Tonight is a big night for MLS.
It is a chance for them to put their best self forward when they line up against Tottenham in this year’s highly anticipated All Star game.
But the lead up to this match has not been without its drama.
This became the trend of the moment in reaction to the announcement that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard – who, at the time of the announcement were yet to play a minute in Major League Soccer – were named to the All-Star team as Commissioner Don Garber’s two ’special’ picks.
Players and fans were bemused by the selection. Yes, Lampard and Gerrard have been extraordinary players who have contributed for both club and country, but they are completely unproven in the MLS.
It sets the wrong tone. But things got worse.
Lampard was set to debut for his new club, NYCFC, but pulled out with a calf injury which subsequently forced his withdrawal from the All Star game.
Steven Gerrard chose to silence the critics with a dominant debut display leading L.A. Galaxy’s to a 5-2 win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Yet, he followed suit and pulled out of the All Star team on Monday – two days prior to the game.
Shuffling things around
Gerrard’s withdrawal was also joined by some other big losses – teammate Robbie Keane, Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley and New England defender Chris Tierney will all miss out –. While they have been replaced, it doesn’t make the team inordinately weaker.
The line-up still includes serious talent in Kaka, David Villa, Clint Dempsey, Obafembi Martins and the emerging U.S. national team attacker Gyasi Zardes,
Tottenham need to come prepared.
They are a club aiming for a top four finish in the Premier League this year. And with only two weeks to go before the start of their season, preseason or not, there’s no room for complacency as far as they are concerned. They need to bring their ‘A’ game.
Away from the All Star game…
Away from the hand-wringing around the All-Star Game, there have been note-worthy new additions to the Major League Soccer fold who easily could have competed for an All Star jersey.
Andrea Pirlo arrived with honours – (1) World Cup, (6) league titles, (2) Champions League and (2) domestic cups – and in style, making a formidable debut for NYCFC at the weekend. He had 32,000 fans chanting, “We want Pirlo!” as the 36-year-old Italian maestro made a second half appearance and immediate impact helping them record a 5-2 victory.
This week also sees another big name upping the ante Stateside with Didier Drogba joining The Montreal Impact – and further validation of this leagues growing recognition.
In quite an odd turn of events, the Chicago Fire initially obtained Drogba’s rights, but then traded these rights to The Montreal Impact on discovering the prospect of playing in the French-speaking city proved more attractive to him.
Either way, another great player joins the league.
All-Star games are a quintessential American sports phenomenon – so they will always be a spectacle on and off the pitch, and MLS is no exception.
That aside, this game is one to be anticipated. Great line-ups. Lots of competition and lots at stake for a friendly game. Everybody is out to prove their worth.
But if there is any learning here, it is to set expectations accordingly and not allow the drama around the game to be perceived as a marketing or viewership play and instead focus on winning the game itself.
This year, a win will speak volumes. Next year, the competition for places will be even stronger.