MLS is better than we thought.
MLS is worse than we thought.
All-Star games are great. We get to see how our league stacks up against a great European team!
All-Star games are the worst. We should go East vs. West, or kill it altogether.
[Something angry about pro/rel and MLS, US Soccer and the media all colluding.]
Whatever preconceived notion you had about MLS going into the league’s annual All-Star Game in Chicago, last night’s match may have done nothing but reinforce your opinion. It did for me.
I went in with expectations of a fun night of possibly sloppy-soccer, and I got exactly what I expected.
I knew the hoopla surrounding the match would be fun, and it was. I haven’t been to one of these games since MLS played Chelsea at Toyota Park in 2006, and the atmosphere outside Soldier Field felt significantly larger. On top of that, MLS did a good job hosting fun events around the city all week leading up to the match, including bringing in Men in Blazers for a live show, which was a blast.
As for the actual match: A team of Real Madrid reserves with a splash of brief superstar shifts against an MLS lineup that had never played together as a team–it was sure to be poor quality soccer, right? It was, at times. Real Madrid held out some of its biggest stars until the final 30 minutes, and the MLS team looked a bit slow and disjointed at times, but there were also really fun flashes of brilliance between guys like Michael Bradley, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kaka and David Villa. Tim Howard had a Dikembe Mutombo-like swat save late in the first half. As for Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo was left at home to flex in the mirror, but it was fun watching guys like Gareth Bale and Marcelo do their thing.
And there was scoring! Borja Mayoral–who, honestly, I’d never heard of before–scored for the European champions early in the second half after he sliced through the MLS defense. Then, late in the match, $2+ million in MLS Monopoly combined to score when Dom Dwyer cleaned up a rebound off a shot from Dax McCarty to tie it 1-1, sending it to a shootout that I’m told Real Madrid won 4-2 but I missed because my son was tired and cold and starting to get sick.
In the end, it was a success. MLS got a bunch of Real Madrid fans to remember it exists, and has some pretty big stars to boot. It got non-soccer people in Chicago to remember there’s more here than the Cubs, Blackhawks, Bears, Sox and Bulls. And, it rewarded soccer fans with the chance to see a bunch of big names all play on the same field.
Despite the rain and the sometimes sketchy play, it ended up being fun, too. I know everything needs to be a hot take in sports these days, and I know some people are just looking for things that make them angry. But I took my son to a soccer match with the goal of having fun, and we did. Isn’t that the point?