Is it just me, or is the MLS All-Star Game even less of a story this year than it normally is? I know, I know, All-Star Games are bogus and whatnot, but some of the best of MLS tonight will be taking on some guys, including some stars, from Chelsea, that same Chelsea that won the UEFA Champions League title earlier this year (5:30 pm PDT, ESPN2). The stakes are nonexistent, except perhaps bragging rights, and it is worth mentioning that the last time Chelsea played the MLS All-Stars, MLS won 1-0. Considering the target practice that Chelsea has been taking here in the U.S. so far on their preseason tour, can we expect the same scoreline? Probably not. But maybe Chivas USA's All-Star will have something to say about it.
The remaining 2012 All-Stars were named today. This final batch will not play tonight in PPL Park, but are given the honor and get to collect bonuses and put it on their resumes. Despite the fact that these players will play no part in the actual match, I was hoping that James Riley or perhaps Oswaldo Minda would be included in the inactive list of All-Stars, but nothing doing. MLS players vote on the inactive list, and I guess they haven't been reading the advanced stats that show why Riley is so good this year.That leaves the All-Stars with a single representative from Chivas, but he's a good one. Dan Kennedy is one of two goalkeepers on the roster tonight, along with Sporting Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen, and I expect each keeper will play a half. That is of course up to the discretion of All-Star coach Ben Olsen, but it would be a pretty cruel move if one of them sat on the bench all night. That said, if Kennedy plays 90 minutes, as long as he doesn't get hurt in the process, I'll be happy.
Although Nielsen has put up impressive stats, I think he may be less-equipped to deal with a major favorite like Chelsea, as he's used to his defense mopping up chances before they become dangerous. He did go multiple games without facing a shot on goal earlier this season. Meanwhile, Kennedy has a lot of experience dealing with shots being continually pelted at him. Chivas' defense has been much better this year than it was in 2011, but DK is the closest thing MLS has to the goalie that stands on his head to keep his team in a game. Chelsea may still score early and often regardless of the man between the posts, but Kennedy's used to the onslaught, while Nielsen primarily has that creepy tongue-thing he does to distract opponents (it sure does distract me).
For those of you who scoff at the necessity of even having an All-Star game, I'd like to reproduce what I wrote last year on the subject:
Is there any point to the MLS all-star game?
Some of the other MLS SB Nation blogs have been weighing in on this question in the past couple of days. It seems most of them hate the all-star game. Another says the all-star roster itself is bad. For my part, I am not necessarily interested in the game, but I don't hate the concept either. Like the playoffs and the lack of a promotion/relegation system in MLS, the all-star game is another U.S./Canadian anachronism (relative to the biggest European leagues, anyway). But while I agree that the all-star game suffers from many of the same problems that plague midseason friendlies (injury risk, fatigue, fixture congestion, lack of competitive spirit) I think the all-star game serves a slightly different purpose. It represents the youthful fantasy of seeing the best players in the league playing together as a super-team one night a year. It provides headlines and recognition for the players picked for the squad, which as we have seen with LaBrocca and Pearce [Chivas' 2011 All-Stars], is providing deserved attention to good players. That being said, I think the many-headed hydra approach to picking the MLS all-stars is unwieldy and leads to confusion among everybody about how the all-stars should be picked. That is something that could probably stand to be simplified and fixed in future seasons.
And although I don't expect the all-star game to create new fans for MLS, it is a format that is easily recognizable for American/Canadian viewers. The general tension in the sport here today is between people who want to completely emulate the set-up in the major European leagues, and people who want MLS to look more like the other major professional leagues in North America. I could write a book about this tension (really) but I think for those who don't think the all-star game is true football/soccer, they shouldn't really worry too much about the all-star game. Unless an all-star from your team gets hurt, what's the big deal? As for bragging rights, yeah, I don't care at all about that. Mostly, I am indifferent about the game itself. Just like all all-star games in all sports, I am happy to see players from my team in them, but beyond that, not much to get worked up about.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!