bizarre idea.) 

If we must have an interleague game, make it North vs. South.  For 2015, the South will have an all-star team made up entirely of players from FC Dallas and the Dynamo.  Canadian players can promise to volunteer for the South, but never actually get around to it.  For the first half, the North will be coached by Steve Sampson.  In the second half, the North can play with twenty players, including black players from Dallas and Houston.  While that's going on, Chivas USA will be taken over by a Ligue 1 team. 

In the unlikely event MLS doesn't adopt that idea, they could finally try to make MLS vs. the US National Team into a thing again.  The logistics of getting the US national team players out of Stoke every year probably make this prohibitive, but if you liked the tough play of the Bayern game, you'd love MLS vs. US.  One of the ugliest fouls I've seen in an All-Star Game - yeah, worse than last week - was when Dema Kovalenko just about murdered DaMarcus Beasley.  They were Chicago Fire teammates at the time. 

Another downside, as you might or might not have discerned, was that if the MLS guys were anxious to impress European teams/clubs/coaches/scouts/etc., they were really, REALLY interested in impressing the US national team coaching staff.  And the MLS stars who had the misfortune of not being American, well, they didn't exactly play soft, let's put it that way.  At least for a European travelling team, there's a theoretical upside of getting younger players some field time to go along with the marketing of new kits and such.  The USMNT would be seeing more studs up than a Chippendales stage, and their reward would be what they already had - national team spots. 

It would be awesome for fans, and the MLS All-Stars, but the USSF would probably de-certify MLS if they tried to make it a regular occurrence.

My third choice, and only because it wasn't my idea so I can't take credit for it, is MLS vs. Liga MX.  We could even have two all-star games, one in Mexico, one - well, north of the Rio Grande, I suppose we should let Canadian teams host the game once in a while.  (Actually, come to think of it, I guess an MLS vs. USMNT game would have less appeal in Montreal or Yellowknife.)

Sadly, apart from what would hopefully be enough money to justify the effort, it's hard to see what Liga MX would get from it.  Liga MX fans might pay to watch an all-star team from that league, but certainly not one from MLS.  Liga MX players have nothing to gain, Liga MX clubs even less.  The Superliga showed that Mexican teams weren't totally closed to the idea of wasting their lives against MLS opposition, but their patience was, rightfully, not infinite - especially if the other side is going to play all motivated.

On the other hand, Chivas USA players can switch sides at the second half.

Yeah, I know they won't be Chivas USA next year.  I've got all these jokes lying around I have to get through.

One way to get a team of all-stars is to have someone else do it for you.  Provided the tax man isn't looking too closely, we could have MLS vs. Messi and Friends With Benefits.  It would be simplicity itself to market the game.  Best of all, imagine how shocked Messi's friends will be when MLS stars make hard tackles.  If your idea of a good time is seeing guys cheap-shot millionaires, this one would be unmissable.  Hopefully Pep doesn't call up Messi and blow the gaff.  "Oh, come on, it's just a friendly."  "Leo, you don't understand...."

Yeah, I'd been dying to make that friends with benefits joke for a while, I admit it.

HOWEVER, Ozzie Alonso, Will Johnson, and Pep Guardiola made this all speculative, at least for another year.  The unexpected publicity windfall from MLS all-stars playing as if money was at stake, or as if people were watching, is too good to ignore.  Especially if MLS takes up Guardiola's request for a rematch. 

Did Guardiola have a point?  Well, Alsonso's tackle was studs down - I know, I was surprised too.  Not that he should get a Nobel Prize for it, but it wasn't exactly Monty Python's "Salad Days."  And, what, Schweinsteiger's ankle was only bruised. What is it with these big-time soccer stars milking the drama?  First Clint Dempsey, then Neymar, now Schweinsteiger.  These guys are bigger whiners than LeBron James.  The great ones tell their bodies, "Not today."

Sorry, I'll stop that.  Maybe MLS has just jaded me to ultraviolence, but I clearly recall Steve Sidwell going in tough on David Beckham in his Galaxy friendly debut.  I have no evidence that Sidwell's tackle actually hindered Beckham's recovery...apart from Beckham's career over the next two years.  Sidwell's at Stoke these days, by the way. 

It's hugely unlikely that another famous coach or team will show up to an MLS All-Star Game willing to make international headlines in that fashion.  It's not like Pep and Bayern weren't completely out of court - Bayern doesn't need MLS to make new fans, rather the other way round.  But fans generally weren't receptive to the idea that players should make a special appearance in a game seen by millions, including God knows how many agents, scouts and general managers, and not tackle.  I think MLS made more friends than enemies with the hard tackling.

Which is one way to kill off this format in the long run.  If our knuckleheads get the idea that going full Kovalenko or Stoitchkov is the way to fame and riches, it's going to be very hard getting Champions League teams to give MLS the time of day when they come calling.  Then we'd have to settle for Manchester United.

Maybe next year MLS should invite Everton...and have Landon play one half for each team, like Pele.  The game's not going to be in San Jose, right?