MLS All-Star Game 2011: As Exhibitions Go, This Ain't So Bad

HOUSTON - JULY 28: Dwayne De Rosario #17 of the MLS All-Stars challenges Danny Welbeck #19 of Manchester United during the MLS All Star Game at Reliant Stadium on July 28 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

If we must have all-star games, and in North America that does seem to be the case, you could do a lot worse than MLS's format.

Of all the major North American all-star games, a decent argument can be made that Major League Soccer's is the most intriguing. Rather than play against one another, this year's game will be contested against Wayne Rooney and Manchester United.

The NFL All-Star Game is easily the worst, as it is not even played by the same rules as the normal game. The NBA and NHL games are only theoretically played the same way, as each often devolves into fast-break contests with neither team putting in almost any effort defensively. The Major League Baseball carried some weight once upon a time, but interleague play has largely removed any real interest even if home-field advantage in the World Series is non-sensically on the line.

The MLS All-Star Game at least makes some attempt to give us something different. Since 2003, the league has decided to bring in a foreign club (with the exception of 2004) against whom the MLS All-Stars can test their mettle. Without a doubt, it is still very much an exhibition as the visiting team is almost always in their preseason and the MLS side has practiced together only sparingly. But it is at least a chance to see some of the league's best players show their stuff against a team most casual followers of soccer have at least heard of.

As all-star games go, it's really not so bad. If you are convinced that you absolutely need to have an All-Star Game, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better way.

Sure, you could call it an unnecessary distraction -- and I have -- but it's rather harmless. MLS team are rightly choosing to send their players to games that matter in CONCACAF Champions League rather than to play in this trumped up exhibition. 

Somewhat more importantly, it looks like people enjoy going to these games. Of the eight previous all-star games that have been played against foreign clubs, seven have sold out. The most popular of those was last year's game, which drew more than 70,000 fans to Houston's Reliant Stadium. If sports are really all about entertainment (and judging by ticket prices, people are willing to pay a pretty penny for this), this is not so bad.

Personally, I could do without the whole thing. I would rather my team and my players focus on winning games that matter. But I'm not going to begrudge anyone for allowing themselves a couple hours to take it all in.

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