World Football may not be familiar with names like Pat Onstad, Dwayne De Rosario or David Beckham (sorry...couldn’t resist that one), but that doesn’t make their appearance in our All-Star game any less impressive.
Admittedly an All-Star game is not very football-like. You expect an All-Star game from Baseball, American Football, Hockey and Basketball, but football, or soccer if you prefer, is just not an "All-Star game" sort of sport.
I get that.
And, you know, I’d hate to see a Premiership All-Star game or a La Liga All-Star Game, but I can’t help getting excited about what the MLS does every year.
It has given North Americans a chance to see some great teams, like Chelsea and Celtic, who manage to make a competitive match of it even though they are in their pre-season warm-ups.
Some would say that the competetiveness of these matches reveals the lack of quality in the North American game, but it needs to be remembered that the MLS All-Stars have only played together as a team for two days of practice before they face their friendly rivals, which does mitigate their fitness advantage to some extent.
Regardless, the games are often very entertaining, and last night’s All-Star game at BMO Field, the home of Toronto FC, was another example.
The MLS All-Stars defeated Alan Curbishley’s West Ham United by a score of 3-2 in a game that was packed with almost everything a fan could want.
Dean Ashton opened the scoring with a cracking shot to beat MLS and New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Ries. Then West Ham almost immediately conceded an equalizer when Colorado Rapids Midfielder Christian Gomez struck a near-carbon copy of Ashton’s goal at the other end.
Just before the half, the Chicago Fire's Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who had already made Gomez’s goal, struck the goal of the match from the edge of the box, curling the ball around the outstretched gloves of Robert Green.
Blanco was off at the beginning of the second half, and it took a while for the MLS All-Stars to get back to their attack, long enough for Dean Ashton to lace a shot at the net and watch it take a crazy ricochet off Kansas City Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad and past Reis for a Hammers equalizer.
The final drama was left for Toronto native and Houston Dynamo Dwayne De Rosario.
The attacking midfielder drew West Ham captain Lucas Neill into a somewhat rash challenge, took a dive and somehow got the penalty call from the ref.
There were no boos from the hometown fans, however, when he bashed the spot kick against the underside of the crossbar and the ball ping-ponged into the net for the game-winner.
Five goals, some beautiful and some ugly, a dive in the box, a penalty kick, some poor refereeing, some surprisingly effective footwork by David Beckham (LA Galaxy), and some excellent end-to-end football made the 2008 Pepsi/MLS All-Star game a match to remember for the legion of North America’s burgeoning football fans.
That is why the MLS All-Star game is something we should all care about.
It is exactly the sort of forum, odd though it may be, to kindle a love of club football in the psyches of all North Americans.
Every year, more and more fans enjoy the MLS. It may never be their favourite league, particularly when anyone can find a TV package to watch better football from across the sea, but as the MLS quality grows, its drawing power grows.
North American kids may just find themselves loving the team and pitch they grew up watching right in their backyard, and isn’t that what we North Americans are always told is the true heart of being a football fan? Supporting your local side? If that is so, the MLS All-Star game is a key component in our recipe to becoming true fans.
So it’s time that everyone in North America who cares about football picked a North American team to cheer for and got excited about our game.
The more we care, the more the MLS will improve. It will never match La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 or the Premiership, but it could come damn close. And how cool would that be?