NEW YORK, NY - JULY 25: (L-R) Javier "Chicarito" Hernandez of Manchester United, Manchester United Head Coach Sir Alex Ferguson, MLS All-Stars Head Coach Hans Backe, MLS All-Star David Beckham, MLS All-Star Brad Davis, MLS All-Star Thierry Henry and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United pose at the 2011 MLS All-Star Game press conference at All-Star HUB on July 25, 2011 in New York City. The MLS All-Star game will be played on Wednesday July 27, 2011 at Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Tonight, for the seventh consecutive year, a group of the best players in Major League Soccer will take on a foreign opponent that has accepted the invitation to take part in the league's annual All-Star Game. The MLS All-Stars have lost their last two games, but they won the previous four; all six games, as well as tonight's matchup with Manchester United, have taken place against competition from the British Isles. But this was not always the case.
For the first six years of Major League Soccer's existence, the All-Star game featured two teams each entirely composed of MLS players. 1996, 1997, and 1999-2001 all pitted the East against the West, and 1998, a World Cup summer, featured a game between "MLS USA" and "MLS World." After playing the US Men's National Team in 2002, the league's best players played foreign opposition for the first time in 2003, against Chivas de Guadalajara. The league then returned to an East vs. West matchup in 2004, before starting the current trend of British opponents in 2005.
Perhaps the reason for seven straight seasons of taking on foreign clubs could be chalked up to the lack of top-level talent in the league. In MLS's early years, the level of play was not nearly as high in the annual All-Star Game, since there simply were not as many quality players to fill out two full teams. But much has changed since 2001. Could it be time for the league to return to an East vs. West matchup? More after the break.
This year, many top players such as Sebastien Le Toux, Fredy Montero, Nat Borchers, and Marco Pappa will miss out on the All-Star Game because the competition for the 23 spots on the team has become so tight. With the league still expanding, it's highly unlikely that the two-conference set-up will be ditched any time soon, especially if one listens to how commissioner Don Garber reacts whenever the subject comes up. So, the question is simple: should the league return to an East vs. West All-Star Game next season? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.