Saturday, December 16, 2017
Sports

MLS has a winner in its All-Star Game format. Export it

A weeklong celebration of American soccer culminated Thursday in San Jose where MLS' elite players faced popular English club Arsenal FC in the annual summer All-Star Game.

The idea of midseason stoppage time might seem a bit homespun for the likes of Arsenal and some of Major League Soccer's famous international imports who once tread on the fields of Europe's storied leagues.

But it doesn't sound hokey to David Villa, the New York City striker who is a picture of soccer royalty.

"In Europe, they need to copy this game for the country and for the supporters," said a forward who led Spain to victories in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008.

Villa, 34, won a Champions League title with Barcelona FC and has won Spain's La Liga championships with Barca and Real Madrid.

It's not as if Villa — who has scored a record 59 goals for Spain — needs acknowledgment. But MLS' current scoring leader with 13 goals sees value in exporting American branding overseas. He let his imagination rise above the Avaya Stadium overhead this week when asked about the possibilities for La Liga.

Having the stars of rivals Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and others congregate for one game sounded like a savory tapas to Villa.

"Why not?" he asked.

Why not, indeed.

Arsenal players also endorsed the introduction of an All-Star Game to the English Premier League.

"It would be very interesting to have one in England," Gunners goalkeeper Petr Cech said. "But there are already so many games."

European soccer is a hamster wheel of matches. Arsenal plays in the EPL, the FA Cup and League Cup, and, if all goes well, the Champions League. In reality, there's no room on the calendar for another game. The team also saw 14 of its players represent their countries in major summer competitions this year.

The American landscape was empty when MLS launched 20 years ago. In the first seven years, the league mostly followed a traditional U.S. pro sports path of East vs. West games. It took a detour starting in 2002 by having a league-wide team play the U.S. national squad.

Then MLS officials settled on a winning formula in 2003 with famous Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara playing the All-stars.

For the past 11 years, the league has recruited big-time European clubs to use the game as a preseason tuneup. The All-Stars owned a two-game winning streak with victories over Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur before Thursday night.

The MLS players entered the stadium in top fitness whereas the Gunners are preparing for the Aug. 14 EPL opener against Liverpool FC. The seasons might be out of sync, but it doesn't lessen the significance.

"We want to win every time we step on the field," said San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper David Bingham, who made his first All-Star appearance.

The ESPN nationally televised broadcast provides the league a chance to showcase its worth among the world's best leagues. Major League Soccer has dealt with perception issues at home and abroad despite steadily growing its fan base and opening in new markets.

Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger rejected the notion that the game is a gussied up dog-and-pony show like an NBA All-Star Game.

Arsenal's biggest names — Alex Sanchez of Chile, Mesut Ozil of Germany and Olivier Giroud of France — were given extended breaks after the Copa America and Euro 2016 tournaments. But new acquisition Granit Xhaka of Switzerland made his debut Thursday.

All-Star coach Dominic Kinnear had plenty of big names to counter the Gunners, including Kaka, Didier Drogba, Andrea Pirlo and Clint Dempsey.

"It's incredible not just because of the stadiums and academies and the TV, but obviously the names that are being attracted to come play here," the Earthquakes coach said. "I think the David Beckham trickle-down effect is a big reason for that."

Putting it another way, MLS looks vastly different than in 2001, the last time the All-Star Game was held in San Jose.

The magnitude wasn't lost on Chicago Fire rookie Brandon Vincent, who in December helped Stanford win a national championship. The sturdy fullback recalled watching many of his All-Star teammates on live streams while at Stanford.

"I'm at a loss for words sometimes," Vincent said. "When you're growing up you dream of the big lights. All of a sudden you walk into it and it's kind of shocking and amazing all at the same time."

— San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

Comments

Boys basketball: Lakewood 45, Gibbs 44

ST. PETERSBURG — Once the lights dimmed in the gymnasium and the capacity crowd dispersed, Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence spotted Gibbs coach Larry Murphy strolling past the the bleachers."Hey, Murph. Do we have to do this every time?" Lawrenc...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Boys basketball: Nature Coast 78, Central 29

Boys basketball: Nature Coast 78, Central 29

BROOKSVILLE – Once again supporting its place as the top program in Hernando County, Nature Coast maintained its undefeated record in a dominant win over rival Central.While the Bears were able to upset the Sharks to win the Class 6A, District ...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Girls basketball: Plant 66, Steinbrenner 31

LUTZ — Here's some discouraging news for any team that has to play Plant this season or in the next few seasons: The Panthers beat Steinbrenner 66-31 Friday night. Of those 66 points, 48 were scored by a sophomore and two freshmen.Freshman powe...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Boys basketball: Plant City 79, Tampa Bay Tech 74

Boys basketball: Plant City 79, Tampa Bay Tech 74

TAMPA — Traveling to play at Tampa Bay Tech is a test for any area basketball team these days because the Titans are tough and the crowd is loud.Plant City prepared for all of the above, answered most of the questions and passed the exam Friday...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Nobody has Jameis Winston’s back more than Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken insists

Nobody has Jameis Winston’s back more than Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken insists

Nobody is a bigger supporter of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston than head coach Dirk Koetter.That was the passionate message that offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken unloaded at his news conference Friday, saying that reports that Winst...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Westbrook, Embiid put on show in triple OT thriller

Westbrook, Embiid put on show in triple OT thriller

PHILADELPHIA — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and the Thunder and the 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before Oklahoma City pulled out a 119-117 victory Friday night. Andre Roberson scored the wi...
Updated: 6 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Dec. 15

Friday’s scoreboardGirls soccerCountryside 7, Clearwater 0Osceola 9, Bradenton Bayshore 0Palm Harbor U. 2, Plant 1Boys soccerPalm Harbor U. 0, Plant 0Lennard 4, Armwood 1
Updated: 6 hours ago

Saturday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingMiddleweights: Lemieux vs. Saunders9:30 p.m.HBOCollege basketballButler vs. PurduenoonFoxMiami at George WashingtonnoonCBSSNLouisville vs. MemphisnoonESPN2Detroit vs. MichigannoonESPNUNC-Greensboro at N.C. StatenoonFSFSeton Hall at Rutgers...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

When Lightning wing Ryan Callahan took a nasty spill into the boards Thursday night, it didn't look good.Turns out, it wasn't. Callahan will be sidelined indefinitely with an upper body injury, evaluated after three to four weeks, per GM Steve Yzerma...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rangers hold off Pacific-leading Kings

Rangers hold off Pacific-leading Kings

NEW YORK — Rick Nash scored the tiebreaking goal with 3:27 left to lead the Rangers to a 4-2 victory over the Pacific Division-leading Kings on Friday night. Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller scored to help New York win for the second time i...
Updated: 7 hours ago