Major League Soccer continually talks about the importance of having its teams succeed in international competition but, once again, the league has placed its All-Star game in direct conflict with the CONCACAF Champions League.
MLS announced that it will host its annual All-Star Game July 27 at Red Bull Arena. But, as has been the case with the last two All-Star events, it clashes with the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League. CONCACAF has already slated July 26-28 as the window for the first legs of the preliminary round.
FC Dallas, the Seattle Sounders and the winner of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship will all have to play in this preliminary round. So, if Vancouver or Toronto claims the Canadian crown, three MLS teams will likely have its players shut out of the All-Star event.
Last year, Dwayne De Rosario did come on as a late sub and scored for the MLS All-Stars in a 5-2 loss to Manchester United, less than 24 hours after playing against CD Motagua in a CONCACAF Champions League qualifier against Motagua. It was a move that irked his then-coach, Preki.
And, in 2010, the All-Star team was gutted when coach Bruce Arena had to limit the appearances of his Los Angeles Galaxy players because of their CCL game with Puerto Rico the night before; and, the All-Star distraction is one of the reasons used to explain the Galaxy’s capitulation to the Islanders. Seattle players couldn’t make it to the game.
During Tuesday’s conference call, MLS commissioner Don Garber said that the league would ensure that every player named to the MLS All-Star team would be available to play in New York. But he didn’t give any specifics, stating that more would be announced at a later date. He didn’t say if that would mean working with CONCACAF to make sure all MLS-team games would all go ahead on the 26th, giving players time to pull their own De Rosario manouevres, or if it would mean leaving the likes of reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira and Seattle striker Fredy Montero out of the all-star equation altogether.
“Our Champions League has not yet reached that level of importance yet,” said Garber, comparing CONCACAF to Europe’s Champions League. “But we want to compete there and get to the Club World Cup.”
Soccer United Marketing, the promotional arm of MLS, represents Barcelona in North America. Arsenal is also rumoured to be in the mix as the All-Star opponent.
“They are the two teams that play the best football in the world right now,” said Thierry Henry, who starred for both of those teams before heading to the New York Red Bulls last season.
But, MLS still doesn’t get the message. By scheduling the All-Star Game against the CCL, it sends out the message that the CCL isn’t that important. It makes it tougher for MLS teams to sell their CCL games to fans.
It’s a short-term gain that creates long-term pain for all of the MLS teams involved in CCL.
Both Garber and Los Angeles Galaxy star Landon Donovan said the All-Star Game is an important showcase for the league.
“Every chance we get to showcase ourselves is important,” said Donovan.
“We have to capture the imagination of the international soccer fan, many of who are no yet devoted MLS fans,” said Garber.
Internationally, the league would be better served if it could prove that it could wrest control of the Champions League from the Mexican powerhouses. Unlike a once-a-year All-Star Game, that would be an international result that would have staying power.