LOS ANGELES – When Landon Donovan first heard that next year's MLS All-Star Game presented by Target would match Major League Soccer's finest against Liga MX's, his initial thought was “we've certainly done that before, haven't we?”
Well, no, we haven't.
“And then I thought, 'Well, why the hell haven't we ever done this?'” Donovan said following the announcement Wednesday morning at Banc of California Stadium. “It just makes too much sense.”
Donovan was MVP of two very different All-Star Games — doffing his jersey to reveal a sports bra, in tribute to Brandi Chastain, in 2001's 6-6 exhibition in San Jose and a hotly contested 2-1 triumph over Bayern Munich in Portland five years ago — and this is one he wishes he could play.
“Hell yeah,” he said. “I'm, like, here today thinking, like, 'God, that would have been awesome.’”
The MLS All-Stars did take on Chivas Guadalajara once, when the LA Galaxy, two years before Donovan joined, staged the 2003 game. But next year's showdown – July 29 on LAFC's home field – is an interesting tweak to the European-club-in-preseason formula that has been embraced since 2005.
This one, Donovan said, carries more emotion than taking on Arsenal or Juventus or Real Madrid.
“This will be a real, real soccer game,” said Donovan, who won a record six MLS Cup titles with the Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes during 15-plus years in MLS, then came out of retirement last year for a short stint with Club Leon in Liga MX. “If you think guys in Liga MX aren't coming here to show themselves, you're crazy.
“And the MLS guys are going to understand and know the rivalry, being in this city, what the stadium's going to look like when they come out for warmups, with all the different jerseys. I mean, it's going to be a lot of fun.”
Pavel Pardo, who starred for Mexico's national team and played a decade with Club America before closing his career with the Chicago Fire, is in agreement.
“I think [the Liga MX] players are going to [be] excited,” said Pardo, one of several former MLS players on hand for the announcement. “Listen, you are a professional athlete and you have to win. This is in your blood, and you are going out to win every time you go to the pitch.”
Donovan, who is part-owner, executive vice president and manager of incoming USL Championship side San Diego Loyal SC, got a good view of Liga MX's talent during his time south of the border, and he was impressed.
“Player to player, there's so much talent in that league,” he said. “There are players that you would rarely hear about here that are really good soccer players. Their youth academies, really good soccer players. From a purely talent perspective, it's incredible.”
Pardo, who played with the Fire in 2011-12, witnessed MLS's quick growth following David Beckham's arrival in 2007 and has watched the league continue to evolve. Who would he favor?
“That's a good question, because, of course, [Liga MX is] a deeper league, more history and more years playing soccer,” he said. “But just remember MLS has a lot of star players. They play in Europe, they play in World Cups as well. It's going to be very interesting. I can say it's going to be a tough game.”
MLS players ought to be in midseason form for the game, while Liga MX teams will have just started their seasons.
“It's about time, because we always do that for Concacaf Champions League, right?” said Donovan, noting the scheduling disadvantage MLS clubs have had against Mexican opposition in the region's club championship. “So welcome to our world.”
The former US national team star thinks this matchup is important for other reasons, too.
“We don't have a great relationship, politically, between our countries [at the moment], and things like this actually do bridge gaps,” he said. “I know it sounds stupid, it's one game in front of 20,000 people, but it really does help. And it helps the fans.
“People who come here next year on July 29th, it's going to be a party, and they're going to have fun. Nobody's going to care who wins," he continued. Yes, it's going to be competitive, but there are going to be people who are rooting for Carlos Vela, even though they're Pachuca fans or Necaxa fans. Or people traveling from [other MLS cities] who are rooting for William Yarbrough, because he's an American in Leon.
“There's a lot of storylines, but it's a way to bridge that gap and connect people.”