—by Matthew Lindley
** BTW, this is an opinion piece, and it does not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Timbers Army, 107ist, or 107ist board of directors.**
By the time you read this, our yearly 90-minute nightmare will be over: Another MLS All-Star Game will have come and gone, and many a Timbers fan will join alongside fans throughout the league in dosing their torches for yet another year. Personally, I am not one of the “trophies, not friendlies” haters of all things extracurricular; in fact, the drooling junkie of a soccer nerd in me enjoys friendlies quite a bit. But there is a big factor that ruins it all for even the widest-eyed consumer such as me: They’ve sucked all the fun out of it.
There has always been a very tense marriage between the “world’s game” and “American sports culture.” The old NASL had its “fouls” for TV timeouts, loosened offside rules, and hockey-esque overtime shootouts. The MLS has its pyrotechnics, post-season playoffs, and an All-Star Game.
When I was a kid, all-star games were my favorite thing ever. “You mean I get to watch Griffey play against the National League?” Yes! “You mean Jordan and Kobe are just going to take circus shots all night long?” Sign me up. “You mean all of the players that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl are going to play each other a week after the Super Bowl, when everyone is completely burned out on football?” Ok, they can’t all be gems.
But that is just the thing: Your particular sports’ all-star game used to be their showcase night (or weekend) of the year for the best and brightest to show off and goof off in equal portions. John Kruk batting with his helmet on backwards after Randy Johnson buzzed the tower in 1993. Vince Carter giving up his spot so that Jordan could start his final ASG. Davey Allison passing at the finish and then crashing in 1992. (Yes, I mentioned NASCAR, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.)
And, like its fellow American-sports brethren, the MLS All-Star Game used to be fun, too: traditional West vs. East, Landy Cakes copying the Brandi Chastain “sports bra” celebration, legendary GK Jorge Campos entering as a position player and scoring a goal... Imagine how much press the league could grab with moments like that now that they are more popular than ever — but they won’t, because the match isn’t an all-star game anymore.
From the moment that the Taylor Twellman’s 2005 MLS all-stars took the pitch against Fulham in Columbus 10 years ago, the MLS All-Star Game became a friendly and, in some a cases, a relatively competitive one (see last year’s “Handshake-gate”). Sure, the MLS team is a ragtag group of all-stars, but any foreign team they play is usually less than a month away from the start of their regular season. They are here to be a part of Don Garber’s Cavalcade of Stars. They are here to get match fit and/or not get hurt long enough to get back on the plane.
The Mad Notebook Killa himself, Clint Dempsey, suggested this week that the league go back to an East vs West ASG, and then award the MLS Cup Final to the conference that wins. WORSE IDEA! This is the idea that has pretty much rendered the MLB game unwatchable.
As much as it makes me throw up in my mouth a little, I do agree with something Dempsey said: Go back to the original East vs West format. This would be great… Hell, it wouldn’t even need to be East vs West. Do North America vs the world. Do South America vs North America vs the World in the first-ever televised match of three-team soccer! (Google it.) While you are at it, throw in an NHL-style skills competition the night before for good measure. No matter what you do, find a way to make the All-Star Game an all-star game again!
There will forever be the haters who will pepper Twitter with vitriol halfway through each season. But for the smiling, drooling, impressionable American soccer geeks like me, oh please, Lord Garber, give us an all-star game we can enjoy again.