It speaks a lot about the commercialization and desire of MLS to become a top soccer league that the MLS All-Star Game has become a staple of the season. Every season, a top European team comes across to the States to play in a glorified friendly in which the very best in MLS is represented. The players and manager are voted for, and commissioner Don Garber even gets a few picks himself.
While it’s certainly a great spectacle to see the likes of Totti, in the case of the most recent, strut itself in location such as Kansas City, it is of questionable importance. Attention is drawn to the league from abroad, but the game can be seen as doing very little else.
Now, the All-Star week has gained more relevance and importance. In a deal with Chipotle, MLS has announced an All-Star homegrown game. For those unaware, a homegrown player is of unique parameters to the idea of an academy player or youngster in Europe. In 2008, the league revamped how youth players and the roster worked. The homegrown player rule allowed clubs to sign players directly from their academies without going through an allocation process like the SuperDraft, the most high profile example.
The first player to be signed under this rule was Tristen Bowen by Chivas USA. Since then, players such as Bill Hamid came through. Also, the next generation of MLS stars such as Will Trapp and Diego Fagundez have benefited their clubs through this rule.
Now, the homegrown rule is about to be given a bigger stage. A fast food chain in America known as Chipotle have announced a ‘marquee’ deal with MLS alongside 13 MLS clubs: FC Dallas; Houston Dynamo; LA Galaxy; Portland Timbers; Seattle Sounders; San Jose Earthquakes; Philadelphia Union; Sporting Kansas City; Colorado Rapids; Columbus Crew; New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire are the clubs mentioned so far.
Obviously, there are several teams missing from the list. However, it is said that the other clubs have linked to Chipotle in other ways. In standard MLS transparency, no one is really sure what that means.
The homegrown game will take place during the week of the MLS All-Star game, but further details remain sketchy at best. It could well be that the All-Star opponent could bring their youth team across with their senior team. In this scenario, it would be a barometer of how the best of the MLS talent fares against high European standard. Of course, this could have the same negative connotations of the senior game. If the MLS team loses, then all it brings is a negative image. Of course, if after a period of development the US and Canadian youngsters compete, then there are huge positives to be had.
Another proposal that floated around on social media was the idea of an Eastern vs Western conference game. This idea would see teams from each conference provide players in a match-up. While the games would be closer and more competitive, the repetitiveness could become an issue.
While the mechanics of the game are debated, the prospect of recognition and further minute for the future of MLS is something that should entice all soccer fans, and should give a more worthwhile feel to the All-Star week. In due time, the league should release more information, as fans eagerly await the arrival of Bayern Munich to the States.
In the present, Chipotle’s choice of Omar Gonzalez promotes exactly what the league is looking for. Gonzalez represents the pinnacle of what MLS can create. He is a stalwart of the Galaxy defense and is the linchpin within it. That success led to a USA call up, and Gonzalez is now expected to be the starting defender alongside Matt Besler.
With the level of US and Canadian talent pre-existing in MLS, the drive to bring American stars back to MLS has really given the league a pat on the back. While top talent once left for Europe, now players are returning and justifying the talent that MLS gave to Europe.
Now, with them back and a new crop looking to impress, the MLS Homegrown game is a chance to celebrate the progress that MLS has made in 19 years, while showing off the players that will carry it to the 20th and beyond.