The MLS All-Star Game pitted the league's best against Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich in Wednesday's exhibition match at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
Bayern were favorites, but a winning goal by retiring MLS star Landon Donovan gave his band of All-Stars a 2-1 victory. Although this fixture offered no tangible significance aside from pure entertainment, it was a big step for Major League Soccer to enhance its stateside popularity and international respectability.
North American major sports have so many alternatives that the other continents simply don't have at their disposal. Another type of football is about to dominate the American sports landscape, but there's no denying that MLS' fanfare is growing.
As part of Donovan's retirement announcement, he emphasized how important the fans are in keeping the trend of soccer's ascent in the USA, per CBS Sports:
What will be vital is that American soccer can carry on the momentum generated by the MLS' landmark win over Bayern Munich, especially with its biggest star in Donovan walking away from the game at the end of the season.
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the impact Donovan has had in the MLS—not just when he scored Wednesday's winning goal, but also overall:
Julie Stewart-Binks of Fox Sports 1 hinted at how strong of a legacy Donovan will be leaving when he retires from the Los Angeles Galaxy:
No one has scored more than Donovan's six All-Star goals either—another testament to how significant his presence has been for the U.S. over the many years of his illustrious career. The MLS needs a new, domestic face of the league to carry it into a promising new era, though.
Roger Bennett of ESPN FC reported in March that among American children, the MLS was equal in popularity to Major League Baseball for the first time since poll results were collected. Ranking ahead of America's pastime is quite an achievement for a sport that seems like an afterthought.
And in 2012, among those between 12 and 24 years old, soccer was the second-most popular sport, per the report. That's even ahead of the NBA, which has a ton of individual star power, along with many of the other major North American sports, that the MLS can't yet boast.
That's why there is much reason to be optimistic. As fans accumulate knowledge of soccer around the world; about just how good Bayern Munich is, it should heighten the incentive to pay attention to the MLS even more closely. Even though Bayern wasn't at its best, casual world football fans had to have their eyebrows raised with interest when it lost to the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday.
The MLS also played physically and challenged Bayern, something manager Pep Guardiola was miffed about at first. But based on his post-match comments, it may have sparked some necessary rivalry, as Guardiola hinted at avenging the loss, via The Guardian:
It doesn’t matter. It’s happened the way it is. We tried to play and we did. Congratulations to MLS for this victory. I hope they are going to invite us next year to try and make revenge and I hope to prepare a little bit better. Now, we will be sure [about] what was going on. We will prepare much better, that we will do it. I hope our invitation is coming.
Instead of seeing many of the best American players head overseas to play for more reputable leagues, more homeland stars will stick around to play in the MLS if the league keeps trending in its current direction.
However, this is still an issue, highlighted by Seattle Sounders prodigy DeAndre Yedlin being linked to the English Premier League's Tottenham Hotspur, per ESPN's Taylor Twellman:
Team USA's recent showing at the World Cup has created a lot of buzz around soccer too. According to the Washington Post's Seth Vertelney, a record 24.7 million TV viewers tuned in for the USA-Portugal match, but that was eclipsed when the final rolled around, when the showdown between Argentina and Germany totaled 26.5 million TV viewers.
Keeping the ball rolling, so to speak, after the raging viewership success that the World Cup was in the U.S. is vital to soccer's growth.
The combination of Donovan's instrumental involvement at a pivotal crossroads, improved performance against elite, international competition and greater interest amongst the American youth is bound to make the MLS far more relevant.
The All-Star Game can be used as a launching point for all three of those aforementioned factors to push the game into a new, positive direction.