An email dropped into my inbox earlier asking for my selections for the 2022 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, which this year will be played at Allianz Field, the home of Minnesota United.
Twenty-six MLS players will be selected for the match on August 10, representing the league – for a second time – against the best that Liga MX has to offer.
Last year the All-Star Game resumed after the 2020 contest was cancelled due to COVID-19, resulting in a 3-2 penalty shootout win for the good guys.
That was the 25th edition of this annual spectacle, which down the years has seen the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, AS Roma, and Chelsea tackle the all-stars of Major League Soccer.
The first six All-Star Games were very much internal affairs. Five of the first six were East vs. West, with the other being MLS USA vs. MLS World.
Rapids’ head coach, Robin Fraser, was part of that very first All-Star Game, played in front of 78,416 at Giants Stadium in New Jersey on July 14, 1996.
On the West All-Stars – alongside names such Eric Wynalda, Cobi Jones, Preki, and future Rapids legend, Paul Bravo – Fraser and Co. came off second best. They lost 3-2 to an East All-Stars containing Tony Meola, Alexi Lalas, Roberto Donadoni, Marco Etcheverry, and Carlos Valderrama, another who would go on to represent the Rapids.
Indeed, Valderrama was MVP the first two All-Star Games. In 1996, he assisted on the first goal, scored by Tab Ramos. He grabbed a goal and an assist in ‘97, as the East triumphed 5-4.
The early history of the All-Star Game reflected the state of play in the USA. MLS leant on a tradition tried and trusted by the other leading sports, hence a gathering once a year of the best in MLS.
Due to its infancy and limited reach, the league kept things closed until 2003, whereupon goals from Ante Razov, Carlos Ruiz, and DaMarcus Beasley gave MLS All-Stars a 3-1 win over Chivas Guadalajara.
As the league grew, so too did its pulling power, hence the ability to lure some of the giants of the sport. And, as the league matured, it did so with more clubs and more soccer-specific venues. For the most part, gone were the days of playing inside Giants Stadium, the Citrus Bowl, or Qualcomm Stadium. (Soldier Field, Chicago was used in 2017, three years before the Fire returned there).
Just one active MLS arena has hosted more than one All-Star Game, and that venue is DICK’S Sporting Goods Park. Commerce City welcomed Scottish side Celtic in its first year, 2007. DSGP was used again in 2015 with English club Tottenham Hotspur the opposition.
Marcelo Balboa and Chris Henderson were the first players to represent the Rapids at an MLS All-Star Game, featuring in the 1997 match. Tim Howard was the most recent representative, keeping a clean sheet in the first half against Real Madrid in 2017.
Of the current crop of Rapids players, three have played in this exhibition. Drew Moor replaced Tony Beltran for the second half of the 2015 game on home soil. Gyasi Zardes played the first half against Spurs.
And three years ago, when Atlético Madrid were the opponents in Orlando, midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye was an active All-Star.
St. Paul, Minnesota will welcome the latest installment of this annual event. Head over to MLSSoccer.com/vote to make sure the Rapids are represented once again.