Ahead of this season’s Major League Soccer All-Star match against Premier League heavyweights Arsenal, here is a preview of everything you may need to know as a Fire fan!
How Does the All-Star Game Work?
Like other popular sports in the United States, the MLS All-Star game has a similar layout and league player selection process, but the biggest difference comes in the form of the provided opposition. Here is a rundown of all the important details.
Of the 26 players rostered as league “All-Stars”, there are three different ways a player may be selected into the squad. Like the NBA, 12 of these players were selected by a combination of votes from general fans, the media, and the league’s players themselves. Another 12 players were selected by the partially pre-determined head coach of the All-Star team, with this year’s gaffer being D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney, who is a former All-Star himself. The head coach is determined by the location of the match, as each year the game is hosted in a different venue from across the league, with the game being hosted in Washington D.C. this time out.
Previously in 2017, with the game set at Soldier Field, former Fire manager Veljko Paunović led the side against Real Madrid, where the MLS All-Stars fell to the Spanish Giants 4-2 on penalties after going 1-1 in 90 minutes. Also representing the Fire in 2017 were Dax McCarty, Johan Kappelhof, Nemanja Nikolić, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who captained the team. Besides Schweinsteiger being selected again for 2019’s rendition of the All-Star game, the Fire have failed to have a player selected again until this season. The remaining two selections in the team are chosen by the serving MLS Commissioner, with Don Garber selecting the Fire’s Kei Kamara for this year’s match.
In terms of opposition, typically, a major European club is chosen to be welcomed to the United States while they are in their pre-season, but in 2021 and 2022, the MLS All-Stars faced a side comprised of Liga MX all-stars. Going back to their roots in terms of opponent selection for this year, potentially surprisingly, the Major League Soccer All-Star team actually holds an overall positive record, sitting at nine wins and seven losses. Other reputable clubs the MLS has hosted and played against are Bayern Munich (2014), Manchester United (2010 and 2011), Juventus (2018), and Atlético Madrid (2019). The All-Star match has also previously been set up in an East vs. West format, but this has not occurred again since 2004.
A day before the game itself, there is the MLS All-Star Skills Challenge, where a group of 10 players selected from the team faces off against their counterparts from their opposition in smaller competitions such as a shootout, volley challenge, crossbar challenge, and more.
The match itself is a typical 90-minute game split into two halves. However, the biggest difference is unlimited substitutions and no extra time, with a draw being followed up directly by a penalty shootout to up the excitement factor. A most-valuable player is crowned at the end of the game, with Minnesota United’s Dayne St. Clair earning the title last year.
Last season Arsenal finished in second place in the English Premier League to the dismay of many diehard fans and casual spectators alike, notably falling to that position in the latter half of the season and subsequently allowing Manchester City to become champions once again. Arsenal finished the season with 84 points with a record of 26-6-6.
Arsenal also participated in the UEFA Europa League last season after finishing in fifth place in the Premier League in the 2021-22 season, granting them automatic qualification. Arsenal ultimately fell to Portuguese side Sporting Clube de Portugal in penalties 5-3 in the round of 16.
Head coach Mikel Arteta, who has been at the helm since 2019, has made several marque signings this summer for the upcoming Premier League and UEFA Champions League campaigns, with these being English record-signing Declan Rice from West Ham United, Kai Havertz from London rival Chelsea, and the exciting youngster Jurriën Timber from AFC Ajax. All three are rostered for the match and expected to play minutes, with the likes of Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, and U.S. international Folarin Balogun also likely to feature.
The Fire’s sole representation in the All-Star team setup this time out, Kei Kamara was chosen by Commissioner Don Garber for his efforts this season chasing the second-place spot for the most MLS career goals scored, with the forward only being one away from matching Landon Donovan’s 144 tallies. Kei has five goals this season for the Fire, which is a team-high.
As Kei has featured for, *checks notes*, 10 different teams in Major League Soccer across a professional career that began in 2004, Kamara is one of the most historic players ever to grace the league. It is widely expected that the forward from Sierra Leone grabs the second spot in all-time scoring standards for himself as the Fire look to solidify a place in the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Kei Kamara has earned honors such as the 2015 MLS Works Humanitarian of the Year, the 2007 MLS Fair Play Award, and the 2015 MLS Joint Top-Scorer, but has only seen selection to the league All-Star team once before, with that being in 2015 (if you couldn’t already tell). In 2015, the All-Star team played against Tottenham Hotspur at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado, winning 2-1. Kei Kamara came on as a substitute at halftime and played the remainder of the match.
It is unknown who Wayne Rooney will field at kickoff against Arsenal, but it is entirely possible that Kei Kamara gets the start up top in celebration of his achievements this season. Either way, expect the forward to play.
All-Star games are extremely hard to predict across all sports due to the lackadaisical nature of the competition. With all MLS players expected to play and Arsenal only in their pre-season, I can only guess the score as well as the next guy.
Despite that, fellow Men in Red writer Tim Hotze enjoys it when I read the match script beforehand to our group chat and leak the score (every time I have said this, I have got it wrong), so this time out, the script says there will be a 3-2 win for the MLS All-Stars, with Kei grabbing a goal of his own.