Promotion and Relegation: Never?

Is There Such A Thing As Too Many MLS Teams?

Only a year ago, people thought Don Garber was over-promising a 24 team league.
Only a year ago, people thought Don Garber was over-promising by announcing a 24 team league by 2020.

It was this time last year, during the All-Star weekend, when MLS commissioner Don Garber dropped the bombshell on MLS fans that he wanted a 24 team league by the year 2020. Since that declaration, all but one of the remaining spots were gobbled up. Almost as soon as the news broke, NYC FC and Orlando City franchises were officially announced as teams 20 and 21. Not long after David Beckham’s team was tentatively slated for Miami pending a new downtown stadium. Most recently, Atlanta was officially announced as the 22nd team, with Miami still being the unofficial 23rd. And all of a sudden, within a year, only one spot remained.

Yet, while speculation has been rampant, there has not been a clear frontrunner for the final spot. Several cities and franchises have asked to step up. NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions have made the most noise. It might make sense as MLS has had success in cities with basketball as their only pro sports team, such as Portland, Salt Lake City, and now Orlando. Minneapolis appears to be a city poised to host MLS team #24 considering there have been reports that both the Vikings and Twins owners have inquired on the subject of ownership. St. Louis, with its soccer rich history, has maintained its place as the sentimental favorite for a franchise, though no ownership group seems interested. In July, stories broke that MLS met in Las Vegas with a potential ownership group as well as the city’s mayor. And this week, there are stories that the Sacramento Kings’ owner has sought to invest into the Sacramento Republic franchise for the purpose of making an MLS bid.

So, for those of you keeping score, that’s five cities as potential landing spots for our last MLS franchise. Almost all of those cities make sense as homes for a club, so my question is: what is MLS to do?

This Train Ain’t Stopping At 24

Somewhere Don Garber is smiling. While soccer writers questioned the pragmatism of a 24 team league, one which is bigger than any first division in the World, Garber has instead created a demand for a surplus of potential suppliers. While some thought he was over-promising, he knew exactly what he was doing. But all these ownership groups stepping up to the plate got me thinking? Could MLS be setting the groundwork for an MLS and MLS2?

Could This Even Perhaps Be The Precursor To Promotion And Relegation?

It only took a year to go from 19 teams to 23.
It only took a year to go from 19 teams to 23.

It’s unlikely. Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely. It’s so unlikely, that while I was writing this post the following news came out: http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com

If you ask me, what’s far more likely is that Garber, who as a former NFL guy believes in conferences, divisions, local rivalries, and equal distribution of revenues, wants to someday have a 30 or even 40 team league where each conference kind of acts as its own league and the MLS Cup Playoffs will almost act as a sort of de facto Champions League.

Garber has the benefit of having an American sports scene where 30 or 32 teams is the standard, so fans will be pre-programmed to accept it with MLS as well. Someday we’ll probably have an Eastern and Western Conference with Central, North, South, and West divisions in MLS where teams within divisions are playing one another 4 times a year. Personally, this kind of thing makes me want to throw up. I hate unbalanced schedules, almost as much as I hate amateur drafts and salary caps. But while I can stomach the latter two, the first is really sinful as it messes with the integrity of the league. Not to mention the fact that it really strays from the soccer norm around the globe.

But what if there really were too many quality ownership groups to turn away? Could two leagues really be the answer?

Perhaps. And I say that because I believe Don Garber wants to cap the league at 24 teams about as much as I believe that the moon landing was faked.

HUMOR ME

If there are multiple ownership groups worthy of an MLS franchise, why stop at 24?
If there are multiple ownership groups worthy of an MLS franchise, why stop at 24?

Does there exist a way in which MLS can do promotion and relegation that is lucrative for everyone, especially the original investor/owners? I say there absolutely is, and the MLS would be foolish not to ponder it seriously.

