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The MidSummer Classic – The Long History of Soccer All-Star Matches in the United States


All-Star Games are as All-American as Chevrolet, mom, and apple pie. The most famous and storied All-Star Game in the US is, of course, the one belonging to Major League Baseball, which was first played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933. The NBA’s All-Star Game, which, like the MLB version, is a midseason game, runs a distant second, while the NFL Pro-Bowl, is an all but ignored after thought that could disappear and no would really notice, especially since it takes place after the Super Bowl and serves more as a hangover then as one last taste of gridiron until August.

The MLS jumped on the all-star bandwagon early in 1996, initially following the typical American model of pitting the best of one conference against the best of the other conference. In 2002 and 2003, the MLS toyed with the concept of pitting a unified All-Star squad against a visiting clause, returned to the conference versus conference format, but in 2005 returned to a format featuring an All-Star team playing a visiting foreign team. This summer, an MLS All-Star squad will take on a yet to be named visiting team at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah this July.

My impression from informal conversations with soccer fans here in the US is that they either love or hate that the MLS All-Star Game now consists of one MLS Squad taking on a foreign team; there is not much of a middle ground. What most fans don’t seem to know is that there is a long tradition in U.S. soccer of fielding all-star teams against visiting travelling teams, as well as American club teams playing these travelling teams. Additionally, a little known fact, is that U.S. all-star teams and some club teams did some international traveling of their own.

Here’s a breakdown of early All-Star matches involving U.S. soccer:

1909 – The Pilgrims from England toured the U.S. and played all-star teams representing New York, Baltimore, Pennsylvania League, and the New York Amateur League, as well as several club teams. The Pilgrims were essentially an all-start team from England with players from clubs such as West Ham United, Arsenal, Sheffield United, Queens Park, Rotherham Town F.C., Fulham, and Falkirk F.C., among others.

1911 – The famed Corinthians F.C. played all-star teams from Chicago and New York, as well as Toronto and Ontario, as well as several club teams.

1916 – The U.S. Football Association’s All-American Soccer Football Club toured Sweden and Norway.

1919 – Not so much an all-star team, but Bethlehem Steel toured Sweden and Denmark – with a record of 6 wins, 6 draws, and 2 losses.

1920 – The St. Louis Soccer Club, made up of players from St. Louis, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York, toured Scandinavia – with a record of 7 wins, 5 draws, and 2 losses.

1921 – The All-Scots of Scotland played several club teams in the U.S.

1924 – The Corinthians returned to play several Philadelphia clubs and a Brooklyn club.

1926 – This year saw both the Hakoah All-Stars of Vienna and Sparta F.C. play U.S. all-star teams and club teams. Additionally, Worcester, Mass. played some travel games in England and Germany.

1927 – Featured the return of the Hakoah All-Stars of Vienna to the American shores, as well as matches by Maccabi F.C., Real Madrid, National of Uruguay, and Worcestershire of England. Meanwhile, New York’s Viking F.C. travelled to Norway and Sweden.

1928 – Palestra Italia F.C. and Glasgow Rangers F.C. traveled to the U.S. to play all-star and club teams. Palestra was a bit of an all-star team, made of players from Bologna, Brescia, Genoa, Milan, Padoga, Rome, and Turin.

1929 – Preston North End, which was in the English 2nd Division at the time, and Sabaria from Budapest both traveled to the U.S., while Worcester toured in England.

1930 – Argentina’s Sportivo F.C. played the Hakoah All-Stars before a crowd of 5,000 at the Polo Grounds in New York, with the American side winning the match 1-0. Meanwhile Hungaria F.C. (M.T.K.) , Marte F.C. from Mexico City, Kilmarnock F.C., Worcestershire of England, and Scotland’s Rangers all toured and played against all-star teams and club teams. Meanwhile the ASL’s Fall River Marksmen toured Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary; the ASL’s Hakoah All-Stars toured Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay; and Germania Milwaukee toured Germany.

So, even before World War II, a soccer all-star tradition had been established in the United States. Not only did the land of plenty create a military force that helped defeat the Axis during World War II, but the post-war prosperity in the US resulted in an increase of European clubs spending their summers “across the pond.” Food rationing existed in much of Europe for years following The War, but as Liverpool discovered in 1946, there was no food rationing in the United States, and the U.S. became a summer destination for squads looking to bulk up their players.

In their 1946 tour, Liverpool played the New York Stars, Baltimore Stars, American League Stars, New England Stars, Philadelphia Stars, St. Louis Stars, Chicago Stars, and Kearny Stars. Puentes Grandes of Cuba also visited the U.S. that year, playing All-Star teams in New Jersey, Pittsburgh, New England, and Philadelphia.

