MLS All-Stars eager to prove worth
When Major League Soccer began its format of having the MLS All-Star Game feature a foreign club against a collection of the league’s best players, MLS dominated the opposition by winning the first five such versions of the event.
Three years and defeats later, Major League Soccer’s best head into Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game against Chelsea with something to prove and a team strong enough to represent the league well.
Led by Thierry Henry, David Beckham and Landon Donovan, the 2012 MLS All-Star team is as stacked an all-star team as the league has ever put together. Credit for that goes to DC United head coach Ben Olsen, who set out to build a team that was actually constructed like a team and not just a collection of attacking players.
“You have to have some kind of balance, and that’s why guys like (Kyle) Beckerman and (Osvaldo) Alonso were key to getting on here,” Olsen said. “We wanted a guy that has some explosiveness up top in Eddie (Johnson), and some wide guys that know how to get forward.”
Olsen’s selections, which made far more sense than those made by New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe in the 2011 MLS All-Star Game, have the team feeling good about its chances heading into Wednesday’s match with a stacked Chelsea side.
“I think we’re going to be a lot more competitive this time around,” said Donovan, who was selected to his 12th MLS All-Star Game. “I think Ben did a good job because a lot of times you just get a bunch of offensive players, and even the defenders are more attack-minded defenders.
“Ben’s done a good job of putting together a real team, so I think we’re going to have a much better chance.”
The MLS All-Stars will be taking on a Chelsea side playing the third match of its USA tour. The Blues tied Paris Saint-Germain at Yankee Stadium on Sunday and will be expected to field a closer representation of their starting lineup on Wednesday night. John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole all played as second half substitutes on Sunday and are expected to feature in the starting lineup.
Wednesday’s match will be a rematch of the 2006 MLS All-Star Game, which saw MLS defeat Chelsea. There aren’t many players for either side who took part in that game, but Frank Lampard did and recalled the challenge MLS was able to present back then.
“I remember it being a very tough game, for a lot of reasons,” Lampard said of the 2006 meeting. “The MLS is stronger now and so the top players are at a higher level than they would have been when we played them before.
“Also, they’re in mid-season. They’re fit, and it’s a great chance for them to show against the European champions what they’ve got.”
Some younger names such as Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku have featured heavily in Chelsea’s early friendlies, but Roberto Di Matteo stated after the PSG match that he planned on fielding a stronger, more veteran team against the MLS All-Stars. That should mean a team that more closely resembles the squad that lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy just two months ago.
As popular as Chelsea has been during its tour of the USA, the top headliner at this summer’s MLS All-Star game will be David Beckham, who will play in the match despite his involvement with the opening ceremonies at the London Olympics. Beckham is scheduled to fly in from London to play in Wednesday’s match before returning to England to take part in more Olympic activities.
While MLS will have a fair share of marquee names such as Henry and Beckham, the match should provide a good showcase for some first-year all-stars who are enjoying standout seasons in MLS, such as Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, DC United forward Chris Pontius and San Jose fullback Steve Beitashour.
“It’s an All-Star Game at the end of the day,” Donovan said. “But I think guys take some pride in it, and it’s good to have guys who are experiencing it for the first time because they’re probably a little more excited than guys who have been there before.”
The overall quality of this year’s MLS All-Star team should help the league regain a bit of respect after consecutive blowout losses to Manchester United in the past two All-Star games. While another victory against Chelsea may prove difficult, the pieces are certainly in place to make Wednesday night an entertaining match and positive representation for Major League Soccer.