As the 2011 MLS All-Star Game came to a close, Manchester United walked off the field triumphant and satisfied, having walloped the MLS All-Stars for the second consecutive season, to the tune of four goals to nil.
The game proved to be excellent practice and a significant morale booster for Manchester United, who continue to have an excellent preseason, and was no doubt exciting for neutral fans looking for a high scoring, fast action game.
But for fans of the MLS, the game was undoubtedly rather disappointing.
The 2011 MLS All-Star Game was the second MLS All-Star Game in a row that the MLS All-Stars were not only beaten, but beaten by a significant margin. Last year's MLS All-Star Game ended 5-2 in favor of the Red Devils.
Prior to that, the MLS All Stars were actually rather successful in their MLS All-Star Games.
Since 2003, when the MLS first started playing against foreign club teams, up to 2008, the MLS All-Stars had won all of their MLS All-Star Games against mostly solid but not world-class opposition, in the form of teams like Fulham, Celtic, Club Deportivo Guadalajara and West Ham.
However, even Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in the world, was beaten 1-0 by the MLS All-Stars in 2006.
In the current format of the competition, the MLS All-Stars' first loss came against Everton in 2009, on penalties, but since then, the MLS All-Stars have not won the MLS All-Star Game and have been beaten badly in the last two MLS All-Star Games.
So the question that must be asked is this: Should the MLS continue to allow their All-Stars to be routed by the best teams in the world, like Manchester United?
To answer this question, we must look at both sides of the debate:
Pro (Continue Playing the Best Teams in the World in the MLS All-Star Games)
There are many reasons why continuing to face the best teams in the world, like Manchester United, would be favorable for MLS.
Manchester United, and teams on the same level as Manchester United, have huge fanbases worldwide and in the US. Bringing them to the MLS All-Star Game automatically raises the profile of the game significantly and generates more interest in the MLS itself.
Furthermore, bringing big teams like Manchester United generates a great deal of revenue for the game itself.
In 2010, MLS sold 70,728 tickets to the All-Star Game, selling out Reliant Stadium and blowing the previous record of 27,000 tickets sold in the 2003 All-Star Game out of the park. In 2011, MLS again sold out the All-Star Game against Manchester United.
One argument that can be made regarding the results of recent MLS All-Star Games is that while there is always the danger of Manchester United or similar stature teams blowing the MLS All-Stars out of the water, it is important that the MLS All-Star Game is nothing more than an exhibition game, designed to do nothing more than provide the fans with an exciting, ideally fast-paced game of football.
Thus, no one should complain when the MLS All-Stars are outclassed by a margin of three or four goals. Ideally, it would be best to have the game be a bit closer, but as long as there are goals and action, no one should complain.
Con (Stop Playing the Best Teams in the World in the MLS All Star Games)
Just like there are many reasons why continuing to face the best teams in the world would be favorable for MLS, there are many reasons why it may not be favorable.
Despite the win over Chelsea back in 2006, it appears that its current form, the MLS All-Stars are simply unable to take on world class opposition.
The teams lack cohesion, there is often a lack of understanding between the players, and as we saw in today's game, players are often played out of position, as in the case of David Beckham and Brad Davis, two of the best wings/flank midfielders and crossers in MLS, being forced to play centrally.
Thus, putting such teams out in front of world class opposition to be roasted is not only hard on die hard MLS fans, but also looks bad on the league as a whole.
While the game is technically nothing more than an exhibition game, the game is often drummed up by ESPN as the game when MLS shows off its best talents, and if those talents are consistently put to shame by the opposition, it is very possible that the reputation of the league could go down among Americans, and on-the-fence fans of the MLS could be turned away from watching the league due to its perceived lack of competitiveness in comparison with the rest of the world.
Also, bringing in mid-table, solid European teams has never been a failure for MLS; every All-Star Game featuring a European team has gone on to be sold out.
Especially in the case of teams like Fulham and Everton, where big US internationals play a role in the starting 11, the games have been very popular and well received by fans and the media alike.
There are very strong and tempting arguments to be made on both sides, and the pros and cons nearly balance out.
My personal opinion is that, in the long run, if the MLS All-Stars are unable to make the MLS All-Star Game more competitive and start winning again, then the league should make the move to bring in slightly weaker, but still, solid European teams, like the Celtics, Evertons and Fulhams of the past.
Short-term however, it may be worth it for the MLS to give it one more go at a big European team (not named Manchester United) and see if the MLS All-Stars can give them a decent game.
The potential to raise the profile of the game and increase interest in the game and the league cannot be underestimated and should be valued as a major benefit of the game.
What do you think? Do you think MLS needs to adjust the level of the opposition in the MLS All-Star Games to make them more manageable for the MLS All-Stars, or do you think they should continue bringing in the best clubs of world football and hope that the MLS All-Stars will be able to adjust and make the game more competitive in the future?
Or, alternatively, does it even matter if the MLS All- Stars are competitive, as long as the game is fun and enjoyed by the fans?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reading your comments below.