Apparently the MLS All-Star Game yesterday was excellent. I'm not a Chelsea fan so I didn't watch, as I had better things to do, but Eddie Johnson's stoppage-time winner made people who care about friendlies by fake teams happy.
So happy it was worth yet another annual embarrassment of the league? I don't mean the score (although if you're proud of your league's best players, in combination, managing to narrowly beat a mixed squad of first-teamers and reserves that are out of game shape, there is something wrong with you). I mean the fact that the game happened at all; that the league sets aside its own games, the sine qua non of soccer in other, serious countries, for some "spectacle" that is in no way justified by occasionally producing a good game.
(I may have given away my attitude towards the All-Star thing in those first paragraphs.)
There's blind partisanship in this article and I won't pretend otherwise. I am a Vancouver Whitecaps fan. I am annoyed that Jay DeMerit, in spite of Martin Rennie's public requests, was one of three All-Stars (and the only one playing on Friday) to go 90 minutes. If DeMerit wanted to play 90 minutes in a Watford old-timer's game 48 hours before a major league match Rennie would tell him to fuck off. However, because this particular friendly is called the "MLS All-Star game", suddenly it's fine. Ben Olsen blamed a lack of depth after Aurelien Collin went off injured. The correct answer would have been to suck it up, buttercup and remove DeMerit anyway because the game doesn't matter.
But surrounding my partisanship is an important point. Many of the league's top players were worn out for nothing. Nothing. This was just another friendly. A completely meaningless game, one which every sane person would say should take no priority over a league match. Except that every year, inexplicably, it does.
I don't particularly like Major League Soccer as a brand or as an organization. I have no emotional attachment to it, think many of its rules are stupid, and that three of its teams should probably just fold. But every year around this time I learn that I have more pride in MLS than an avalanche of so-called "fans" who enjoy watching MLS embarrass itself on an annual basis, demeaning its own league matches for the sake of out-of-shape reserves from some big European club. It's the worst combination of North America's soccer inferiority complex and a refusal to treat our own league as something serious and worthy of respect.
All-Star games are a North American thing and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. An All-Star game, in most North American sports, is dumb but harmless. It's sometimes a nice little vacation for the rank and file. Everybody else gets around the same amount of time off, the league is playing against itself so two teams dance around, put up big offensive numbers, and escape with a minimum of exertion. The National Football League even schedules theirs after the end of their regular season, meaning there's no possibility of it ruining anybody's anything. If the MLS All-Star Game took place, say, the weekend before the MLS Cup (with no players from either MLS Cup team in it) against whatever opposition you might like, I could have no complaints. It might even be fun.
Instead, Major League Soccer tries to convince us the game is in some way important. So they bring in these famous names and hype up the previews and get the worst of both worlds. They make their own league second-rate, a lower priority than some stupid training match for a European club not one MLS fan in twenty gives a damn about! How can MLS ever convince the naysayers it's a serious soccer league when it does something so completely unserious? This is behaviour for a recreational league, not an alleged serious soccer power.
Every year, somebody gets screwed by the All-Star Game. This year it is Vancouver's turn: Kyle Beckerman of Real Salt Lake also played but much less than DeMerit, and the Whitecaps are unused to the altitude they'll be experiencing on Friday. Next year it'll be someone else but it doesn't really matter who. MLS is improving as a league in many ways, but anti-competitive events like the All-Star Game will make certain that, to some people, it will always be a joke.