Major League Soccer made a very expected announcement on Wednesday when the league informed the world that Chelsea will serve as opponents for the MLS All-Stars on July 25 when the two sides meet in Philadelphia. That deafening silence you heard was the sound of hardly anybody caring one bit.
I've stated this before in similar pieces, but I feel the need to do so again just to make my feelings on the subject clear. I don't care for all-star games of any kind in any sport. An all-star game that occurs in the middle of the season is the absolute worst. Such a contest is both a complete waste of time and also an additional game that could cost a team a key player because of an unfortunate injury. Hey, these things happen.
Having Chelsea play in the 2012 MLS All-Star Game makes some sense, of course. Chelsea will, after all, be involved in a US tour during the upcoming summer. While they certainly don't need much help filling seats for such friendlies, any little bit of national advertising can't hurt. With that said, Chelsea also won't doing MLS any favors this coming July.
Once again, those running the show in the MLS front office have put the league in a bad spot. If Chelsea dominate the MLS All-Stars as did Manchester United in 2010 and 2011 (United outscored the MLS All-Stars 9-2 in those two games), the game will again make the league's best of the best look like a collection of geeks and has-been players who can't cut it against real competition. Beating Chelsea wouldn't mean anything for MLS, though, since the EPL side will be in the middle of a preseason run, and also playing an opponent they don't care about in the slightest.
The argument for having teams such as Chelsea and Manchester United as opponents for the MLS All-Stars has always been that these big name clubs will ensure the contest sells out. That's all well and good, except it's not accurate. Take last year as an example. You didn't need to have an "inside source" to see that Red Bull Arena wasn't filled to capacity when the 2011 MLS All-Star Game came to town. I knew of at least three New York Red Bulls season ticket holders who literally couldn't give their tickets away for the game. The MLS All-Star Game is nothing more than a gimmick, a 90-minute game of kickball that brings with it a few memorable moments at best. No thanks.
We also no longer need a team such as Chelsea to sell seats for an MLS All-Star Game. Toronto FC proved that to be true during CONCACAF Champions League play last month. A crowd of over 47,000 made their way to Rogers Centre to watch TFC play against David Beckham, Landon Donovan and LA Galaxy. How do we know that CCL play wasn't why so many people felt compelled to see that game live and in-person? Well, Toronto only drew roughly 18,000 fans when they hosted Santos Laguna in the next round of the tournament. That's quite a difference.
Take only a second to put together two imaginary squads for a potential East vs. West 2012 MLS All-Star Game. Since fan voting is involved, Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Landon Donovan and possibly even Rafael Marquez are all guaranteed to be featured (barring injuries/other setbacks). Those four names alone are bringing about 20,000 people to a soccer specific stadium for the MLS All-Star Game, which is close to the amount of people that actually attended Red Bull Arena for last year's game.
It's entirely possible that I'm wrong, and that an East vs. West MLS All-Star Game in 2013 wouldn't bring 10,000 fans out to an arena. The league is much bigger and much more popular than it was the last time such a game was played (2004), so we really can't say for sure. I'd be fine if the MLS All-Star Game was completely scrapped. If the league insists on having one, however, it's time to again take a risk and eliminate international clubs from having any part of the contest. Attendance for an East vs. West All-Star Game, not how a group of guys thrown together at the last minute play against Chelsea, will give us a real idea of just how much the league has grown in the past two decades.