MLS, Liga MX will square off in 2020 All-Star game in Los Angeles

Liga MX executive president Enrique Bonilla (left) and MLS commissioner Don Garber announced Wednesday that the 2020 MLS All-Star game would feature the top players from North America's two best leagues. (Kelvin Kuo/USA Today)

The partnership between Major League Soccer and Liga MX keeps growing. Following the successful launch of the Campeones Cup and Leagues Cup competitions over the last two years, MLS and Mexico’s top division are teaming up once again, this time for the 2020 MLS All-Star Game in Los Angeles that will pit the best players from both circuits against each other next summer at Banc of California Stadium.

The match has been in the works for some time. The possibility was first mentioned by Liga MX executive president Enrique Bonilla at the 2018 MLS All-Star Game in Atlanta, and the two sides have been planning it ever since. As recently as this summer, the only question was where in L.A. would the contest be staged.

The newly renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was strongly considered, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports. With 77,500 seats, the Coliseum is more than three times larger than “The Banc” — making it attractive to organizers who expect plenty of interest in the match from the public, particularly Southern California’s huge Mexican-American population, a group that has helped make Liga MX the most popular soccer league in the United States.

But in the end, MLS decided to go with LAFC’s sparkling home ground, which opened last year to rave reviews. LAFC manager Bob Bradley will coach the home side after leading his team to the best regular season in league history in 2019.

The revamped format for next year’s midsummer classic represents a shift for MLS, which has for almost two decades invited a European club to be its All-Star opponent. (Atletico Madrid defeated a collection of MLS stars at this year’s event in late July.)

It’s not entirely unprecedented, though. Back in 2003, the league’s top players took on Chivas Guadalajara in nearby Carson, California, with the MLS side winning 3-1. The U.S. and Canadian top flight hasn’t fared quite as well in games that matter against Mexican opposition, though.

No MLS team has won the CONCACAF Champions League — a tournament Liga MX clubs dominate — and clinched the FIFA Club World Cup berth that comes with the regional title. The last MLS team to win the CONCACAF crown was the LA Galaxy, which did it in 2001 without facing a Mexican team or playing a single game outside of the city.

“We have a real focus on being competitive against the Mexican first division,” MLS commissioner Don Garber told Yahoo in an interview earlier this year. “We’re constantly trying to join forces in a wide variety of ways.”

Garber added then that the idea was for the rivalry between the leagues to “begin to mirror the rivalry that exists between the United States and Mexico national teams.”

It’s easy to understand why. Liga MX is a media juggernaut stateside, with higher U.S. television ratings than the English Premier League. MLS, which continues to struggle for relevancy nationally, is desperate to tap into that audience. Meantime, Liga MX wants to further expand its brand in the world’s richest market, where the Mexican national team routinely sells out NFL arenas for friendlies.

“For Liga MX, it will always be important to be close to our supporters in the United States,” Bonilla said Wednesday.

Add it all up, and the decision was a no-brainer. Right now the match is being presented as a one-off, a “unique and unprecedented format” to coincide with MLS’s 25th season, Garber said. But if it’s successful — and there’s no reason to think it won’t be — don’t be surprised if it becomes a staple on the North American soccer calendar.

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