The first step in that process would be a buyout of, or merger with, NASL. In fact, I think this is inevitable, and I’m convinced that is what NASL ownership has been pining for all along. Much like the ABA/NBA merger, the ABA got four of its teams into the NBA and the league took off thereafter making everyone involved richer, the same could happen for MLS and NASL. It wasn’t long after MLS President Mark Abbott’s “never” comments that NASL commissioner Bill Peterson responded with a counter opinion in regards to promotion and relegation : http://www.si.com/soccer/planet-futbol

Despite the big talk by NASL and the constant disdain of that league by MLS, the truth is the league has some intriguing properties. Minnesota United and the San Antonio Scorpions are both NASL teams. Their presence in markets like Tampa, Carolina, Indianapolis, and Oklahoma City are also intriguing. And of course, there is also the property that is the New York Cosmos. MLS and the Cosmos can pretend that they dislike one another, but I still believe, and I believe they both secretly know, that there’s a great opportunity in joining forces. But MLS would want to make sure that the Cosmos knew who’s the boss.

So how does this all relate to promotion and relegation? Don’t worry, I got you.

If MLS were to really ever head down the road to promotion and relegation it would need, by my best guess, 40 franchises at minimum. This, as I said before, might be the goal for Garber anyway. And all 40 franchises would need to be under MLS control to assure the investor/owners of MLS that they’ll still get a slice of the MLS pie even when they’re in MLS2. You would have to give MLS teams almost a 5-10 year warning before implementing a promotion and relegation format.

But there’s also another issue. As we’ve learned with the most recent expansion fees, entry in the league is not cheap. MLS has done all it can to keep the league exclusive. But at the same time, they’ve discovered expansion fees are the quickest way to make money (Another reason  I don’t believe in MLS capping the league at 24 teams). In 2007 Beckham got a cut-rate $25 million dollar fee for a franchise built into his MLS contract as a reward for legitimizing the league, which at the time only had 12 teams. Beckham got a deal, because Orlando City and Atlanta by comparison had to pay $70 million entrance fees. And the glamour franchise of NYC FC, backed by big Manchester City money was given a $100 million fee which their Emirati owners scraped together from underneath their couch cushions.

MLS already controls tier 3 of the US Soccer Pyramid
MLS already controls tier 3 of the US Soccer Pyramid

So, in this hypothetical scenario, in order to set up the proper setting for such a transition, MLS would have purchased the 13 team NASL. Add in the fact that the MLS already quasi-“owns” the third division USL Pro league and now MLS would have control over 44 teams thereabouts. This is perfect because some teams would overlap territorially, such as the Atlanta Silverbacks with the new Atlanta MLS team or the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers with Beckham’s new Miami franchise. It would be necessary therefore for MLS to contract or merge a couple franchises.

After that was done by either buying out owners or giving them a stake in other properties, the two leagues, MLS and MLS2 would need to be aligned. And so, without further ado, here’s a realistic scenario of how the two-tiered system could work to start off:

Major League Soccer

Western Conference

Vancouver Whitecaps

Seattle Sounders

Portland Timbers

San Jose Earthquakes

LA Galaxy

Chivas USA Rebrand

Real Salt Lake

Colorado Rapids

Sporting Kansas City

FC Dallas

Houston Dynamo

San Antonio Scorpions (For argument’s sake, let’s say this winds up being MLS 24)

Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire

Columbus Crew

Toronto FC

Montreal Impact

New England Revolution

New York Red Bulls

NYC FC

Philadelphia Union

DC United

Atlanta Franchise

Orlando City SC

Beckham Miami Franchise (hopefully)

 

MLS2

Western Conference

Sacramento Republic (From USL)

Las Vegas Franchise TBD (Expansion Franchise)

Arizona United (from USL)

FC Edmonton (from NASL)

Minnesota United (from NASL)

St. Louis FC (From USL)

Oklahoma City (both NASL & USL have a planned franchise in the city; this would have to be negotiated)

Austin Aztex (from USL)

Eastern Conference

Ottowa Fury (From NASL)

Detroit Franchise TBD (Expansion Franchise)

Indianapolis Eleven (From NASL)

Pittsburgh Riverhounds (From USL)

Louisville City (from USL)

New York Cosmos (From NASL)

Charlotte Franchise (possible merger of Wilmington Hammerheads and/or Charlotte Eagles of USL and/or Carolina Railhawks of NASL)

Tampa Bay Rowdies (From NASL)

That’s kind of an example of what the two tiered system could look like. I know what some of you real soccer junkies are thinking: “What about some lower tier teams with good histories like the Richmond Kickers or Charleston Battery”. Unfortunately for this to work, the leagues would need as many top 40 metropolitan areas as possible. Cities like Richmond and Charleston just aren’t economically feasible. They’d be better served in a Tier 3 alongside the likes of LA Galaxy II and the Rochester Rhinos or Harrisburg City Islanders and focusing their efforts on the US Open Cup. Perhaps over time there could be a system for them to be promoted to MLS2, but not to start. The owner/investors need to keep the number of slices to as few as possible so that they each keep receiving their lucrative revenue checks.

