Thursday, July 24, 2008

An All-Star Game Worth Watching

Some facts are well-established. Like, All-Star games suck. The NFL Pro Bowl is a half-speed farce. Major League Baseball tried to put some life in its all-star game by awarding the winning league home field advantage in the World Series. It didn't work. Perhaps the worst all-star game of all is the NBA's version of a super-star scrimmage. The NBA version feature absolutely no attempt by players to play hard. The games suck.

But Major League Soccer has stumbled onto a system that works. The games are exciting, well-played, and perhaps most important, it is clear that the players are going all out. Tonight's MLS All-Star game (at shiny new Sold-Out BMO Field in Toronto) was a perfect example. MLS prevailed 3-2 over West Ham United of the English Premiere League in a close, exciting game full of excellent play, great shots, and hotly contested possession. For five years now, MLS has pitted its All-stars against top professional teams from the world's top leagues. For 5 years MLS has won those games, and for the most part the games have been quite good. Regardless, they are worth watching --which automatically makes them better games than the all-star shows put on by NFL, MLB, and NBA. The NHL occasionally tweaks its all-star format, and its North America v. Europe version of its all-star game improves the product. But this "us vs. them" set up used by MLS is clearly superior. The players really care about the result. League pride is on the line.

Such a set-up obviously will not work for baseball or the NFL. But the NBA should consider an NBA all-=star team v. a world team or the olympic champs or something similar. As a kid I remember watching with interest when the super bowl champs (Pittsburgh in 1979) took on a college all-star team. Now that was fun. Too bad the NFL would never try something that interesting now.

Regardless, skip the current all-star formats and make sure you tune in for next year's MLS All-star game. You won't be disappointed.

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