The 5-2 result, like most all-star game final scores, was less important that the event's taking place, but for Women's Professional Soccer, Wednesday' All-Star Game in Kennesaw, Georgia was also a chance to experiment with a format that could invigorate life into the same, dull, all-star format that seems to be mimicked in each league dotting the North American sporting landscape.
Dividing teams by conference or league last its last bit of interest when baseball made "American" and "National" nothing more than anachronistic adjectives, and while dividing teams by map lines has been tried (think U.S./North America versus the world), there has been little innovation brought to the process of segregating all-stars into two teams.
On Wednesday, WPS brought that imagination, and if it weren't for that pesky quadrennial tournament being staged half-way across the world, more would have noticed Marta XI and Abby XI.
Those were the monikers given to the two All-Star teams selected by FC Gold Pride's Marta and the Washington Freedom's Abby Wambach, players appointed team captains by virtue of being the league's leading vote-getters. Part of the captaincy's honor was being able to select the teams "playground" style, with each captain working in consultation with a coach to select their team from the other 20 players who have been voted starters.
Each player took turns, picking one-by-one, until the starting lineups were set, resulting in teams where starter would begin the game opposite one of their club teammates. Forward Abby Wambach was playing against goalkeeper Erin McLeod, both members of the Washington Freedom. Marta, an attacker, would deal with midfielder Shannon Boxx, teammates with FC Gold Pride. New Atlanta Beat, former Athletica midfielder Lori Chalupny would contrast new Atlanta Beat, former Atheltica midfielder Aya Miyama.
Marta stole the show early, with two goals inside nine minutes, her FC Gold Pride teammate Christine Sinclair staking the Marta XI to a 3-0 lead near the half-hour mark. Atlanta striker Eniola Aluko pulled a goal back in the 35th minute to bring Abby XI to within two before halftime.
After a forty minute goal drought, the teams alternated three goals within seven minutes, with Miyama scoring for Marta XI, followed by goals from Lauren Cheney and Amy Rodriguez, leaving the score at 5-2.
The score was irrelevant next to the event and the format.
"Not too often do you get to play with some of these players," Wambach said, after the match. "It was fun and exciting. A lot of the kids out there were just telling me how much fun it was to see everybody on one field."
Sinclair echoed Wambach's excitement.
"We were joking that we’re the United Nations because we had people from all over the place. It was so much fun playing with the people you normally don’t get to play with."
The question, as always with Women's Professional Soccer, is whether anybody noticed. The format was supposed to inspire thoughts of Lebron Wade and Kobe Bryant standing at center court, choosing sides before a pick-up game, with Sonia Bompastor taking the place of Chris Paul and Lauren Cheney playing WPS's Dwight Howard. Although the event played-out that way, WPS was not able to break-through the media fever surrounding the World Cup and capture the casual soccer fan's imagination. WPS-devoted sites gave the event positive reviews, but they were the only ones covering it.
While WPS gets points for ingenuity, they confirmed what Major League Soccer has learned (and acknowledged in taking a break for this year's World Cup group stage): it's difficult to do business during the World Cup, and it's going to be difficult to do business next year, with the Women's World Cup taking place in Germany.
Perhaps next year's innovation for WPS should be rescheduling the event. Innovation is worth little if it can't be consumed.