The Nitty-Gritty Details:

You can't ignore the fact NASL has some nice properties.
You can’t ignore the fact NASL has some nice properties.

So, now we return back to the problem of how to get MLS’ owner/investors to agree to the possibly of going down to MLS2 after being in an uncontested top tier for so long. You explain to them that:

A) by being in MLS2, you are still an MLS investor and you are still welcome to a slice of all MLS revenues, albeit it would be 1/40th rather than 1/24th (Actually, it could pay out 1/28th or 1/33rd if there were still teams yet to pay their expansion fees).

B) You further explain that since not all MLS2 franchises will be MLS caliber either on the field and/or off it; that teams can only be promoted if they 1) pay a $70 million dollar expansion fee before their first promotion which will only be distributed to teams that have as of that moment been MLS teams before and 2) Meet certain predetermined MLS criteria regarding financials, stadium infrastructure, fan base, and local TV deals.

The first criteria is simple enough. Pay up the expansion fee or you don’t get a piece of MLS’ earnings. Teams could even pay before qualifying to be promoted to MLS so as to become part of the family sooner. Secondly, you set up a minimum for things such as cash on hand, a soccer specific stadium with a capacity minimum (I’m thinking at least 15,000 people), an average attendance figure (perhaps around 8,000-10,000) and finally, you’d need a local TV contract which allowed for all your games to be aired. If these standards were not met, or you could not pay your expansion fee, then you would not be entitled to be promoted to MLS, even if qualified for promotion via the standings.

As for how promotion and relegation would work competitively: this is how it would go: At the end of every season, two teams would be automatically promoted. The winners of MLS2 Western Conference and Eastern Conference would go up and replace the last place teams in MLS Western and Eastern Conferences. Therefore, teams will always remain in the same Western or Eastern Conference designations regardless of whether they’re in level one or two. Then, the second place finisher in each MLS2 conference would play a single elimination game on the road against the penultimate finishers in each MLS conference. However, if teams can’t pay the expansion fees or don’t meet the minimum MLS requirements, they can’t be promoted. In fact, there could be years where no one is promoted because they don’t qualify as tier 1 franchises.

The only way to ensure all markets are passionate about MLS is to have promotion and relegation.
The only way to ensure all markets are passionate about MLS is to have promotion and relegation.

For example: let’s say the Montreal Impact finish last in MLS and the Philadelphia Union finish second to last, under my hypothetical rules, the Impact would automatically be relegated and the Union would have to host the second place finisher in the MLS2 Eastern Conference for a single elimination playoff. But let’s say, that the Pittsburgh Riverhounds finish second and they are nowhere close to playing in a soccer-specific stadium and they only average 6,000 fans per game, don’t have a TV deal and don’t have close to $70 million dollars on hand.  Well then, they’re staying in MLS2 and the Philadelphia Union are now saved from the possibility of relegation. And let’s say that the MLS2 Eastern Conference champion was the New York Cosmos. Obviously the Cosmos would be the most likely team to have all the required criteria to be promoted. So if they qualified, now the Cosmos would have to play the Montreal Impact in a single elimination game for the right to be promoted.

It’s a little convoluted, and it would probably be years and years before all 40 teams were capable of promotion, but that’s a good thing. And as for there being a likelihood of having several years with no teams moving up or down, that’s OK. In leagues like Mexico and Argentina it is very hard to be relegated, and even when it happens it’s only one team that goes down.

The world of soccer has a long history of promotion and relegation. For me, when I first heard about it, it nearly blew my mind. It instantly attracted me more to the world of soccer. I thought it was the most brilliant idea. Certainly better than worrying about lazy owners, greedy owners, dumb owners, ping pong balls, or tanking seasons. If you deserved it, you stayed up and earned the money. If not, adios, learn to do business.

Unfortunately, while I never believe anyone when they say never, promotion and relegation in MLS is likely to be 20 years away minimum. Maybe it is 50 years away. Maybe, it will only happen when Garber and Abbot have long since retired and a young traditionalist is in the commissioner’s office.

