NEW YORK – Very big team, very special stadium.
That’s the unquestionable appeal to the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game on July 27 at Red Bull Arena, as the league looks to bring an opponent with global recognition to a stadium some consider one of the best in the world.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber addressed the media Tuesday afternoon on the heels of the league’s All-Star announcement earlier in the day, stressing the benefits of a prime time opportunity for the league’s superstars and the sparkling new 25,000-seat stadium which made its debut in Harrison, N.J., last year.
The league has not announced an opponent yet for the match, but Garber stressed that fans should expect a side with the caliber of previous teams who have ventured stateside for the summer showdown: Celtic, Chivas de Guadalajara and Manchester United, who suited up against the MLS All-Stars in front of more than 70,000 fans at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The New York market will host the event for the first time since the now-defunct Giants Stadium played host in the league’s inaugural season in 1996 and then again in 1997.
“We were very focused on bringing an MLS event to the New York metropolitan area this year, whether it was MLS Cup or our All-Star game,” Garber said. “We always go through a process … but I’d have to say that we were very focused on New York. We didn’t spend much time thinking about another location.”
Added Garber: “Returning to New York makes a lot of sense for us. … [Red Bull Arena] is one of the great stadiums of its size in the world.”
LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan and New York Red Bulls Designated Player Thierry Henry also joined Garber on the teleconference, as Donovan seeks his 11th consecutive All-Star nod and Henry looks for his first since joining the league midway through last season.
“For us as players, every time I’ve been part of this game, guys take it very seriously,” said Donovan, who did not suit up during the 2006 All-Star game against Chelsea while nursing an injury. “We’re all very proud of this league that we play in and these are always opportunities to show our talent, to showcase what our league is all about.”
“I don’t think you’ll get too many players complaining about going to New York City for an All-Star game, I think that will be a lot of fun,” Donovan added. “Hopefully I’m there.”
Added Henry, “You have some great players in this league. And in New York, it’s going to be a great time. I don’t think it will be difficult to fill it in with all the best guys in the league coming to play in New York, and hopefully playing against a big team from Europe.”
Garber said that he expects the league to announce the All-Star opponent within the next 30 days, and that the league is currently is engaged in “very productive negotiations with a number of teams.”
The last time the league hosted an All-Star game against a world-class opponent in a soccer-specific stadium was in 2006, when EPL powerhouse Chelsea played the All-Star team in front of 21,210 fans at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.
The All-Stars won that match 1-0, and are 4-1-1 since the current format of the All-Stars vs. an international team became a permanent summer showcase in 2005.
Garber added that the league’s interest in hosting the match at a soccer-specific stadium trumped the desire for increased ticket sales if the event was hosted at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The stadium – which was built in 2010 and will host an international friendly between the US national team and Argentina in March – holds a capacity crowd of 82,566.
“The league and US Soccer have a tremendously positive relationship with the New Meadowlands Stadium … so this is not about doing something in competition with the Meadowlands,” Garber said. “It’s really about doing something that will be very positive for our new building with the Red Bulls.
“Most of the clubs we’re talking to are well aware of the Red Bulls and their new building,” Garber said, adding that the stadium’s capacity will not be a deterrent for any big-name opponents. “They’re actually intrigued by playing in a smaller stadium … it’s just part of the culture of football, really, to play in these intimate environments."