As the MLS All-Stars ran around chasing an in-form Manchester United in the second half of an All-Star Game that turned ugly very quickly Wednesday night, you couldn't help but wonder whether the format for the MLS All-Star Game didn't need an overhaul.
Manchester United's 4-0 thrashing of the MLS All-Stars didn't tell the complete story of the night, the reality is the MLS starters gave United all they could handle in the first half, but a Park Ji Sung goal just before halftime made the score 2-0, setting up a dominating second half for the English champions.
That United won handily shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, but the way the game turned ugly left some who actually follow MLS wondering if the spectacle of the All-Star Game was worth the pain of another blowout of the league's best.
As one of the league's three major events of each year (along with MLS Cup and the MLS Draft), the MLS All-Star Game has taken on a life of its own with MLS taking on big-name opponents in recent years. Two blowout losses to Manchester United have taken the luster off the event and it may be time for the league to consider whether keeping the same format makes sense.
On one hand, playing a team like Manchester United gives the league an outstanding platform to give the league exposure to new fans and draw media attention, but on the other hand, blowout losses provide fuel for critics who either think the current all-star format is counterproductive, or think the All-Star Game has outlived its usefulness.
For a league still growing and still fighting for attention in the American soccer landscape, having a high-profile event isn't a bad thing. While some sports struggle with their own All-Star games, MLS has mostly benefited from its all-star series and done well to garner the league attention.
Rather than do away with the MLS All-Star Game, the league should consider making it an even bigger league event with a revamped format. As a league that has grown dramatically from 10 teams to 18 teams, and will hit 19 in 2012, MLS can handle going back to a format that includes only MLS players rather than including an international club to serve the role of opponent.
If anything, MLS has taken steps to make its own all-star format obsolete with the advent of the World Football Challenge. Now, MLS teams are playing world club powers on a regular basis, making an all-star match against top clubs
Those who remember the old MLS All-Stars under the previous East vs. West Format will recall games that too often turned into shootouts with little defense played and little intensity, but the matches were entertaining and crowds turned out.
Now with the league so much larger, and with MLS having so many strong markets with large fan bases, it wouldn't be difficult to promote an All-Star match featuring just MLS players.
If anything, MLS should do more to build up the All-Star Game in terms of events leading up to the event. The NBA All-Star Weekend has become a real hit and is easily the most successful of the all-star games of major American sports leagues. With events like the slam-dunk contest and rookies vs. sophomore game, the NBA has created multiple events to entertain and engage fans.
MLS could have skills competitions, which it used do, and the league could also showcase young players in a futures game including homegrown players. Such events would not only engage fans already committed to MLS, they would also help promote the young talent coming up the ranks.
Whatever MLS does, the league needs to consider new options for the All-Star Game, because as impressive as Wednesday night's showcase was in terms of gaining the league exposure, you couldn't help but feel like it's time for Major League Soccer to try something different.