For the second straight year, I had the opportunity to go to the MLS All-Star Game featuring the best players in the league taking on a top international club. This year’s game in Orlando featured the MLS All-Stars squaring off with Atletico Madrid.
It is fitting that the last two years the MLS has showcased soccer in the South as the sport has exploded in popularity in states below the Mason-Dixon line. Juventus took on the MLS at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in front of an NFL-sized crowd in 2018, while Orlando gave fans a more intimate feel with a soccer-specific stadium.
The MLS owes its initial growth to the popularity in the Pacific Northwest, but the future of the league is bright thanks to the support in the South. Both Atlanta and Orlando have embraced teams, and it is hard to imagine Nashville not offering a similar environment in the inaugural 2020 season. Miami and Austin are also on the horizon for expansion teams.
The MLS has found a recipe for success for its All-Star week. Other pro leagues are struggling to get buy-in from players to participate in what is essentially an exhibition game, but the MLS offers its players an opportunity to measure their play against some of the world’s best clubs.
Rather than splitting up the All-Stars into two rosters, the annual tradition allows the MLS stars to take on some of the best players in the world each summer. As the MLS aims to prove its level of play is rising the format has the advantage of players wanting to participate and fans snatching up tickets to attend given the rare opportunity to see a team like Atletico Madrid play in person.
Inclement Weather Did Not Put a Damper on the 2019 MLS All-Star Game
Unfortunately, the MLS does not have the ability to control the weather and thousands of soccer fans were greeted with a typical Florida summer shower right before the game was scheduled to start. Thanks to the kind folks at Captain Morgan, I was able to take cover in a tent just outside the stadium where America’s favorite pirate was making his rounds taking selfies with fans and giving out free samples. Captain Morgan was on hand celebrating their new partnership with the MLS by providing a little liquid courage that even allowed Atlanta United and Orlando City fans to co-exist at the pre-game tailgate.
After a brief weather delay, fans were greeted with a spectacular fireworks show before the match. The MLS All-Stars held their own before Atletico Madrid blew the game open late in the second half.
The MLS Continues Its Rapid Expansion
The MLS has thrived in the new markets where teams have launched. Nashville, Miami and Austin will once again put this to the test in the coming years. MLS commissioner Don Garber believes the growth of the league is evident as he detailed to The New York Times.
“Years ago, the former president of FIFA literally had no time for MLS He looked at it with one part disdain and another part absolute dismissal,” Garber explained to The New York Times. “Today, our reputation has shifted dramatically. Our players are getting sold. Our facilities, the media and marketing and social media that all leagues in North America have sets us apart.”
Here’s to the 2020 MLS All-Star Game during Nashville and Miami’s inaugural seasons.