Saturday, April 25, 2009

All-Star Matches are Part of Soccer History in the U.S.

All-Star Games are as All-American as Chevrolet, mom, and apple pie. The most famous and storied All-Star Game in the US is, of course, the one belonging to Major League Baseball, which was first played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933. The NBA’s All-Star Game, which, like the MLB version, is a midseason game, runs a distant second, while the NFL Pro-Bowl, is an all but ignored after thought that could disappear and no would really notice, especially since it takes place after the Super Bowl and serves more as a hangover then as one last taste of gridiron until August.

The MLS jumped on the all-star bandwagon early in 1996, initially following the typical American model of pitting the best of one conference against the best of the other conference. In 2002 and 2003, the MLS toyed with the concept of pitting a unified All-Star squad against a visiting clause, returned to the conference versus conference format, but in 2005 returned to a format featuring an All-Star team playing a visiting foreign team. This summer, an MLS All-Star squad will take on a yet to be named visiting team at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah this July.

My impression from informal conversations with soccer fans here in the US is that they either love or hate that the MLS All-Star Game now consists of one MLS Squad taking on a foreign team; there is not much of a middle ground. What most fans don’t seem to know is that there is a long tradition in U.S. soccer of fielding all-star teams against visiting travelling teams, as well as American club teams playing these travelling teams. Additionally, a little known fact, is that U.S. all-star teams and some club teams did some international traveling of their own.

Here’s a breakdown of early All-Star matches involving U.S. soccer:

1909 - The Pilgrims from England toured the U.S. and played all-star teams representing New York, Baltimore, Pennsylvania League, and the New York Amateur League, as well as several club teams. The Pilgrims were essentially an all-start team from England with players from clubs such as West Ham United, Arsenal, Sheffield United, Queens Park, Rotherham Town F.C., Fulham, and Falkirk F.C., among others.

1911 - The famed Corinthians F.C. played all-star teams from Chicago and New York, as well as Toronto and Ontario, as well as several club teams.

1916 - The U.S. Football Association's All-American Soccer Football Club toured Sweden and Norway.

1919 - Not so much an all-star team, but Bethlehem Steel toured Sweden and Denmark - with a record of 6 wins, 6 draws, and 2 losses.

1920 - The St. Louis Soccer Club, made up of players from St. Louis, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York, toured Scandinavia - with a record of 7 wins, 5 draws, and 2 losses.

1921 - The All-Scots of Scotland played several club teams in the U.S.

1924 - The Corinthians returned to play several Philadelphia clubs and a Brooklyn club.

1926 - This year saw both the Hakoah All-Stars of Vienna and Sparta F.C. play U.S. all-star teams and club teams. Additionally, Worcester, Mass. played some travel games in England and Germany.

1927 - Featured the return of the Hakoah All-Stars of Vienna to the American shores, as well as matches by Maccabi F.C., Real Madrid, National of Uruguay, and Worcestershire of England. Meanwhile, New York's Viking F.C. travelled to Norway and Sweden.

1928 - Palestra Italia F.C. and Glasgow Rangers F.C. traveled to the U.S. to play all-star and club teams. Palestra was a bit of an all-star team, made of players from Bologna, Brescia, Genoa, Milan, Padoga, Rome, and Turin.

1929 - Preston North End, which was in the English 2nd Division at the time, and Sabaria from Budapest both traveled to the U.S., while Worcester toured in England.

1930 - Argentina's Sportivo F.C. played the Hakoah All-Stars before a crowd of 5,000 at the Polo Grounds in New York, with the American side winning the match 1-0. Meanwhile Hungaria F.C. (M.T.K.) , Marte F.C. from Mexico City, Kilmarnock F.C., Worcestershire of England, and Scotland's Rangers all toured and played against all-star teams and club teams. Meanwhile the ASL's Fall River Marksmen toured Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary; the ASL's Hakoah All-Stars toured Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay; and Germania Milwaukee toured Germany.

So, even before World War II, a soccer all-star tradition had been established in the United States. Not only did the land of plenty create a military force that helped defeat the Axis during World War II, but the post-war prosperity in the US resulted in an increase of European clubs spending their summers “across the pond.” Food rationing existed in much of Europe for years following The War, but as Liverpool discovered in 1946, there was no food rationing in the United States, and the U.S. became a summer destination for squads looking to bulk up their players.

In their 1946 tour, Liverpool played the New York Stars, Baltimore Stars, American League Stars, New England Stars, Philadelphia Stars, St. Louis Stars, Chicago Stars, and Kearny Stars. Puentes Grandes of Cuba also visited the U.S. that year, playing All-Star teams in New Jersey, Pittsburgh, New England, and Philadelphia.

Since 1946 the following teams have visited the United States and have played various all-star teams: Hapoel F.C. (Tel-Aviv, Palestine), Liverpool, Djurgarden F.C. (Stockholm), Slovan Bratislava, Atlante, Belfast Celtic, Kamaraterna (Sweden), Inter Milan, Scottish National Team, Manchester United, Hamburg S.C., Besiktas F.C., Atlas F.C., Jonkopping F.C. (Sweden), English FA XII, A.I.K. (Stockholm), Eintracht Frankfurt, Fulham, Glasgow Celtic, All-England, Stuttgart Kickers, Tottenham Hotspurs, Nuernberg F.C., Rapid City F.C. (Austria), Borussia F.C., Chelsea, Fortuna F.C. (Germany), Glasgow Rangers, Plymouth Argyle, Wacker (Austria), Rot-Weiss (Germany), Olaria (Brazil), Occidente S.C. of Guadalajara, Sunderland F.C., Grasshoppers (Switzerland), Sochaux (France), Police Stars (West Germany), Schwaben Augsberg, Everton, Aberdeen, F.C. Austria, Kaiserlautern (West Germany), Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel), Manchester City, Hearts of Midlothian (Scotland), Kickers Offenbach, Blackpool, Napoli, Palermo, Helsinborgs (Sweden), Legia Warsaw, Vasco de Gama, Dundee, Petah Tikva (Isreal), 1st Saarbruecken, A.S.V. Nuernberg, F.C. Schalke 04, Wolverhampton, AGF (Denmark), SV Hamburg, Meidrich (Germany), Ronsdorf (Germany), etc.

I could go beyond that list, and trust me that list really only covers into 1965, but that would be beating a dead horse. So, my point is that there is a long a storied history of US All-Star soccer clubs playing visiting foreign clubs. So, instead of complaining about the MLS Mid-Summer Classic, might I suggest you embrace it, and enjoy it as part of the beautiful game’s tradition in the United States?

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