West Ham United is coming to BMO Field. The press release from Toronto FC has started to circulate around the Internet, making what was suspected for quite a while now official. The London based club, who currently sit 10th in the Barclays Premier League, will take on Major League Soccer's best in the annual All Star Game on July 24th.
There are going to be many questions raised over the next few weeks, as to why West Ham is being brought in. Many fans expected a big name club to be featured, with Chelsea and Celtic being the previous two opponents of the Major League Soccer's best, which is a primary reason for the widespread disappointment. West Ham is a massive step down from the rumoured opponents that were being thrown around early in the off-season, with Liverpool having been made front runners, along with other top European club teams. Fans were looking forward to seeing Steven Gerrard, Franck Ribéry, or Ruud Van Nistelrooy at BMO Field this summer; however they will be watching the likes of Craig Bellamy, Dean Ashton and Fredrik Ljungberg. Still quality players, yes, but nowhere near the quality of those names previously mentioned. West Ham simply does not have the "wow factor" that is associated with other European teams, and that is what has fans disappointed.
You really only have to look at the official press release to see that there were very few positives to write about, with the 4th paragraph saying this "West Ham United features one of soccer’s most recognizable jerseys, with the claret body and sky blue sleeves." Wow, jerseys, nice. Is that going to be one of the major selling points? I guess they had run out of good things to write about, and it was only the 4th paragraph.
One interesting point to look at is this. How can an expansion side, Toronto FC, take on Aston Villa and Benfica in friendlies, yet the league cannot schedule a match with an opponent for the All Stars that is considered better than either Benfica or Aston Villa? This is supposed to be a showcase for the growth and quality of this league, yet it seems to be a step backwards to me. I think we can all agree that Benfica is a more well known team than West Ham, with a larger global fan base, and that Aston Villa are of the same quality or even better than the Hammers.
So why is it West Ham? The league is not trying to purposely screw us over, which means that there are reasons for the choice. Here are a couple problems that may have factored into the lack of quality teams knocking on Major League Soccer's door.
- The turf at BMO Field
The last two venues (Toyota Park and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park) to host the All Star Game have featured natural grass pitches. These were also the two venues that brought in arguably the best opposition in Celtic and Chelsea. Almost everyone has complained about the poor quality of the artificial turf at BMO Field, and it could have easily scared away many top teams from risking their player’s health in a meaningless cash grab.
- Euro 2008
The tournament that will crown Europe's best team, which takes place from June 7th to June 29th, may have played a factor in scaring away better teams. The tournament will only have finished around a month before the All Star Game, and we all know how serious teams have become when it comes to resting their top players for the upcoming season. West Ham can only lay claim to one player, Freddie Ljungberg, who will be playing in the tournament this summer. Luis Boa Morte could also be gone, playing for Portugal, but he is not as sure a bet as Ljungberg. The rest of the squad is, well, pretty much English, which should be no problem, considering the fact that England will be watching the tournament from home this year. Other top club teams with rosters that feature some of Europe’s best players, may have labeled the trip to Toronto as too much of a risk and hassle to deal with.
Who knows if either of those two issues did indeed play a factor in West Ham being named the opponent for the 2008 MLS All Star Game? This is all just speculation from someone who does not have any inside knowledge of the decision making. However both seem like valid reasons why a more prestigious team was not chosen. Maybe we will never know why, but if Don Garber or anyone from MLSE says West Ham was always are first choice, well maybe they were the best option.
Overall, it is hard to not be disappointed with this news. Very few people were sitting in their homes, praying that West Ham would be named the opponent for the 2008 All Star team. However no one can deny the fact that we will still see a very good game, and in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?