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Why the MLS All-Star Game matters

It is an exhibition, but it does provide a showcase every year for Major League Soccer.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

It is interesting that European soccer leagues are pushing to draw attention from a United States crowd at the same time when the NFL is trying to attract Europeans, with talk of a London-based American football franchise in the future. On the soccer side, the attempt was a hit a few days ago, when Manchester United beat Madrid 3-1 in front of 109,318 fans at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. It was the new attendance record for a soccer game played in the United States, as it bypassed the 101,799 mark of fans attending at the 1984 Olympic final at the Rose Bowl.

It confirmed how soccer is rapidly growing in popularity in USA and the MLS already take note of this as it recently awarded expansion teams to cities like New York, for their second team in town, and Orlando, with one more club set for 2017 in Atlanta and with the David Beckham's option in Miami while other town as Sacramento are thinking about to get a MLS team. Now, the conjuncture between American and European soccer will be showed at this year MLS All-Star game that will be played Wednesday night in Portland (9:30pm ET - ESPN2).

It will be the latest edition of the MLS All-Star game. While the first editions, between 1996 and 2004, were played in an American format of East versus West, with the only exceptions of 1998 and 2002, in 2002 MLS started a format that has continued until now, with an All-Star selection facing a foreign team. With the exception of Chivas de Guadalajara in 2003, the MLS All-Star game has featured big European sides, mostly from Great Britain.

Last year game changed this trend, as the MLS squad played for the first time against a non-British European team. Serie A side Roma was the team, probably due to the fact the Italian club is owned by an American tycoon. As you know, this seasons edition will also involve a non-British European team as the 2014 All-Star squad will face German champions Bayern Munich.

The question is: is this format working? Is this game helpful to increase American passion for the beautiful game?

Above all, you have to remember that most of the average American soccer fans don’t follow MLS teams and generally know little about MLS star footballers, maybe with big names as Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley as notable exceptions. Bringing in big worldwide clubs like Bayern gives MLS the opportunity to approach those potential viewers while attracting them with the chance to see some of the best players in the world.

In the end, the result of this game doesn’t matter. The pivotal point here is for MLS to expand its brand as widely as possible. A game between a MLS team and a big foreign club also attracts growing interest from TV. And you know as TVs are the key factor in USA for a sports league trying to draw national attention. The NFL has become the No. 1 league in the United States also due to their television exposure.

Building a high-profile event becomes pivotal for MLS in the way to reach a national audience. It is not a secret that MLS strives to become one of the most important pro leagues in the country -- removing NHL from fourth place among major team pro sports being this the most realistic goal at this moment. The United States has of course shown it becomes soccer avid every four years, during the World Cup. The MLS’ goal is to stabilize this crowd, making it addicted to soccer games on a weekly basis each year.

For European soccer fans or for die-hard MLS viewers, All-Star games are no more that summer friendly games. But for MLS’ viewpoint, this is a different story. It’s the chance to spread soccer around USA. Surely, MLS have to bring on some more adjustments to made soccer fashionable for American average sports fan. But this All-Star game format is a good starting point.

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