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MLS should drop All-Star Game, expand Skills Challenge

Everybody loves Teqball. Just sayin'.

Courtesy Rodrik2

Yesterday, Major League Soccer announced the format of the 2024 MLS All-Star game. On July 24, Lionel Messi and ten other MLS players will face the Liga MX Al-Stars at Field in Columbus.

Call us cynical, but it's hard to get excited about the best of MLS facing the best of Liga MX in what is essentially an exhibition game just two days before the start of the Leagues Cup, the sprawling, messy, cross-continental tournament that has all of MLS and Liga MX battling for silverware, prize money, a spot in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, and bragging rights.

Will the two All-Star sides be in it to win it? Absolutely: Any professional athlete is deeply competitive. But will they really be in it? Doubtful. It's a safe bet that most of the players who step on the grass at Field that night will simply plan to see out their minutes without getting injured.

It could have been different. Last year, after the MLS All-Stars lost an especially tedious game to Arsenal 0-5, Hudson River Blue senior editor Andrew Leigh wrote in this publication that "it's time to make the MLS All-Star Game weirder."

He proposed that MLS take inspiration from the NBA and TST, and "let Lionel Messi and another designated 'MLS Captain' hand-pick their six teammates for 7×7 squads, then have them play a game in straight TST style, with rolling substitutions, no tackling, and the same timekeeping and target scoring dynamics in place to decide things in the end." Now, that's a game worth watching.

Or, MLS could simply drop the exhibition game and expand the Skills Challenge. Last year, it included five events: The Shooting Challenge, Touch Challenge, Cross and Volley Challenge, Passing Challenge, and Crossbar Challenge. It was MLS vs Arsenal, and the Gunners carried the day.

The most entertaining event that afternoon was the Goalie Wars — you see it at the start of the video below. It was a sideshow featuring players from MLS NEXT Pro, but it was worth the price of admission to watch two keepers facing off like in a duel, and try to score on each other by throwing, kicking, or drop-kicking the ball into the each other's nets in three 90-second rounds.

Arsenal Win 2023 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge | Official Video

That kind of direct competition makes for better TV than watching players try to hit the static targets – and one roaming AT&T logo – in the Shooting Challenge. The Goalie Wars had that in-yer-face energy, only with minimal risk of injury, and it's done and dusted in just nine minutes.

Outfield players could do something similar with rounds of footvolley, soccer tennis, or even better, Teqball.

A high-octane mashup between soccer and ping pong that's played on a curved "Teq" table, Teqball was invented in Hungary in 2014. It's now a favorite in training facilities throughout the soccering world.

It can be acrobatic or finessed, with points won by power or by placement. It's fun to watch, and the MLS vs Liga MX Teqball Challenge is something we'd tune in to see. Messi is a fan, and he could lead MLS to Teqball Cup glory.

Teqball World Championships 2022 Nuremberg | Official Video

No such luck this year. While the Skills Challenge lineup hasn't been announced, it's hard to imagine that the league that just returned to the same all-star format used in 2021 and 2022 will shake things up in 2024.

Maybe next time.

But probably not.