The complete beginner's guide to the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game

If you’re here, you’ve probably seen banners popping up across the internet or IRL in San Jose about the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, and you’ve got questions. Luckily, we’ve got answers!

The 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game takes place on Thursday, July 28, at 9 pm ET.

So let’s start with the big question...

What is this?

Basically, the MLS All-Star Game is, like Major League Baseball's summer classic, an annual exhibition game featuring some of the league’s best players. It’s happened every year since MLS's inaugural season in 1996, though it has changed formats a couple times since then. We’ll get to that later.

What's the format of the game?

Okay, we’ll get to it now. In other North American sports leagues, the all-star game typically pits teams of players from different conferences.

MLS did that too – the first couple of editions saw the Eastern Conference play the Western Conference.

Then, in the late '90s/early 2000s things got really experimental. (Didn’t everyone have experimental times in the early 2000s? Just look at your fashion and hair choices from then.) A few of the formats included American players vs. International players and a matchup between the MLS All-Stars and the US national team.

In 2003, the league inaugurated the format that has carried it through today: MLS vs. international clubs. That first year, the MLSers took on and beat Mexican giants Chivas de Guadalajara, and since then, they've taken on big-name English Premier League teams like Chelsea and Manchester United, Italian club AS Roma, and German heavyweights Bayern Munich, among others.

This year, the MLS All-Stars face off against Premier League club Arsenal.

Are there any rule changes?

No. It's your standard 90 minutes, though there are extra substitutions allowed, as is normal for friendly exhibitions like this around the world. The only rule change is that if the teams are tied after 90 minutes, the two teams will go straight into a penalty-kick shootout. Oh, the drama!

Who are Arsenal?

Arsenal FC are one of the biggest teams in England and indeed, the world. They were founded in 1886 and have won 13 league titles and 12 FA Cups (including the last two). One of the top teams year after year in the Premier League, they finished third last season and routinely compete in the Champions League.

One US youth international, Gedion Zelalem, is on Arsenal's books, although he's currently on loan in Scotland, but perhaps the most iconic player in Arsenal's history, forward Thierry Henry, is the most recognizable of the many MLS-Arsenal connections. Henry won two English league titles, including with the undefeated "Invincibles" squad, and helped Arsenal reach the Champions League final in 2006 beforejoining the New York Red Bulls and leading them to their first-ever trophy, the Supporters' Shield, in 2013.

Why is the All-Star Game in San Jose?

Easy—the game rotates every year to a new city with an MLS team. This year the match will be played at Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.

So, who exactly is playing?

In a nutshell: it's all the biggest names and most talented players in MLS, which last year included US national team stars like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, major recent signings like MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa, and Kei Kamara.

How are players selected?

Fans get to vote for 11 players, the Fan XI. Last year they voted for the team’s captain via Snapchat and their choice?

MLS Commissioner Don Garber adds two Commissioner’s Picks. More about that here.

Finally, the coach gets to name the final roster of 22 players.

What about the coach?

Since 2013 the host city’s MLS club coach also manages the All-Star team. So this year, that’s Dominic Kinnear, head coach of the Earthquakes.

Kinnear is a retired MLS player who led the Houston Dynamo to back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2006 and 2007.

What else is going on around the game?

The short answer is: a lot. The game itself takes place on Thursday, July 28, but MLS’s takeover of San Jose starts days before. Stay tuned for more information about the events happening during All-Star week.

How can I watch the game?

The game kicks off at 9 pm ET / 6 pm PT. If you want to watch in-person in San Jose, the match takes place at the Quakes' home stadium, Avaya Stadium (register for ticket lottery here). If you’re not in San Jose, you can catch it on ESPN and UniMás in the United States, and on TSN and RDS in Canada. It will also be broadcast in over 140 countries worldwide.