Alexi Lalas is always armed with a quip. During an interview Tuesday, he had one ready when he was asked about the significance of the game Wednesday between the MLS All-Stars and Spanish superpower Real Madrid.
“This will dictate the success of this league for the next 20 years to come,” Lalas said, somehow keeping a straight face. “This result will be something that will be talked about and discussed and dissected for the next 20 years as to how relevant we are, not just as a soccer-playing nation but as a nation.”
Of course, the question of significance always comes up when a club from MLS or a team of its All-Stars steps up in class to face foreign competition. And there’s no better competition than Real Madrid, which was without superstar Cristiano Ronaldo but couldn’t put the All-Stars away in a 1-1 tie after 90 minutes before winning the penalty shootout 4-2. Borja Mayoral scored in the 59th minute for Real Madrid, and MLS’ Dom Dwyer answered in the 87th to send the game to the shootout in front of a sell-out crowd of 61,428.
Real Madrid stars Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Marcelo didn’t start but entered in the 61st minute.
“It was a fun night,” said Dwyer, who plays for Orlando City. “Obviously, I was very excited to get a goal. Just a real pleasure to be here.”
Real Madrid, short-handed or not, is one of the most powerful teams on the globe and not a hastily assembled side like the MLS team. Lalas pointed out how the comparisons always happen with these soccer spectacles, but the events really don’t indicate much of anything one way or another about where MLS is competitively.
“Everyone’s going to attach significance or non-significance to the result,” said Lalas, an analyst for Fox who made 96 appearances for the U.S. national team. “It’s simply an opportunity to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and to show people where we’re going. And then when it comes to the opponent, you’re playing one of the biggest teams in the world and an incredible brand, so it’s just a fun day out.”
Whether or not the game signified much, MLS is making some progress on and off the field.
The league and Adidas announced a six-year extension of their apparel deal through 2024, an agreement worth a reported $700 million to MLS.
And on the field, MLS has shown some improvement and managed to recruit more well-known international stars. Commissioner Don Garber said one reason for that is foreign players can come to MLS and not worry about losing their national-team spots just because they play in the United States.
“It’s about having the right environments,” Garber said.
The environment for this game included a downpour at kickoff and featured the obligatory soccer fanfest outside Soldier Field. The fans were treated to a flyover after the national anthem, the kind of glitzy show American sports do best.
Fire midfielder and MLS captain Bastian Schweinsteiger wasn’t ready to make any declarations based on Wednesday.
“It’s not easy to compare,” he said.
Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.