But either way, I’d say we’re more likely to be headed for two big leagues. I’d Say This Is A More Realistic Future:

Major League Soccer

Western League

Northwest Division:

FC Edmonton

Vancouver Whitecaps

Seattle Sounders

Portland Timbers

Sacramento Republic

Pacific Division:

San Jose Earthquakes

LA Galaxy

Chivas USA Rebrand

Las Vegas Franchise

Phoenix FC

Midwest Division:

Salt Lake City

Colorado Rapids

Minnesota United

St. Louis FC

Sporting Kansas City

Southwest Division:

Oklahoma City Franchise

FC Dallas

Houston Dynamo

Austin Aztex

San Antonio Scorpions

Eastern League

Northeast Division:

Ottowa Fury

Toronto FC

Montreal Impact

New York Cosmos

New England Revolution

Mid-Atlantic Division:

New York Red Bulls

NYC FC

Philadelphia Union

Pittsburgh Riverhounds

DC United

Central Division:

Chicago Fire

Detroit Franchise TBD

Indianapolis Eleven

Columbus Crew

Louisville City

Southeast Division:

Charlotte Franchise

Atlanta Franchise

Orlando City SC

Tampa Bay Rowdies

Beckham Miami Franchise

What MLS may not realize is that you kill teams and seasons if this is all that matters in an MLS season.
What MLS may not realize is that you kill teams and seasons if this is all that matters in an MLS season.

Not quite as sexy is it? Two separate leagues of 20 teams each. I can already predict how it will work: you’ll play 2 home and 2 away against each team in your division and 1 game each versus all other conference opponents for a total of 32 games. Top team each in each division goes to the playoffs and the next best 4 Wild Cards advance to the MLS Cup Playoffs which will include 16 teams. Ugh. American sports at its most typical.

But, you can’t argue it will line pockets. Or can you? Personally, I think my idea could be as lucrative, if not more lucrative, than a 40 team league. Mostly because I believe a two-tiered league could be put together far sooner, in just a few years, because it will utilize more pre-existing organizations. It will give MLS2 franchises time to grow their organizations organically while playing good soccer and it will give the original MLS investor/owners bigger slices of the financial pie in the meantime. Sometimes when people are making a lot of money, they don’t see just how much more money they can make.

One Last Thing

The final piece to this puzzle may not seem related, but it absolutely is. MLS needs to launch a network. And I mean need. They could probably get one up and running for the price of an expansion fee. Not only is it a source of revenue and something which adds to MLS’ financial evaluation, but its the best advertising tool possible for MLS. While ESPN and Fox Sports may have signed lucrative deals to cover MLS, an MLS Network could be used to highlight teams that don’t get national recognition, MLS2 games, US Soccer youth tournaments, NWSL games, and it should even be the home for US Open Cup (which would definitely need to be highlighted if you had two levels of MLS). The truth of the matter is, that MLS and US Soccer’s relationship, especially through Soccer United Marketing, has only gotten stronger, and they can and should work hand in hand to promote that tournament as an extension of MLS.

The new ESPN, Fox, and Univision contracts are great, but MLS needs to depend on itself.
The new ESPN, Fox, and Univision contracts are great, but MLS needs to depend on itself.

This is the perfect time for MLS to launch a network. If you are a soccer fan in the United States, there is no channel where you know that you can plop down on the couch, turn on the TV, and check out soccer or soccer news. MLS, by launching the channel now beats everyone else to the punch. By doing that you will force soccer junkies to tune in to MLS as a matter of necessity. I have said it a million times and I will say it a million more times: there are literally millions of soccer fans in this country that don’t watch MLS.

And filling the lineup would be easy and cheap.  The NBA Network has had a raving success with their show “The Starters”, a former Toronto-based podcast. With the soccer world forced into podcasting by the mainstream media, there would be no shortage of good talent. And cheap talent at that. Not to mention there are plenty of soccer leagues the network could televise cheaply to fill air time: Scottish League, A-League, heck, even French league or Dutch League. Why not?

The NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL all have fantastic networks and they don’t even have all that much original programming. If MLS is to be their equal, they are going to need one as well. Aside from a morning highlight show, these league owned networks have some shows from about 5-7pm and some wrap-around coverage in the evenings. MLS wouldn’t even need that as games are only occasionally played on weeknights. There’s so much revenue to be had that I don’t know how the league’s owner/investors can’t want to build it immediately. It’s the next step in the league’s organic growth.

