The LA Galaxy striker better known as Chicharito would like to get away from the us-against-them storyline and instead embrace both Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX.
“We need to take the best out of each league,” he said. “We need to take the best out of things and not stay in this narrative of heroes and guilty persons, and white and black, and etcetera. We need to be more positive and to have that narrative.”
While other sports leagues in the United States pit their own all-stars against each other, Major League Soccer’s top players will face their counterparts from Liga MX in the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
It’s the second year of the format, which aims to capitalize on Liga MX’s popularity in the United States — and draw new fans to MLS.
Liga MX matches on Spanish-language television in the United States draw more viewers than televised MLS games on average, and last year’s All-Star Game had better combined ratings (on both Spanish and English broadcasts) than the MLS Cup final.
Next year, the leagues will compete in an expanded Leagues Cup tournament. It will be the first to include all 47 clubs from MLS and Liga MX. The winner will advance directly to the CONCACAF Champions League round of 16.
While the two leagues are developing more of a partnership than a rivalry, there are also signs that MLS is catching up to its southern neighbor in quality of play.
The Seattle Sounders became the first MLS club to defeat a Liga MX team for the CONCACAF Champions League title earlier this year when they downed Pumas UNAM 5-2 on aggregate.
“I think being from Europe, and coming here 13 years ago, I’ve been on the outside and watched it, I think this is the closest that MLS has ever been to Liga MX,” said U.S. All-Star coach Adrian Heath. “I think 13 years ago when I arrived, the gap was pretty big but it’s been continually closed, and closed with the investment that the clubs have put into their clubs in the U.S.”
The game also provides a chance to see some players who could play at the World Cup in Qatar later this year. On the Liga MX side, Cruz Azul’s Uriel Antuna and Guadalajara’s Alexis Vega are both likely to be included on Mexico’s roster.
MLS players including Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman and Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira could make the U.S. squad.
And there’s some crossover, too. The Galaxy’s Julian Araujo is an MLS All-Star who could play for Mexico in Qatar.
But just because there’s ever-growing connections between the two leagues, the MLS All-Star Game isn’t necessarily going to be an exhibition.
“It’s a competitive atmosphere,” Zimmerman said. “The game is not something that you see in a typical All-Star game, whether that’s the NBA or baseball, this is very competitive.”