June 10, 2011
By Charles Cuttone
Shouldn’t all-star event be a showcase?
Of all the major sports leagues, and I will include Major League Soccer here, MLS is the only one that has a habit of devaluing its own all-star game.
Wednesday’s announcement that fabled Italian side Juventus will play Club America on July 26 at Citi Field just further proves that point. The international, part of the SUM-promoted World Football Challenge, will be the day before the MLS All-Star Game, which will take place at Red Bull Arena, some 20 miles away in New Jersey. I am sure both games will draw well and perhaps tap into different audiences. That’s not the point. Media coverage and buzz for both games will suffer for their being held back-to-back.
When Major League Baseball plays its All-Star Game, the league stops for three days. No games on Monday and Wednesday, and on the Tuesday of the All-Star Game, there are no games in organized baseball—anywhere. Not in the Pacific Coast League, not the Carolina League or the bottom of the bus leagues.
Imagine that, making the focus of the entire sport for that night on one game.
But that, for some reason, is not how MLS looks at its All-Star Game. The league has always had a pattern of not clearing the calendar for what should be a showcase event. Indeed, in past years, there have been league games scheduled either the day before or the day after All-Star games, meaning some players selected to play in the game could not, or could make only a token appearance.
The selection process for the All-Star team is convoluted in itself. There are 32 All-Stars selected. This is a part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union, obviously a way to get more players a bonus for making the All-Star Team. Nothing inherently wrong with that, since if the game was East vs West or some such matchup, there would be that many stars selected.
The fans have a vote in the process, so do the media, coaches and executives, and Commissioner Don Garber also has leeway to add players at his discretion. Freddy Adu made the team that way a few years back.
But the 11 player selected aren’t necessarily the starters. They might not even necessarily play in the game. That is very different from the all-star game in baseball, where fan voting determines all the starters, except the pitchers.
In baseball, All-Star coaches or managers also usually are selected on the basis of set criteria, such as the nanagers of the previous year’s pennant winners handling their respective league’s all-stars in Baseball’s midsummer classic.
For the MLS showcase this year, New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe will manage the MLS team against Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. Why? Because he happens to be in the area. The Red Bulls are hosting the game, so he doesn’t have to travel and will be there anyway. Hey, I’ll be there too, but that’s no justification for making me the All-Star coach.
MLS has done much over the years to improve its All-Star game, by scheduling it against major international teams, stepping up the ante in the last few years by playing Manchester United. Shouldn’t it want that game to be the focus of the American soccer public for a few days?