MLS commissioner Don Garber has repeatedly touted the league's current All-Star Game format as the most unique in American sports. MLS stars take on an international club in a spectacle that reaches fans around the globe, exposes MLS to a growing worldwide audience and gives players a chance to go up against some of the finest competitors on the planet. Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter
Unique and special it may be, but the way things are currently structured, it is also the most depriving when it comes to showcasing the wide range of talent the league can offer on its own.
There is no doubt that the MLS vs. international club format has had some tremendous success while giving MLS players the incentive to show well in front of high-level coaches and scouts. The penalty shootout featuring Everton and USA goalkeeper Tim Howard emerging victorious at Rio Tinto Stadium in 2009 was certainly memorable, even though MLS came up short.
MLS locking horns with defending UEFA Champions League winner Chelsea at PPL Park last summer, and coming out on top, was a refreshing and entertaining affair following a couple of one-sided losses to Manchester United.
What the league fails to accomplish with limiting its All-Stars to one concise team, though, is provide the neutral crowd and the casual MLS fans a chance to familiarize themselves with rising talent from lesser-known markets.
Consider that in every other major sport's All-Star event, more players are given the opportunity to bask in the spotlight. The NHL's most recent event featured two teams of 19 players with an additional six rookies selected for each side. The NBA features two teams of 12, allowing 24 players to see the court. Major League Baseball features two teams of 34. The NFL features scores of players for each Pro Bowl team to account for the myriad of positions on both sides of the ball.
MLS has one team of 20 (12 more players will earn the "All-Star" distinction per the league's collective bargaining agreement but will not be part of the actual event). Granted, the rules and gameplay for every sport call for a different set of players across the board, but with no other events (something along the lines of a young stars game, skills competition, MLS-NWSL integrated game, etc.) to augment the match, MLS does its fans a bit of a disservice by limiting the active player pool to such an exclusive group.
Like most seasons, the list of MLS All-Star snubs for deserving players this year was quite lengthy. The biggest name omitted from the final matchday roster released on Monday was LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan, whose 12-year All-Star Game streak will come to an end (he did not play in 2011 but was selected to the gameday roster).
Some may say Donovan hurt himself by choosing to miss the opening portion of the season, and others may argue that his three goals and six assists are not enough to warrant a selection, but he remains one of the faces and pillars of the league and an All-Star caliber performer.
His teammate, Marcelo Sarvas, is arguably one of the most improved players in the league and has played a major role in stepping into the Galaxy midfield for David Beckham on a full-time basis. Fans on the East Coast who don't catch most late night Galaxy matches and instead only see the highlights, however, might not know that first-hand.
Jack McInerney practically carried the Philadelphia Union -- and the Golden Boot race -- prior to his CONCACAF Gold Cup call-up, yet while his 10 goals were enough to warrant a place on Jurgen Klinsmann's roster, they were not enough to get the 20-year-old into the MLS summer showcase. Ironically, if McInerney had not missed three league games to be with the U.S. national team, he might have done enough to get selected.
Playmaker Javier Morales has been a constant source of excellence for Real Salt Lake, yet he won't be given any time against AS Roma. Defender Jose Goncalves has practically transformed the New England Revolution's back line since his arrival -- to be fair, rookie Andrew Farrell has played a significant role as well -- yet he won't get a chance either.
FC Dallas, which was the hottest team in MLS over the first three months of the season, is not represented at all, with the likes of David Ferreira and Michel not making the cut. The Portland Timbers' Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe have been two of the league's most consistent, improved and electric attacking threats, yet they will be sitting this one out. Other notable snubs turning in star campaigns include forwards Federico Higuain and Claudio Bieler and defenders Jamison Olave and Sheanon Williams. The list goes on.
The point is, while the league boasts some major names in world soccer circles that will participate in the All-Star Game -- and the 20 players selected are deserving of the distinction -- it has also managed to cultivate a pretty nice haul of talent on its own who will not. There are far too many player snubs this season, and every year. The All-Star Game format should be able to recognize more of the league's top talent.
Coaches and owners around the league likely don't mind that fewer of their stars are subjected to a game in which injuries could occur, but an All-Star event is meant to reward deserving players with some glory while showcasing them to a growing fanbase, and in that regard MLS comes up short.
If the MLS vs. european club format is here to stay, and by all indications it is, there has to be a better way of taking advantage of the moment. It isn't a matter of watering down the player pool and giving less meaning to an All-Star nod. It is a matter of giving players their due while also boasting more of the talent the league has to offer. There is no magic number to hit in which all of the star-caliber players will be rightfully recognized, but there is one amount that could certainly be achieved: More.
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