To be sure, I’ve rambled enough. Especially since nobody will read this. And I understand Don Garber has a vision and I understand that it’s a brilliant vision, but it needs to be amended. Rather than be an NFL carbon copy, he needs an even bigger vision. That’s the truly brilliant approach.

Time for a New MLS All-Star Game Format

Has MLS moved on from needing European stars?
Has MLS moved on from needing European stars? It doesn’t seem so.

There’s been plenty of discussion recently about whether MLS is on the cusp of transitioning to “Version 3.0,” as if anyone knows what that really is.

And while the consensus seems to be that we’re not quite into the third era of MLS’ history, we are close. MLS, slowly, has begun fitting in better to the rest of the soccer world. Key elements like a Fall—Spring schedule (totally OK with this, a necessity right now) and promotion and relegation (which I hope to see someday, but not holding my breath) seem almost distant impossibilities. But, generally MLS is doing what it needs to do to be as pure a soccer product as it can. But, because our country has four major sports leagues with rich histories, they’ve each lost a bit of their own unique identity by borrowing ideas readily from one another. There has become, for better or worse, a set “way of doing things” in American Sports.

Thankfully MLS has been obliged to stay away from such things as timeouts, commercial breaks for no reason (an American sports broadcasting staple), and the notion that every game must end with a winning team and a losing team. But some American traditions have found their way into MLS, such as collegiate drafts (communist), playoffs (necessary), conferences (unfortunately semi-necessary), unbalanced schedules (a pure manifestation of evil), goofy team names (at least there’s no more Wizards, Burn, Fusion, or MetroStars to contend wit), and of course the All-Star game.

But, you know what? I love the MLS All-Star game. I love All-Star games. As a kid growing up I had a hard time grasping the subtleties of baseball, but I certainly didn’t have trouble grasping the idea of star powers. I was riveted by guys like Cal Ripken, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Tony Gwynn, Ricky Henderson, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Greg Maddux. I would see these guys play during the All-Star game and I learned all about the league and baseball by following what these guys were doing and where they were doing it. Same went for basketball. And MLS should be no different. Kids can discover Bayern Munich on their own, they don’t need MLS to introduce them.

We know who these guys are, we don't need MLS to introduce us.
We know who these guys are, we don’t need MLS to introduce us.

For a growing sport in this saturated sports market, highlighting premier players is obviously vital for MLS. This goes double for the league that invented the concept of Designated Players and has always focused their marketing around stars. It makes sense therefore, to have a summer event which brings these players together and allows the casual fan to celebrate the top talent in the league.

And if there’s one thing MLS does have, it’s top talent, MLS has made sure of that ever since they brought in David Beckham.

But for me, the real question is whether the style of MLS’ All-Star Game is the most viable?

While pitting MLS’ best versus one of the World’s best teams is intriguing, I truly feel that the league and its players have outgrown the format of MLS All-Stars vs. touring European team in preseason. MLS can’t claim that it has a new depth of talent, yet at the same time, only name one team of 23 players as All-Stars. In fact, MLS names nine players as “inactive” All-Stars due to a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. In a league of 19 teams, soon to be 21 teams, there are 437 players. Naming 35 All-Stars and having two teams of MLS All-Stars isn’t too many.

If beating a UEFA Champions League team in one-off friendly could earn MLS worldwide esteem, I’d be all for it. But it can’t. It’s a futile exercise in gaining credibility. Instead we need to show the United States that there’s more than just 30-year-old plus designated players.

It doesn’t allow for young players, the MLS lifers, or the American players to be promoted sufficiently. Instead, it simply trots out the Designated Players whom are already well known, or in World Cup years, USMNT players. Before we get into a discussion about what format should be implemented, or what players should be there, let’s look at who’s on the roster for next Wednesday’s game:

Will Torres, MLS' one Mexican of note, get to play enough over legends like Henry, Keane, and Donovan?
Will Torres, MLS’ one Mexican of note, get to play enough over legends like Henry, Keane, and Donovan?

