Like any good red, white and blue-blooded American sports fan, I grew-up with a healthy disdain for all-star games. The Pro Bowl was a joke, NHL's mid-season exhibition bared no resemblance to any other hockey game I'd ever seen, and Major League Baseball still fails to realize its fans (he says, implying the first person) absolutely loathe the All-Star break. Only the National Basketball Association has realized that an All-Star Game is less about the match and more about the showcase, seemingly patterning it's break (and the festivities surrounding it) after the Super Bowl.
The continuing popularity of all-star games hints I may be looking at the glass as half-empty. Yes, the games don't influence the standings, and the leagues could avoid the breaks and keep playing meaningful games, but the breaks are also a time to come together and celebrate the leagues. Besides, some people like a little mid-season regroup. And if the game being an exhibition is such a big deal to you, Farley (against implying first person), just chill-out. Life, particularly in this country, is way too competitive at times. Just loosen-up and enjoy a number of the world's best athletes playing one of the best games in the world.
If that view seems too half-full, then we've probably gotten to the heart of tonight's Major League Soccer All-Star Game. No matter how you look at tonight's event (featuring a team of MLS stars against world club titans Manchester United), there's a half of the glass you're not going to like. However, when talking about a league searching for marquee moments that can captivate a national (and international) audience, there's little better than a premier club against your best product.
With that in mind, your half-empty, half-full look at tonight's Major League Soccer All-Star Game.
Empty: Manchester United's best players won't be there!
I add the exclamation points because the detractors usually really, really want you to hear, and I say that as somebody who can be a detractor, depending on how breakfast sits with me. Today, I had strawberries and orange juice, so I'm in a more positive mood:
Full: Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will be there!
And now I'm just shouting back-and-forth to myself, but were I to travel back in time and tell that kid from Lebec, California that Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes would be playing in the United States, there'd be enough disproportionate shouting to break a transcriber's exclamation point. Perhaps this is strong, but two absolute icons of the world's game will be in Houston tonight. We can catch Wayne Rooney the next time around.
Empty: It's an exhibition. It doesn't count.
And the players play as if it doesn't count, the thinking goes. Who wants to watch a competition with no competitiveness. Ah, the conundrum of all All-Star games (expect baseball's, because that time it counted).
Full: It the result doesn't matter, you can just enjoy the soccer.
I've been accused of being quite the hippy, but I'm there aren't so many flowers in my hair that I can't appreciate the competitive aspect of sport. That said, there is a reason why the And1 mix-tapes were so popular for so long. Home run derbies still captivate us and the three-point shootout of All-Star weekend remains enthralling (once you tune out the music). Sometimes, you just want to see what a guy could do if they were given a little more freedom.
While we're unlikely to see Bruce Arena break-out a 4-2-4 tonight or entice Wilson's fancy with a W-M, we should see more freedom to just play. With the likes of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Marco Pappa, Landon Donovan, Javier Morales and Dwyane De Rosario on the pitch, no need to let formations and tactics get in the way.
And besides, we all know what Apollo's corner-man Duke has to say when exhibitions are taken too seriously (go to 3:25 for the quote):
Empty: The timing is terrible.
CONCACAF Champions League started yesterday, which means the likes of Donovan, Edson Buddle, and De Rosario will be playing on back-to-back nights. Seattle has no representation because they're playing their CCL match tonight, and the whole event is experiencing a lack of interest in the wake of the World Cup.
Full: There are certainly enough good players in Houston.
Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso are All-Stars. It would be great to see Kasey Keller in an event like this. Steve Zakuani is turning into one of the better players in this league. However, none of them are missing Houston. No Seattle fans are pining to be watching the All-Star Game instead of Champions League. They've moved on, and so should we, as there will be plenty of other stars on display at Reliant.
On the MLS All-Stars' bench, you have names like Bornstein, Conde, La Toux, Ferreira, Davis, Joseph and Angel. The All-Star team will be fine.
Empty: Who wanta to go to Houston in the middle of July?
Something I've heard multiple times, to which I can only say:
Full: C'mon now.
Seems like there's a group of professional soccer players from Manchester who have no problem with it.
Empty: MLS All-Star games against European clubs only feed the Euro-centric soccer fan: the Eurosnob.
Full: Actually, we call it football.