PORTLAND, Ore. – Clint Dempsey made headlines Monday when he suggested the MLS All-Star Game return to an East vs. West format.
“I think it would be cool to go back to the old system – East vs. West – because I think you could reward more players and you can reward more coaches for doing a great job,” the US national team and Seattle Sounders star said in Monday’s MLS All-Star Game press conference ahead of Wednesday’s game against German powerhouse Bayern Munich.
“But at the same time, it's still exciting to play against a team like Bayern.”
In its infancy, the All-Star Game featured a more traditional, East vs. West format. But starting in 2002 and ’03 and then from 2005 on, the game has featured MLS All-Stars against a high-profile side.
With Dempsey’s comments in mind, MLSsoccer.com asked some of the league’s biggest stars what format they prefer prior to Tuesday’s All-Star training session at Providence Park. Here’s what they said:
FOR EAST VS. WEST
Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake: “Personally, I would love to go back to that. I think that’s kind of cool. Maybe there could be something up for grabs for the winner, MLS Cup in the East or the West. It was good back in the days when it was East vs. West, competitiveness and fun at the same time.”`
Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls: “I don’t know; I’m just getting over this one. But I think [East vs. West] would be good. Good rivalry. Friendly banter.”
FOR MLS VS. EUROPE
Michael Bradley, Toronto FC: “I enjoy this format, actually. I think when you’re able to get an opponent of this caliber, a Bayern Munich, a Man. United. Chelsea, they played against in the past. It makes for an exciting few days.”
Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls: “Clint said the other day maybe they were going back to East and West and then you give more chances to a lot of players to be in this situation. But also no disrespect to anyone, but I’m sure the Portland fans want to also see Bayern Munich. It’s also a debate you can have but I see it as a good thing, too.”
RIDING THE FENCE
Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy: “We actually were talking about that yesterday in the car because there are so many talented players now, so many good players now and so many deserving players that you almost even need more spots. There are a lot of guys who deserve to be here who couldn’t be here, so potentially that works.
“That being said, I’m a big sports fan, I watch all the other All-Star games, and I think, and obviously I’m biased, but I think this game is the most exciting to watch because of the way we play it and the competition we bring in. So you have to be careful in that way. But I think there’s potential to start making that case again, yeah.”
Will Johnson, Portland Timbers: “I’ve been dodging this question all week. I don’t get a vote in the say. If someone asks me to play in a soccer game, I’m there. And whatever team I’m on, I’m just happy to play. And I think that’s probably the answer you get from most of the guys. There’s no perfect scenario with this kind of a thing. There’s going to be pluses and minuses with everything and there’s going to be guys who complain about the format when you change it will complain about it for different reasons. For me, just enjoy it and stop complaining if you don’t like it.”
Tim Cahill, New York Red Bulls: “It’s a catch-22, you know? Either way it’s awesome. You get to play East vs. West, and obviously more talent from the league gets to play against each other, so that concept might come in anyway. It’s also great to play against one of the best teams in the world, as well. So for the fans aspect, this has a great element for a city like Portland to host Bayern Munich and the caliber of the players. But also East vs. West is probably something where you attract a lot of attention as well.”
Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City: “We don’t have much say as players, so it’s whatever they line up. Obviously, this is a lot of fun for us being able to play against some of these guys, and it’s a better storyline for the fans, and it creates interest, so we’re all for that. I think if it’s East-West you get a lot of fun from the players because the game can be a little bit more enjoyable, there’s less pressure, you can really kind of celebrate the All-Star feel.”