Goalkeepers: Nick Rimando, Bill Hamid

Defenders: Matt Besler, Aurélien Collin, Omar Gonzalez (to be replaced by Sean Franklin), Chad Marshall (to be replaced by Bobby Boswell), Michael Parkhurst, DeAndre Yedlin

Midfielder: Osvaldo Alonso, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Tim Cahill, Clint Dempsey, Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Graham Zusi

Forwards: Jermain Defoe (to be replaced by Dom Dwyer), Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane (to be replaced by Maurice Edu), Obafemi Martins, Erick Torres, Bradley Wright-Phillips

Everyone is there. All the players MLS thinks you want to see. Which is all well and good, but the casual fan isn’t going to learn more about the league by being shown the same 20 players over and over.

The team is jam-packed with DPs. And with guys like Jermaine Jones, David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Kaka coming into the league next year, will there be room for anyone else but elder foreign statesman?

Despite twice making MLS' Best XI team, this is Marshall's first All-Star Game.
Despite twice making MLS’ Best XI team, this is Marshall’s first All-Star Game.

In this squad only Erick Torres (who, as the league’s only Mexican of note needs to be signed to an extension and kept in MLS), Will Johnson (who’s selection is based more on last season’s performance) are non-stars. That’s it. Two players. Thankfully due to injury (ie. Wanting to rest), players like Dom Dwyer, Bobby Boswell, and Sean Franklin will be showcased.

You might be able to add Chad Marshall to the list, who despite being named twice to the MLS Best XI list, is an All-Star Game debutant in his first season at one of the league’s signature franchises.

In short: this is not fair. Any All-Star game’s mission should be twofold: to promote the leagues stars, yes, but also to get the best players together to share their skills with one another. Even if it’s only for a couple days, someone like Torres or Dwyer can learn an immense amount from being able to talk to a Thierry Henry or Robbie Keane as equals.

All-MLS LIFER STARTING XI

There are so many great American MLS lifers who should’ve been highlighted throughout their careers. Here are some just off the top of my head. Most have already been All-Stars, but they still got buried beneath the praise heaped on the DPs.

Goalkeeper: Dan Kennedy– Nobody can say Nick Rimando hasn’t been given his due after being an All-Star for the fourth straight year. But poor Dan Kennedy has been toiling away at Chivas USA for years and will soon be their all-time leader in appearances. Yet, he doesn’t really get his due as a good keeper.

Left Back: Todd Dunivant– Since Dunivant’s second stint with the Galaxy began in 2009, the left back has been one of Bruce Arena’s most reliable players. Although he’s been injured this year, this is the kind of MLS lifer that needed to be given his due in the past. Being one of the best players on a team that won back-to-back championships should earn you some recognition.

Center-Back: Nat Borchers– Keeping guys like this away from Scandinavian leagues should be the exact kind of thing the MLS should seek to eliminate. MLS players should only be going to Norway, Sweden, or Denmark if they can’t handle the league. It shouldn’t be seen as a step up. We’ll forgive Borchers for a quick detour through the fjords and recognize he’s been one of the league’s best center-backs both in Denver and Salt Lake City.

Center-Back: Chad Marshall– As I mentioned earlier, left unrecognized in Colombus, Marshall had never before been an All-Star until he finally was recruited to settle down Seattle’s defense. And his effects have been felt immediately.

Right-Back: Jack Jewsbury– The one-time All-Star has already become a Timber through and through. And despite right back not being his best position, he plays there because that’s where he’s needed. Even when a guy like this makes an All-Star team he doesn’t get to play enough.

Left Midfield: Brad Davis– He’s so underrated it’s ridiculous. At 32, Brad Davis has had a great MLS careers and is still one of its most clutch performers. He’s one of the reasons that . In my opinion he’s going to be one of the top five careers of any American MLS players.

Central Midfield: Kyle Beckerman– The dreadlocked USMNT regular is the poster boy as to why we need to highlight more MLS players. It wasn’t until Beckerman was almost 32 and had 7 All-Star games to name that he caught the eye of Jurgen Klinsmann.

Central Midfield: Jeff Larentowicz– The redheaded Ivy-Leaguer put in two good years for the Rapids, one of which he earned an All-Star berth for. But he’s been a solid MLS lifer, the kind you can bring in to settle a midfield.

Right Midfield: Graham Zusi– Sporting’s newest DP might actually be underrated at this point. After an average World Cup which drummed up little to no interest abroad, fans seem to forget he’s an elite playmaker in this league. Despite becoming an All-Star game regular, players like Zusi deserve to start and play 60 minutes not make brief cameos as 23 All-Stars shuffle in and out of the game.

