Football in the United States has become “more ubiquitous,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Thursday.
“And I think it’s a very positive development for our league and for the sport,” he continued. “In the end, we all have a soft spot for DC, for all the history it has had and the success it has had for a generation.”
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And so on Thursday, the MLS went back to its roots, announcing that the All-Star Game 2023 will take place at Audi Field, DC United’s four-year theater. The date is July 19.
The league has not decided whether to keep the current format – select MLS players facing Liga MX counterparts, the Mexican first division – to return to MLS against a famous club or something completely different.
The last time the All-Star Game was held in Washington was in 2004. The MLS Cup was last played here in 2007, before the league started awarding the game to the finalist with the head of highest series. As United have struggled to keep up since winning four titles in the first nine seasons of the league, hosting the game for the title these days is pure fantasy.
The US women’s national team has never played at Audi Field, although the teams almost reached an agreement last spring. The men stopped for two low-key matches in 2019. And in the biggest setback, FIFA mocked FedEx Field as a potential 2026 World Cup venue, so last week they ignored the joint offer of the DC with Baltimore.
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The MLS All-Star Game is not a World Cup, but it is something. The city hasn’t hosted an All-Star Game of any kind since Major League Baseball in 2018 at Nationals Park.
“I’m looking forward to the All-Star Game, All-Star Week and everything we can do together to promote sport, showcase our city, excite and engage more people,” said the mayor. Muriel E. Bowser (D) in a speech at Audi Field. “There is a real economic benefit, but there is also just the benefit of happiness and pride, and we are proud to welcome the All-Star Game to Washington, DC.”
The MLS chose Washington not out of nostalgia, but because the league has made a habit of rewarding cities that build football stadiums. This year’s game is in St. Paul, Minnesota, which opened Allianz Field in 2019, and last year’s in Los Angeles, home to Banc of California Stadium, which debuted in 2018.
Thursday’s ceremony unearthed some of the biggest names in United and MLS history. Sitting in the front row were Jaime Moreno, Alecko Eskandarian, Ryan Nelsen and Ben Olsen, members of United’s last team in the MLS Cup in 2004.
“Give us six weeks to get ready and we’ll be out there in uniform,” Eskandarian said, drawing laughter from his former teammates.
He and Olsen, the former DC midfielder and coach, said they would like to see a legends game as part of the all-star celebrations. Eskandarian, MLS Senior Director for Player Relations and Player Development, said he’s pushing for it. Such a match would accompany a skill competition and community events surrounding the match.
Moreno, who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame last year, said it’s been so long since an All-Star Game or MLS Cup was played in Washington: “I completely forgot we had [the all-stars] here ”in 2002 and 2004.“ It’s great for the fans. It means a lot to the city. So the time has come.
Moreno said such events are important for increasing interest in football beyond the weekly routine of the men’s and women’s professional leagues. While Washington Spirit won the NWSL trophy last season, United have failed to win a playoff game since 2015 and this season are in last place in points among the 28 teams in the MLS.
“We are big in football here,” said Moreno, a Bolivian native who has settled in Northern Virginia. “DC United aren’t doing very well, but fans still love the game. They believe in the team and they believe in sport “.
Garber said the league is keen to highlight the roots of Washington’s Audi Field and MLS dating back to 1996.
“DC United was really the first domestic MLS brand, where you didn’t have to live in this city to be a DC United fan due to their early success,” Garber said. “It was truly the epicenter of football in America, particularly during the early days of Major League Soccer.”