Since 1946 the following teams have visited the United States and have played various all-star teams: Hapoel F.C. (Tel-Aviv, Palestine), Liverpool, Djurgarden F.C. (Stockholm), Slovan Bratislava, Atlante, Belfast Celtic, Kamaraterna (Sweden), Inter Milan, Scottish National Team, Manchester United, Hamburg S.C., Besiktas F.C., Atlas F.C., Jonkopping F.C. (Sweden), English FA XII, A.I.K. (Stockholm), Eintracht Frankfurt, Fulham, Glasgow Celtic, All-England, Stuttgart Kickers, Tottenham Hotspurs, Nuernberg F.C., Rapid City F.C. (Austria), Borussia F.C., Chelsea, Fortuna F.C. (Germany), Glasgow Rangers, Plymouth Argyle, Wacker (Austria), Rot-Weiss (Germany), Olaria (Brazil), Occidente S.C. of Guadalajara, Sunderland F.C., Grasshoppers (Switzerland), Sochaux (France), Police Stars (West Germany), Schwaben Augsberg, Everton, Aberdeen, F.C. Austria, Kaiserlautern (West Germany), Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel), Manchester City, Hearts of Midlothian (Scotland), Kickers Offenbach, Blackpool, Napoli, Palermo, Helsinborgs (Sweden), Legia Warsaw, Vasco de Gama, Dundee, Petah Tikva (Isreal), 1st Saarbruecken, A.S.V. Nuernberg, F.C. Schalke 04, Wolverhampton, AGF (Denmark), SV Hamburg, Meidrich (Germany), Ronsdorf (Germany), etc.

I could go beyond that list, and trust me that list really only covers into 1965, but that would be beating a dead horse. So, my point is that there is a long a storied history of US All-Star soccer clubs playing visiting foreign clubs. So, instead of complaining about the MLS Mid-Summer Classic, might I suggest you embrace it, and enjoy it as part of the beautiful game’s tradition in the United States?

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  1. alit zimerman

    April 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    i’m looking for tapes/pictures of all-stars – hapoel tel aviv 1947 games.
    I will appricitate any lead.
    my e-m:

    thank you,

    alit zimerman

  2. PZ

    April 26, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    While the teams were called, “All-Stars” they really are no different than many of the London XI or Whatever XI you see many teams who toured the UK during the same period played. Then again, I guess that’s what the MLS All-Star game has evolved into. The big difference is, back then seeing those teams on a tour was your only chance to see them. Now, Chelsea, Milan, Barca et al are on TV every week. It’s just another chance of the MLS/SUM Marketing Arm to flex them muscles and one more ‘event’ for them to sell to their sponsors. Unfortunately, the recent attendance numbers for the All-Star games have been good so, expect more of the same. If only we could return to the days of the All-Star game in SD…I was at that one…my buddy and I had a whole section of the Q to ourselves. Left a few minutes into the headline act–some Mexican team against….someone else. Anyway, I’m in agreement with Harry above. I’ve maintained that elimiating the All-Star game would open a FIFA date…or, use it for the round that MLS teams enter the Open Cup. Just a thought. 🙂

  3. LI Matt

    April 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    stupid Shift key….

  4. LI Matt

    April 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    1926 – the Hakoah All-Stars of Vienna

    Two points about this tour:

    1. their game in New York’s Polo Grounds drew a crowd of 46,000 — a record attendance for a soccer game in the Us that stood until Pele arrived 50 years later.

    2. several Hakoah players were offered contracts by ASL teams and, attracted by the (relative) absence of anti-Semitism, accepted them and stayed here. The “New York Hakoah All-Stars” won the U.S. open Cup in 1929.

  5. Lars

    April 25, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I hope you guys talk about how Columbus’ attendance is up after the end of the Blue Jackets run. Interesting how soccer and hockey are so connected in North America isn’t it?

  6. Harry Vanmunster

    April 25, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    How about getting rid of the all-star game, which would create an opening that could be used to shut down the league for international USMNT games. The all-star game is meaningless.

  7. Lars

    April 25, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    The MLS All Star game or Classic (whichever you prefer) is a good one to watch. It is the only All Star game in North America that matters because you’re watching the stars of this league perform for their reputation but also for a chance to be seen by European coaches and clubs. In return, the foreign team is usually in their preseason and evaluating their own players. They may not field the best team, but every player is going to be working hard and is good enough to be considered to play for a European major. You get good futbol.

    The NHL’s all star game, by contrast, is a joke and you’ve seen it decline in importance since the 80s when players took it seriously. That’s why the Winter Classic (a game that means something) has taken more importance.

    In addition, the NBA, NFL and MLB have tired all star formats that many people could care less about.

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