The complete beginner's guide to the 2017 MLS All-Star Game

If you’re here, you’ve probably seen banners popping up across the internet or on the streets of Chicago about the 2017 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, and you’ve got questions. Luckily, we’ve got answers!

The 2017 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target will be played on Aug. 2 at Chicago's Soldier Field.

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, that tradition is bigger than ever: The MLS All-Stars will face off against iconic Spanish club Real Madrid.

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. 

Who are Real Madrid?

Quite possibly the most successful club in soccer history, Real Madrid are 11-time European champions and the reigning holders in the UEFA Champions League, Europe's top competition. Known the world over for their all-white kits and cavalcade of superstars, "Los Merengues" are 32-time Spanish league champions and have also won the Copa del Rey, Spain's cup competition, 19 times. They're also the official reigning club world champions, having won last year's FIFA Club World Cup, their second such triumph. 

Founded in 1902, Madrid are both a history-rich institution and a modern superclub, adored by millions across Spain and around the world. Their current roster is packed with hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of elite talent like Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. But the brightest star in the firmament is Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese attacker who has won the Ballon d'Or, awarded to the world's best player, four times. 

Why is the All-Star Game in Chicago?

The game rotates every year to a new city with an MLS team. This year the match will be played at Soldier Field, former home of the Chicago Fire and a perennial host to big games from the 1994 World Cup to last year's Copa America Centenario.

The venerable Chicago landmark also has a rich MLS legacy, as it was home to the Chicago Fire for the club's first four seasons, from 1998-2001, and then again from 2003-2005. The Fire owned a 62-23-10 record (.705 winning percentage) in their home games played at Soldier Field, a span which also includes the club's three appearances in MLS Cup.

While this is the first MLS All-Star Game to be played at Soldier Field, it's the second time the MLS summer showcase has been played in the Chicago area. In 2006, the MLS All-Stars defeated Chelsea FC 1-0 in a match played at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, with Dwayne De Rosario scoring the game's only goal.

So, who exactly is playing?

The All-Star Team features the biggest names and most talented players in MLS, which last year included US national team stars like Clint Dempsey and Darlington Nagbe, international superstars like Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa, the last two MLS MVP winners.

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. 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 Veljko Paunovic, head coach of the Fire.

A longtime regular in Spain's La Liga – where he spent several seasons with Real's crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid – and other top European leagues during his own distinguished playing career, Paunovic played one season in MLS with the Philadelphia Union before moving into coaching. He led the Serbian Under-20 national team to a FIFA U-20 World Cup championship in 2015 and took the reins in Chicago in November of that year.

What else is going on around the game?

The short answer is: a lot. The game itself takes place on Wednesday, Aug. 2, but MLS’s takeover of the Windy City starts days before. Stay tuned for more information about the events happening during All-Star Week.