Wednesday, Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium hosted the MLS All Star game, pitting the league’s best against Italian super-squad, Juventus. The match was a resounding success, drawing over 72,000 fans, including prominent figures like MLS commissioner Don Garber, Atlanta United FC owner Arthur Blank, and musical star Waka Flocka Flame. The game closed out a week of events showcasing the state of MLS.
In addition to this tremendous finale, news leaked that the host for 2019’s All Star game would be Atlanta rival, Orlando City SC. This will be Orlando’s second time serving as host, last doing so in 1998.
It’s no secret that MLS is going through a period of tremendous growth; they’ve welcomed more than a dozen new teams in the past decade. Along with this, MLS has stressed installing soccer specific stadiums (SSS) in each city that a team is located. Given the value MLS places on these two factors (expansion & SSS), I decided to compare them alongside the location of where the All Star game has been held since its conception. The results are telling and reveal hints on where we can expect the game to be hosted in the near future. Take a look.
Here are the important takeaways:
- United States cities are priority
With all due respect to Canada, MLS is generally perceived as an American-only sports league. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. There have been 23 All Star games in total, and Toronto is the only Canadian city to host the game (2007). I’d bet the primary reason for Toronto’s selection was based on the city being the largest in Canada, and the 7th largest in all of North America.
MLS is also going to have to deal with the newest North American soccer league, The Canadian Premier League, in the near future. Similar to Liga MX, the leagues could very well be on friendly terms. However, they are still a business rival that MLS should wisely ignore for now – they’ve got their own growth to focus on. Considering my number 2 and 3 takeaways as well, I doubt we see an All Star game in Montreal or Vancouver soon given their snubs to this point.
- Expansion clubs get preferential treatment
Since 2009, every American expansion side (post-2006) has received the right to host an All Star game except four: Seattle, New York (NYCFC), Los Angeles (LAFC), and Minnesota. I’ll talk about Seattle and New York in a bit. But I’ll note now that Minnesota launched just last year, and this is LAFC’s first year of existence, so they simply haven’t had the opportunity to host yet.
As MLS continues to grow, they’re clearly showing a commitment to spotlight the newest (and arguably most impressive) environments the league has to offer. It’s only fair, since the league launched, multiple originals have had the opportunity (some more than once) to host. With plans for seven clubs to join the league between 2015-2020, we shouldn’t expect a return to familiar territory soon.
- (New) Soccer specific stadiums are key
This is the kicker. Since 2003 there have been 13 soccer specific stadiums built for MLS teams in the United States. Of those 13, 11 have been awarded All Star games within four years of their completion.
I mentioned Seattle Sounders FC and New York City FC – although expansion teams launched within the last 10 years – have yet to have the opportunity to host an All Star game. The reason for this is most certainly that neither plays in a soccer specific stadium. Seattle is secondary tenant to an NFL team, while New York plays in Yankee Stadium. What we can ascertain from this is that the team isn’t important, the venue is.
Atlanta has been a major exception to this rule. But, many argue Mercedes Benz Stadium feels like it was built more for Atlanta United FC than the Falcons. Simply put, it excudes a soccer aura just as much as any soccer specific stadium. Their incredible fan support also vaulted them to the front of the line.
To win an All Star hosting bid, you basically need to be at least two things: (1) American, (2) a recent expansion team, and/or (3) in a new soccer specific stadium. Knowing these details, here is my list on who you can expect to be the front runner for the event each year until 2025:
2019: Orlando City SC (announced)
2020: Los Angeles FC
2021: Minnesota United FC
2022: Nashville SC
2023: FC Cincinnati
2025: DC United
Do you have your own predictions for which cities could host the All Star game in the coming years? Let me know in the comments below!