Tonight’s MLS All-Star Game may be turning point for league

Provident Park, Portland Timbers

Tonight’s MLS All-Star Game from Providence Park, home of the Portland Timbers, may represent a turning point for the league as it attempts to continue momentum began by the World Cup.

That MLS is on a roll in 2014 is no secret: rating and attendance are up, and we’re seeing several cities — Miami, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, El Paso — vie for expansion franchises. With Orlando and New York City set to enter the league next season, you can expect this momentum to continue.

But the MLS All-Star Game, to be broadcast tonight on ESPN2 (9:30 p..m Eastern), has a chance to be special. The game is held at one of the best venues in MLS when it comes to fan passion and atmosphere, many of the players on the U.S. World Cup team will be on the pitch, and the opponent — Bayern München, the dominant club in German football with 24 titles and defending Bundesliga champ — provides for a great match. If there’s a chance for a breakout performance, it will be tonight’s game. From the Oregonian:

A key component to complement the players is fostering a smooth-flowing game for them to play. A big complaint about MLS is that there is too much grabbing, holding and outright fouling — all of which prevent players from shining and slow down the pace of the game.

“You need more of an open game … you can have really attractive and entertaining games that are a lot tighter goal-wise, but still are back and forth,” Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said. “You can’t have your playmakers just get fouled to slow down the game. These games that become rugby matches that some teams play don’t help the league at all.”

Soccer purists may roll their eyes and harrumph about the sport not needing stars and opening up play, but if MLS wants to break through the clutter of televised sports and grow its audience in the United States, having star athletes and celebrity fans — a televised shot of James, Will Smith or Jennifer Lawrence watching a game can be trendsetting — connected with the league will help reach that goal.

 Time, of course, will tell whether tonight’s MLS All-Star Game will keep the league’s momentum going. But the opportunity is there.

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