When MLS was born in 1996 the one thing we knew we would have was some kind of All-Star game. American Sports love their mid season classics. Be it the NFL Pro Bowl which now a days resembles flag football to the points fest of a no defense NBA game or a non contact game of Ice Hockey the arenas are still packed ever year. Baseball is the only one played at full intensity, but then again, if you are only on the field for one or two innings, surly you can go flat out.
So what format would MLS start with? The powers that be decided to go with the trusted Conference match up with the best players in East taking on their counterpart from out West. This happened for the opening two years and in close games the East won both of them 3-2 in front of 78,416 fans in Giants Stadium New Jersey and 5-4.
There is a saying if it is not broke don’t fix it, MLS failed to heed that advice and in 1998 decided it would be fun for the USA members of MLS to take on a team consisting of players from every other country that plied their trade in North America. A 6-1 USA victory and that soon got the boot.
For the next three years it was back to the East, West scenario. The West finally won one in 1999, 6-4 and in an even wilder game the following year the East won 9-4. The last game played before a new format started ended in a 6-6 tie.
It now did need fixing as attendances were under 25000 and this free attacking spirit was not going down well with the football purists. So to try and make the games more competitive a new format was staged with the USA taking on everyone from MLS.
The game was staged at RFK Stadium in Washington and 31,096 fans turned up to see the MLS All-Stars as they were known defeat the USA 3-2, a proper soccer game had broken out.
The following year the concept that would in time become the future format was used as Chivas USA’s parent club Guadalajara were invited to play. In a tight contest the MLS All-Stars won 3-1.
A final East, West game was played in 2004, before an exciting new opportunity for the MLS league allowing them to be exposed to European audiences was sort. For those of you interested and trust me not many were, as only 21,378 showed up to to the match in Washington, the East won 3-2.
As part of pre-season a lot of the top British clubs had started to come to North America. So to capitalise on this it was decided each year the MLS All-Stars would face one of these teams in its All-Star game.
It was a great concept as people had seen these players on television and now could see them in Person. The games were tight and more importantly from 2005- 2008 the MLS won. Fulham 4-1 were their first victim, followed by Chelsea 1-0, Celtic 2-0 and finally West Ham United 3-2. In fact the streak was only ended in 2009 when Everton won 4-2 on penalties after the game had finished tied at 1-1.
That turned out to be just the hors d’oeuvre to the main course as for the next two years Manchester United were the opponents. Reliant Stadium, Houston was packed with 70,728 fans all wanting a glimpse of their of these superstars. Forget that MLS got hammered both times 5-2 and 4-0 it showed that they could attract top teams to the stage they offered.
Last year Chelsea were the opponents and to the great joy for the MLS supporters their All-Stars triumphed 3-2. This years game takes place on Wednesday at Sporting Kansas City’s stadium and for the first time an Italian team will compete. AS Roma who finished sixth last season in Serie A and are lead by their flamboyant captain Francesco Totti, American Michael Bradley also calls Roma home. So from humble beginnings to a night with the stars MLS has proven All-star games can work, you just need find the right formula.