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MLS ASG shows American soccer may be different but that’s not a bad thing

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 02: Real Madrid defender Marcelo (12)Êcelebrates and shakes hands with MLS All-Star and Seattle Sounders Goalkeeper Stefan Frei (24) after scoring the game winning goal during penalty kicks against the MLS All-Stars during a soccer match on August 2, 2017, at Soldier Field, in Chicago, IL. The game ended in a 1-1 tie with Real Madrid winning on penalty kicks 4-2. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)
Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire

CHICAGO — The 2017 MLS All-Star Game has come and gone with the “Windy City” playing host to the most recent installment of the annual soccer showcase. The top players in MLS again joined forces to take down an international powerhouse; this year’s opponent was the heralded Real Madrid.

Though the MLS All-Stars came up short by way of penalty kicks following a back-and-forth 1-1 game in regulation, Wednesday evening’s outcome was hardly the most noteworthy revelation of the week.

With festivities taking place in Chicago, the heartland of the country, it was obvious that the Americanized version of “soccer” is quite different from the game being played overseas. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

“It is an honor to play for the MLS All-Star team, especially at Soldier Field,” Chicago Fire newcomer Bastian Schweinsteiger said earlier in the week, via the Chicago Tribune. “I played there once with (Manchester) United against PSG and it is a fantastic stadium.

“The All-Star team is good and strong. It has great players and I want to play along with them. This is something new for me. In Europe, we do not have this type of games, so this is very special for me.”

Schweinsteiger is no stranger to the European scene either as the 33-year-old German is currently in the midst of his first go-round in the United States. Prior to his arrival, the 2017 MLS All-Star Game captain made appearances for both Bayern Munich and Manchester United in addition to the German national team.

However, like many current superstars playing in Major League Soccer, Schweinsteiger has now experienced both sides of the fence. With a slew of aging players eventually bringing their talents across the pond en route to the MLS, the top American soccer league has transformed into a proverbial farewell tour for the likes of Schweinsteiger, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, Steven Gerrard and others.

Players like them have concluded their illustrious careers atop the highest level of the European leagues but, despite their age, they remain MLS All-Stars.

“I enjoy playing in MLS,” Schweinsteiger added. “Additionally, Chicago is a great city with great people.”

It is not necessarily a negative for either side when both older players and American fans can enjoy the back end of some historic tenures – let alone all in one place at the MLS All-Star Game. Had the likes of Schweinsteiger, Villa, Pirlo, Kaka and Gerrard not made their way to MLS, it is safe to say that the majority of the American fan base would have never seen these players take the pitch in person, or at least not on a regular basis.

“Now it’s just this big festival, and so much media, so much attention, and a buzz in the city,” Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst, who has seen the annual event grow over the years, told ESPN. “Obviously the games sell out, fantastic crowd, fantastic opponent. It’s just really big. So it’s a fun thing to be a part of.”

As Schweinsteiger said, All-Star Games do not take place overseas so the annual event has created not only an entertaining and intriguing matchup for the United States, but for fans around the globe as well. Not only that, but the MLS All-Star Game gives a number of these aging players one last crack at battling it out against a club like Real Madrid, which sports some of the top talent in the world today. In a related thought, Schweinsteiger and company can serve as superstars in their own right again.

Not only that, but the MLS has created a much more laid-back product. Though every professional sports team features its fanatics, the do-or-die and tremendously competitive nature of La Liga and the English Premier League – among others – is a rarity on American soil. However, with that being said, the life-and-death approach many European soccer fans display makes them some of the best and most appreciated fans in the world, a trait often attributed to Major League Baseball or the National Football League in the United States.

This can also be confirmed by the 60-40 split, if not more, of Real Madrid fans to MLS fans. The atmosphere at Solider Field during the opening ceremonies and player introductions surely solidified which way the crowed would be swaying.

“It was an entertaining game back-and-forth,” Chicago Fire midfielder Dax McCarty said. “But it’s an exhibition game, it’s a friendly, so I don’t think it’s fair to judge how good or bad MLS is based on this one game.”

On the other hand, it appeared the Real Madrid players enjoyed their most recent stint in the United States. It was very clear, especially Wednesday, that the European outreach definitely stretches across the Atlantic Ocean. MLS is often portrayed as the main focus of American soccer, but many fans around the United States religiously tune in to take a glance at those suiting up throughout the globe.

In fact, Fox drew a 1.4 overnight rating for this year’s UEFA Champions League final matchup between Real Madrid and Juventus. It is also worth noting that such a mark was notably up from the 2016 battle between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

“Everywhere we go, USA, China, Europe, the fans are crazy,” Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos told ESPN on Tuesday. “They are so happy to see us, to watch our training or our games. It’s great to see. If you see that, you know that you are maybe in the biggest club in the world because I think there is no other club like this.”

While this Americanized version of the international phenomenon is encompassed mostly by the MLS All-Star Game and the league as a whole, the trickle-down effect is real, too.

“The vibe in the city is electric, it really is,” McCarty noted. “I did an appearance (Sunday) at North Ave. Beach, and there were a ton of people out there playing soccer, having soccer balls out, kids everywhere, a lot of important people in the game bringing the city together. I think all those factors are great when putting on an event like this.”

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