Forward: Mike Magee– Chicago is bad. But Mike Magee isn’t the problem. After years of being one of the “other guys” in LA, Mr. Magee showed us all how good he can really be when he won the MLS MVP last seaosn. Perhaps if the All-Star game had been more inclusive we would’ve noticed him earlier?

Forward: Chris Wondolowski– By now, everyone knows Wondo’s triumphant story of persistence. And these are the exact kinds of guys we need to make room for in the All-Star game: players who are late bloomers but have thrived in MLS.

OTHER FORMAT OPTIONS?

A player of Javier Morales' caliber should never miss an All-Star Game.
A player of Javier Morales’ caliber should never miss an All-Star Game.

There have been alternative All-Star game formats bandied about over the past several years such as MLS versus the USMNT. Beside the fact that it would be difficult logistically, that idea is now stale because the majority of the national team is in MLS (as it should be).

Could MLS develop an even stronger relationship with their rivals to the south by playing against a select team of Liga MX All-Stars? Intriguing idea certainly, but doesn’t cure the problem.

The bottom line is: more MLS players need to be highlighted. With this as the goal, the MLS would have three format options: a traditional Eastern Conference All-Stars v. Western Conference All-Stars matchup, a USA/Canada All-Stars v. World All-Stars (which would work considering around 55% of MLS starters are American), or an NHL style pick-up game format with big stars as “team captains”.

Certainly there’s no difficulty in arranging East versus West. Guys like Lee Nguyen, Benny Feilhaber, Javier Morales, Gonzalo Pineda, Frederico Higuain, would be rightfully given their props. Or perhaps one of New England or Colorado’s youngsters would be shown to the world.

The pick-up game format could be fun by giving MLS another signature event with the selection show and it could allow for a more casual atmosphere where a player’s personality can be highlighted, but in the end, it’s just too gimmicky.

But I’m really intrigued by the idea of a USA v. the World format. The NBA and MLB have flirted with the ideas in the past, but soccer really is the World’s game and the teams would really be equal. Here’s what a World XI for MLS might look like:

Higuain might have the most pure talent in MLS. I want to see him play amongst and against MLS' best.
Higuain might have the most pure talent in MLS. I want to see him play amongst and against MLS’ best.

Goalkeeper: Donovan Rickets

Center-Back: Aurelien Collin

Center-Back: Victor Bernardez

Center-Back: Jamison Olave

Left Midfield: Oscar Boniek Garcia

Defensive Midfield: Osvaldo Alonso

Central Midfield: Frederico Higuain

Central Midfield: Javier Morales

Right Midfield: Diego Valeri

Forward: Thierry Henry

Forward: Jermaine Defoe

You back that starting XI up with guys off the bench like: Robbie Keane, Jose Goncalves, Jaime Pinedo, Darlington Nagbe, Marco Di Vaio, Tim Cahill, Mauro Diaz, Cubo Torres, Steven Beitashour and all of a sudden the USA team is given a tough opponent.

What would that team look like? Just riffing, but how about:

I want to see how good the US talent in MLS really is. And I want to see these two together again.
I want to see how good the US talent in MLS really is. And I want to see these two together again.

Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando

Left Back: Chris Klute

Center Back: Matt Besler

Center Back: Omar Gonzalez

Right Back: DeAndre Yedlin

Left Midfield: Brad Davis

Center Back: Kyle Beckerman

Center Back: Michael Bradley

Right Midfield: Graham Zusi

Forward: Landon Donovan

Forward: Clint Dempsey

Add Chris Wondolowsi, Maurice Edu, Seth Sinovic, Bill Hamid, Benny Feilhaber, Will Johnson, and a few more from the team I previously mentioned and now MLS has everyone playing that you want: the high priced European DPs, the USMNT stars, with some MLS up-and-comers and lifers sprinkled in.

For me, this is what MLS needs to do. Embrace the “World’s Game” aspect of soccer. Give those fans who only watch US Soccer a chance to root for their team, albeit in a roundabout way. I would recommend selecting 17 All-Stars per side, thus creating two game day rosters.

I think the USA/Canada versus the World accomplishes the goal of being unique without being gimmicky. If MLS is serious about the non-DP signings in our league, then its time it backed it up with some actions.

It’s nice to show off Bayern Munich. But it’d be nicer to show off MLS’ product wouldn’t it?