True, the All-Star Game is an exhibition, nothing more, and Everton will use the game to help prepare its players for the upcoming English Premier League season. Yet while conflicts with other competitions are inevitable, the scheduling of Concacaf Champions' League matches for this week has exacerbated congestion beyond the critical point.
MLS officials say all the right things about cooperating with U.S. Soccer, Concacaf, and other entities for national team callups, and cause some logjams themselves through SuperLiga, but they do regard games matching league teams - or an All-Star squad - against foreign foes as important, both as a television product and a competitive frame of reference.
While there are enough deserving, talented players to replace those All-Stars unable to participate, the absences focus more scrutiny of a league already burdened by fitting FIFA dates and other international commitments into its schedule. How the league can work out its conflicts with Concacaf events, U.S. Open Cup, SuperLiga, and other matches is a serious issue this year, and will only intensify next year with a World Cup to squeeze into the calendar.
Dwayne De Rosario is not in Salt Lake City; he will play for Toronto against Puerto Rico Islanders Wednesday and has been replaced by Cuauhtemoc Blanco of Chicago.
Despite compiling one of the best records in the league, D.C. United won't have any players in the All-Star Game, as it faces Salvadoran club Chalatenango Tuesday in the CCL. New York's dismal season would probably preclude it from sending any players, anyway, yet its match Thursday against W Connection (Trinidad & Tobago) has excluded them.
Under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiated by the MLS Players' Union and the league, for purposes of paying bonuses and other considerations MLS is obligated to announce a squad of 32 players, as if it was staging an Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference All-Star Game. While the wisdom of playing an All-Star Game can be debated, the league has tried to upgrade its stature by playing foreign teams rather than a intraleague exhibition, but is running into too many conflicts to field its strongest team.
Houston doesn't play in this round -- its Concacaf Champions' League schedules starts next month -- yet Brian Ching - bruised and battered from playing in the Gold Cup -- has been withdrawn and replaced by Fire defender Bakary Soumare. Injured Dynamo keeper Pat Onstad has also been pulled; he's being replaced by Chivas USA goalie Zach Thornton.
All-Star coach Dominic Kinnear certainly wants to beat Everton, yet he can't be blamed for looking ahead to an important league match Saturday against D.C. United. He must consider that one of his two players who will play in the All-Star Game, Stuart Holden,is also coming off an arduous stretch of Gold Cup matches.
There are always alterations to All-Star rosters, in all sports, because of injuries or fatigue or other complications. Compromises are inevitable. The fans will get to see many of the league's best players take on a solid English Premier League team, and subplots like the initial All-Star appearance for longtime national-team goalie Kasey Keller, and ex-MetroStar goalie Tim Howardtaking on many of his U.S. teammates and former MLS rivals will shape interesting storylines.
A glorified exhibition like the All-Star Game isn't the most serious situation regarding schedule congestion. But at some point, MLS and U.S. Soccer and Concacaf must get on the same page to lessen the suffering on all sides.