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MLS All-Star Game's International Format a Hit
Salt Lake Tribune, July 27th, 2009 4:02PM

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Landon Donovan enjoys the unique format of the MLS All-Star game. For the eight-time all-star, the game isn't simply an exhibition but a chance for players to prove themselves against high-profile competition. On Wednesday, the MLS all-stars will face Everton of the English Premier League at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The format differs from that of other American leagues, which pit players from the same league against one another.

The nationally televised showcase (ESPN2, Galavision, 9:30 pm ET) will be the fifth in a row in which the MLS All-Stars have played an international opponent, and they have never lost. Fulham, Chelsea, Celtic and West Ham United have all fallen to MLS all-stars since the league switched formats after nine years of mostly pitting the stars of each conference against each other. After experimenting with a game against CD Guadalajara of Mexico in 2003 - the league also had tried pitting American all-stars against international ones within the league in 1998, and playing against the U.S. national team in 2002 - league officials decided to change formats permanently in an effort to make the game more competitive.

In the old days, "there wasn't much defending going on, and guys had a smile on their face," recalled Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis, who played in five All-Star games during his legendary career. "It was an opportunity to kind of show your skills in front of the crowd. It was just a lot of fun. I think now it has become a little more competitive. It's very similar to like when we play a friendly. Yeah, it's a friendly - quote, unquote - but there's still some pride on the line. I know the players from MLS like to represent MLS well. Our league is talked poorly about too often. So it's an opportunity for us to make another statement. Now MLS boasts that it has created "the most compelling all-star game in all of sports." League officials said they have heard almost nothing but appreciation for the set-up from players, coaches and owners. And fans like it too. The league has sold out every game against an international opponent.

 

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