How did Atlanta United land at least six players on the MLS All-Star game roster for this summer’s clash with Juventus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
The team’s supporters worked. That’s how.
The results of the All-Star Fan XI voting were first published on ajc.com on Monday. Atlanta United, which leads the league in attendance and points, finished with a league-record six players as leaders.
The MLS All-Star game has gone through many iterations before landing on the fans voting on the 11 players who will be a part of the 24-man roster.
The game, which includes days of soccer, music and fan activities, wasn’t as glitzy in 2005 when Atlanta United’s Michael Parkhurst played in his first as it is now. Parkhurst, who played against Real Madrid last year in Chicago, was one of the six Five Stripes players honored on Monday.
“It’s more eyeballs,” he said. “It’s more excitement. There are cool things to do in the days leading up to the game. You get shuttled around here, there and everywhere. You get to meet the best players in the league and talk to them a little bit off the field. That’s cool, as well.”
From 1996-2002, the game was similar to other pro sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada with an East vs. West format. It also tried a game featuring U.S. players in MLS vs. the rest of the world’s players in MLS in 1998.
The league then set up the MLS All-Stars vs. Mexican powerhouse Chivas in 2003. Carlos Bocanegra, who is now Atlanta United’s technical director, was in the starting 11 for MLS. The league tried to set up the All-Stars against Real Madrid in 2004, but that deal didn’t work out, so the game was again East vs. West.
In 2005, Bocanegra was in the Fulham lineup for the game against the All-Stars. It was the last All-Star game in which the fans were able to pick the starting 11.
The game soon started to transition into a bigger spectacle with a new format.
The league switched to the fans picking 11 players who will be part of the roster for the 2006 game because the All-Stars were facing Premier League powerhouse Chelsea and the league wanted to ensure a balanced roster and competitive game.
“The game itself is always an awesome opportunity,” Parkhurst said. “The teams they bring in now are much better than the first couple of games when we played Fulham and Celtic. They are good teams but not the the world-beaters like we play now.
The worst thing about the All-Star game is having to play defense. Put seven attackers on the field, maybe eight, and two defenders and a goalie. Hopefully, we can hold them at bay.”
It’s not unusual in professional sports for a team to dominate spots on All-Star roster.
In Major League Baseball, four of nine American League slots were filled by Red Sox players and five of eight National League slots featured Cubs in 2016. In 2015, four of nine starters were Royals. In 2011, four of nine were Yankees. In the NHL, five of six players voted into the game were Blackhawks.
That format has remained with the All-Stars playing:
2007: MLS 2, Celtic FC 0 in Commerce City, Colo.
2008: MLS 3, West Ham United FC 2 in Toronto.
2009: MLS 1, Everton FC 1 (Everton 4-3 pen) in (Sandy, Utah.
2010: Manchester United FC 5, MLS 2 in Houston.
2011: Manchester United FC 4, MLS 0 in Harrison, N.J.
2012: MLS 3, Chelsea FC 2 in Chester, Pa.
2013: AS Roma 3, MLS 1 in Kansas City, Kan.
2014: MLS 2, Bayern Munich 1 in Portland, Ore.
2015: MLS 2, Tottenham Hotspur 1 in Commerce City, Colo.
2016: Arsenal 2, MLS 1 in San Jose, Calif.
2017: MLS 1, Real Madrid 1 (Real Madrid 2-4 pen) in Chicago.