KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Major League Soccer didn't choose AS Roma as its first Italian opponent for the AT&T MLS All-Star Game because the club has a US-based ownership group and features American midfielder Michael Bradley.
Those things didn't hurt, though, especially with Roma promising to field a first-team lineup in the July 31 match at Sporting Park.
“Those weren't deciding factors, but the fact is that we have a strong relationship with the club,” MLS president Mark Abbott said during a news conference on Thursday. “And I think it brings a really exciting dimension, having Michael involved in the club. So there was no one factor as a deciding factor, but those were all things that I think serendipitously came together to make this a very, very special event.”
For AS Roma, who played an exhibition against Liverpool last summer in Boston, taking on the All-Star team is another step in the club's ongoing strategy to build its brand here.
“We're really investing in the US,” club CEO Mark Pannes said at Thursday's news conference. “We feel it's a great market for us. The ability to be recognized by MLS as someone that has value among US fans is pretty special. This is a milestone game, this 10th anniversary. We're going to look back on that and say, 'That was fantastic.'”
MLS has the same goal in the other direction, Abbott said, with the choice of a Serie A opponent offering a chance for the league to boost its profile in Italy and beyond.
“It's a showcase for the league,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “Anything that raises the profile of the league, and exposes to people who may never have encountered it before what a wonderful league it is, what great facilities we have, what great fans we have, what a great atmosphere we have, that's a positive for every constituency.”
A bigger fan base isn't the only reward the league would like to reap, though.
The All-Star game also boosts the league's profile with foreign players who might be seeking a home – a fact which isn't lost on host club Sporting Kansas City, whose manager, Peter Vermes, will coach the All-Stars.
“Basically, what this is all about is recruiting Michael Bradley to come play here,” Sporting KC president Robb Heinemann said with a laugh. “No, that's what we're always up to. We've got some really cool activities that Peter has scheduled for the players. That's the way we look at it. We're going to have 20 guys here that at some point are going to have the opportunity to come play here. We want to put our best foot forward.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.