Should MLS's All-Star match go back to the East vs. West competition?
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Earlier this week, in the days leading up to this year's MLS All-Star game, which the home team won 2-1 Wednesday night against English Premier League mainstay Tottenham Hotspur, much of the talk centered on the format of the league's annual Midsummer Classic.
It's been 10 years since MLS began its streak of inviting international clubs to take on the domestic circuit's best players. And besides a couple of lopsided losses to mighty Manchester United in 2010 (5-2) and 2011 (4-0) and a 3-1 defeat to Italy's Roma two years ago, the games have been competitive, and hosts have acquitted themselves well.
Off the field, they've exposed MLS to new audiences and helped the league create connections with some of the sport's most storied teams. Then there are nights like Wednesday when the All-Stars are able to secure a win, just like they did against Bayern Munich and their haul of World Cup winners last year, or versus a Chelsea side two months removed from winning the Champions League title in 2012. When that happens, there's no question the league's global credibility gets a boost.
Yet despite the format's success, a growing band of players has been clamoring for a return to the Eastern versus Western Conference setup of the league's early years. Clint Dempsey offered his views last season. This year's chorus was louder than ever, and it was led by none other than Kaka, the Brazilian World Cup and Ballon d'Or winner who, as a kid growing up in Sao Paulo, enjoyed watching the East vs. West All-Star games from other North Americans sports leagues, particularly the NBA.
But Kaka walked back some of those comments after scoring a goal and adding an assist en route to MVP honors in his All-Star debut at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver.
"Yesterday we talked about the All-Star game being [conference] against conference," Kaka said post-game. "But after today, beating Tottenham, it's a very good feeling."
The Orlando City captain isn't the only one who can see good things in each approach.
"I'm on the fence," Colorado Rapids defender Drew Moor said. "I think an East and West game would be pretty cool, but anytime you can bring in a side like Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich or Manchester United, it becomes maybe a little bit more of a global game."
Moor has spent more than a decade in the league, but Wednesday marked his first All-Star appearance. His inclusion and emotional on-camera reaction to hearing the news was one of the feel-good stories leading up to the event. The idea that going back to the old system would allow more deserving players to be recognized for their achievements was an oft-cited one whenever the topic came up.
"We have enough good players that we could put two good teams out there," MLS keeper Nick Rimnado said following his stellar showing against Spurs.
He's right. Some of the biggest names in MLS, including Michael Bradley, Steven Gerrard, Sebastian Giovinco, Robbie Keane and Frank Lampard, weren't even in Colorado for various reasons. Next season, new marquee arrivals such as Andrea Pirlo, Giovani dos Santos and Didier Drogba will have to be considered alongside the sort of non-designated player standouts, like Moor, that have long been the backbone of the league.
The rank and file might get their wish. On Tuesday, for the first time, MLS commissioner Don Garber said he was open to the idea of going back to East-West.
But for that to be seriously considered, MLS must find a way to ensure that the match Garber has often billed as "the most competitive All-Star Game in all of sports" stays that way.
Because the league's early showpieces were anything but. Rimando, a 15-year veteran, has been around long enough to remember those high-scoring, no-tackling farces. "I've been a part of that game where it's [6-6]. They're not fun for the goalkeepers at all," Rimando said.
So what does he suggest?
"If there's something at the end of the game that's meaningful -- if it's a prize, a bonus -- if something's on the line, then I think they'll get players giving it their all."
On the other hand, Wednesday's result seemed to remind everyone involved that the current format does have its advantages.
"If you ask me which one showcases our talent better, I think it might be beating a team like Tottenham," All-Star coach Pablo Mastroeni said afterward. "Having experienced it firsthand, if feels great to get validation from winning against a team like that as far as where we are going in the future of this league."
How the All-Star game will look in the future remains an open question. The debate rages on.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.