AS Roma romped past the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday during the 2013 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Sporting Park, marking the third defeat in the last four seasons for the best the top U.S. league has to offer against an elite European club.
While getting run off the field by Roma 3-1 certainly wasn’t ideal for the league, no MLS players or coaches seemed inclined to ditch the MLS-versus-The-World format, which was initially adopted in 2003.
“It’s a great environment and a great game,” said Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes, who coached this year’s MLS All-Stars. “If all we’re looking to do is to win a game, then easily you could set something up. These are real games and real teams that come in here to play.
“Sometimes, the results don’t go your way, but I still go back to that it’s more than just the winning of the game. It’s the experience for everyone who participates in it.”
Manchester United routed the MLS squad 5-2 in 2010 and 4-0 in 2011, but the MLS All-Stars were 7-0-1 against all other clubs until Roma’s win Wednesday night.
“Not to nitpick, but didn’t they beat Chelsea last year?” Roma and U.S. men’s national team midfield Michael Bradley said. “We all knew that, so for us there was motivation to come here.”
If the end goal is growing MLS, both domestically as well as increasing its stature internationally, the current format best achieves those goals.
MLS has tinkered with its All-Star Game format, which originally started as a traditional East-versus-West battle, before.
The 1998 All-Star Game pitted U.S.-born MLS players against international MLS players.
In 2002, the MLS All-Stars played the U.S. men’s national team, but beginning with a 3-1 win against Chivas Guadalajara in 2003 — and aside from another East/West clash in 2004 — the league has focused on bringing in top teams from Europe for the annual exhibition.
“It’s about exposure,” New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry said. “No disrespect, but I never watched the East-v-West games. Even some of the players before told me there was no movement and there wasn’t any passion in the game. At the end of the day, Kansas City fans saw Roma. Last year in Philadelphia, they saw Chelsea. In New York, they saw Man United. You get great exposure whether you win or you lose.”
It also provides top international clubs the chance to grow their brand in the U.S. as well as the 130 countries where the MLS All-Star Game is broadcast.
Yes, losing stings, but that’s not what the match is about.
“It’s a little bittersweet, because you want to come here and you want to represent as well as possible,” LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said. “You want to win the game and when you don’t, it’s a little disappointing, but at the end of it, this whole week is about having fun.”
And from that standpoint, there weren’t really any losers this week.
“The first thing I’d say is that I really appreciate the fact that AS Roma was willing to come in and play us for this match,” Vermes said. “It’s always important for us to make sure we have high-class opponents that come in to these games and they were obviously great tonight. It was a great match. It was great for the fans to see.”