The MLS All-Star Game: A Loss for the All-Stars, But a Win for American Soccer

U.S. soccer's quality of play may still lag behind the rest of the world's, but this week, fans proved that MLS is beating its biggest competition—the NBA, MLB, and the NHL.
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AP / Charlie Riedel

With a final scoreline reading "MLS All-Stars 1, AS Roma 3," it's technically true that Major-League Soccer lost to the Italian Serie A club in the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday night. But while the MLS All-Star team may have been defeated, the event marked a victory for American major-league soccer itself.

Unlike other sports leagues with annual All-Star matchups, MLS does not pit its All-Stars against one another. Rather, the league invites teams from more established leagues around the globe to play against its best. This year, the powerful Roman club crushed the MLS All-Stars at Kansas City's Sporting Park.

In a way, though, MLS still won. For fans around Kansas City at least, they weren't truly competing with Roma. Instead, MLS was competing with Major League Baseball. MLB brought their own All-Star Game to town last summer, and comparing the two events was a hot topic of conversation around town all week. Which was the better All-Star event, baseball's or soccer's?

Soccer's, believe it or not, won by a landslide.

The run-up to the Midsummer Classic brought the city much more money and prestige: Dozens of bossy men in suits rolled out velvet rope and red carpet; there were parties thrown by sponsors, endless autograph sessions, and personal appearances by players. Yes, MLB had a gargantuan fan fest, and MLS had a small one. But the latter was almost all free. So were its two concerts downtown on consecutive nights--shows by Macklemore and Silversun Pickups.

And sure, baseball had far more, and far glitzier, events before the game. But every event seemed to be for VIPs--players, agents, media big shots, or anyone willing to spend lots of cash. Like, say, on tickets to the game itself. Seats for MLB's All-Star Game averaged more than $500, face value.

This week, however, fans got into the MLS version for as little as $50. And a record crowd at Sporting Park took advantage. Those fans, save for the smattering of Italians who followed their favorite team to America, were almost exclusively local, coming from metro KC, nearby Lawrence, and Topeka. Overwhelmingly, those fans were also suburbanites--soccer moms and dads with their soccer kids.

Fútbol may be the game of the masses in many countries, but the North American version has always been more bourgeois, embraced by the middle-class. (Correspondingly, there's generally less brawling or hooliganism around the game as in other nations--although New York Red Bulls fans do have a tradition of chanting something nasty during goal kicks.)

MLS also scored a breakthrough victory, in a way, by losing. Today, it takes a well-prepped team playing hard to defeat the best of MLS. The Italians clearly knew this and took the challenge seriously.

MLS also scored a breakthrough victory, in a way, by losing. Today, it takes a well-prepped team playing hard to defeat the best of MLS. The Italians clearly knew this and took the challenge seriously. It was apparent from the first minute that Roma was determined to avoid the fate of Chelsea, the Premier League powerhouse team that lost to the MLS All-Stars last year in Houston. Roma, in fact, is only the second club, after mighty Manchester United, to have beaten the MLS stars since the league switched to the "us against the world" format--i.e., bringing in teams from other premier leagues around the world--in 2003.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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