What does it mean? What does it not mean?

After every All-Star Game we ask ourselves this. But we pose this question with more urgency whenever it happens to concern another edition of the MLS All-Star Game. Especially since the format of inviting some elite European team in its preseason preparations as opponents was adopted.


Perhaps that’s a function of MLS’s relative youth as a league and its aspirational nature as it strives to become one of the world’s best leagues. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to test its progress.

Yet this isn’t it one of them either, even if this year’s opponent, Real Madrid, has won the UEFA Champions League three times in the last four years. Real may have drawn 61,000 to Soldier Field in Chicago on Wednesday, in spite of the teeming rain, but the game did not make for a referendum on MLS.

At its base, this was a game between a team that’s still somewhat early in its preseason and another that’s never played together before. Such an affair will teach you nothing.

In another way, the All-Star Game is an exhibition and a show of how far MLS has come. Not in the action on the field, but in the ability to assemble star power and produce an event. That much it did, even if the 1-1 tie wasn’t much of a soccer game, followed by a penalty shootout comfortably won by Real, 4-2.

There was some unattractive stuff. Errant passes. Acres of vacant space. An early shoulder injury to Greg Garza. The inexplicable and infamous P-chant from fans on goal kicks. Audible booing.

And there was a lot of non-excellent soccer.

The pace of this game as approached a slow crawl, gone back down to zombie walk and included a few David Villa sprints. #MLSAllStar

— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) August 3, 2017

that thru ball to the end line killed my soul

— Pablo Maurer (@MLSist) August 3, 2017

And the All-Stars were spared a few credible penalties in the opening half hour alone.

Still scoreless in the #MLSAllStar Game, but should Real Madrid been given a penalty for this tackle? https://t.co/DElKEV1pnF

— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2017

Tim Howard and Keylor Navas both made good saves to keep it scoreless at halftime.

@TimHowardGK #MLSAllStar #FOXFieldPass pic.twitter.com/mQpmtGMEHz

— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2017

David Villa had the best chance of the half, but Keylor Navas comes up big for the European Champions. #MLSAllStar https://t.co/HbYmINjMnK

— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2017

But that it took so long for Real to break through, overrunning the All-Stars with a lineup that was hardly its best, was largely due to its inability to put speculative long shots on target. The European champions took 19 shots in the first half alone but seldom tested Howard.

The second half, ravaged by substitutions, was even sloppier than the first.

Before the hour, Borja Mayoral put Real ahead. He slipped through the disjointed All-Star back line and deftly deposited his finish behind Stefan Frei.

Real Madrid take the lead thanks to the youngster, Borja Mayoral! #MLSAllStar https://t.co/PTg1Bjt1Rs

— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2017

But the All-Stars dragged out an equalizer. In the 86th minute, Diego Valeri picked out Dax McCarty from a corner. The little midfielder clipped his header off the post. But it fell kindly for Dom Dwyer on a bounce, who nodded home.

We’re all tied up!

Dom Dwyer flies through to put away the rebound and equalize for the MLS All-Stars. #MLSAllStar https://t.co/NgxE5Yi5HS

— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2017

Tied at the final whistle, the game went straight to penalties. Dwyer’s effort was saved by Luca Zidane, son of club legend and manager Zinedine, and Giovani Dos Santos put his off the crossbar for the All-Stars. Since Real didn’t miss any of theirs, they won.

The outcome mattered little, one way or the other. What mattered is that MLS had taken the opportunity to entertain and drum up interest in its league. It probably did those things, with a game that was mostly fun in spite of being fairly bad. [/restrict]