Wednesday night at PPL park in Pennsylvania two somewhat familiar foes square off in a soccer match that means plenty to one side and very little to the other.
For Chelsea FC, the reigning European club champions, this match is another exhibition game en route to their upcoming English Premier League and Champions League campaigns. It will be considered a good test for their roster but they have very little to lose going into the match. On the other end of the pitch are the MLS All-Stars – a team comprised of the best players from the top division of North American soccer. They are a team that have never played together before, yet are expected to compete with one of the best sides in world soccer, something they have failed to do in their past two outings.
The last and only time these two sides have met was in 2006. Chelsea were the reigning Premier League champions and were a promising and exciting side, as they continue to be today. Their roster for the 2006 MLS All-Star game contained plenty of international stars: John Terry, Micheal Ballack, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben to name a few.
The match turned out to be fairly competitive and saw plenty of chances both ways. Chelsea came very close on two occasions, the first ruled offside against Drogba and the second cleared off the line by Eddie Robinson, a defender for the Houston Dynamo who has since retired. The only goal of the game would come early in the 70th minute. Another Houston Dynamo player (currently with DC United), Dwayne De Rosario, collected the ball at the top of the box, juggled it once and then finished from just inside the box. The 1-0 result was huge for MLS, a league that was on the verge of realizing the success it has today.
The All-Star showdown with the best teams in Europe is somewhat of a new phenomenon for Major League Soccer. The 2005 MLS all star game was the first time that they met European opposition, formerly playing East vs West, US MLS players vs International MLS players and friendlies against the American national team and CD Guadalajara of Mexico. The first MLS All-Star game with a European squad was played against English Premier League side Fulham and saw the MLS All-Star triumph 4-1 led by MLS legend Jeff Cunningham, who currently plays for Comunicaciones in Guatamala and scored a brace in that match. Since then and including that very match the MLS All-Stars have a record of 4-3 and have tied their European opposition 13-13 in scoring. If not for back to back losses (5-2 and 4-0) to Manchester United in the last two MLS All-Star games these numbers would have been even better.
So the questions we need to ask are should the MLS continue to play their All-Star games against the best of Europe, and if not, should they even play an All-Star game at all?
There are plenty of reasons for playing an All-Star game. There is the fact that it is different then anything that any other league in the world does. It is unique while at the same time attracting decent crowds, including 70,000 in Houston to watch Manchester United a couple of years ago.
On the other side of things it is a risk for the injury of some of the league’s best players, although multiple substitutions have decreased this risk in recent years. Plus, there is the fact that no other leagues in the world that have an All-Star game and therefore, MLS opens itself up for unjust mockery. Finally, if the All-Star team loses big, as it did the past two years to Manchester United, it doesn’t look particularly good to the outside sporting world.
And what about their opponents – should these games continue to be played against elite European opposition? That is probably the only way that the MLS All-Star game could be considered worthwhile. The East versus West All-Star game has been played out by other leagues and for that very reason some sports have turned away from that matchup, as MLS started to do in the early 2000s. But does the fact that MLS teams, not All-Star teams but regular league teams, play exhibition games against the same clubs that the MLS All-Stars face make the All-Star game somewhat pointless?
Other then one match that drew 70,000, the attendance for All-Star games has not been much more then 20,000. The regular MLS clubs who play these teams draw very similar crowds and often the results are not that different, although the opposition do usually play more of their elite talents against the All-Stars. So why risk the embarrassment of having the best players in your league lose in a penalty shootout to an Everton team in pre-season form?
The game itself should be very interesting. The narrative presented by American media going into the game is that Chelsea, the European Champions (which is always mentioned of course), are looking for revenge against a MLS All-Star team that defeated them in 2006. While it is improbable that Chelsea is even worried about the result of this game it will become quickly apparent during the match, or even before the match, when they announce their roster. Another more comical MLS tagline: “Can Chelsea shut down Dwayne De Rosario 6 years later?”. Sure Chelsea can stop Messi, Iniesta and Xavi – all at the same time – but can they stop the reigning MLS leading scorer? Do any of them even remember who De Ro is?
Besides De Rosario the MLS All-Star team have plenty of other players with quality. David Beckham has become an annual selection for the All-Star game and has earned it this time around. His 6 goals are the best he has ever recorded in MLS. Beckham’s LA Galaxy teammate, Landon Donovan, will once again join the team and has been considered for years to be the best the league has to offer. American Chris Wondolowski (try saying that ten times fast) has been the best goalscorer in the league for years now and is once again having a tremendous season with the San Jose Earthquakes. Meanwhile, New York Red Bulls striker, Thierry Henry, has continued to do what he has done his entire career – score goals. The Frenchman will be expected to do just that against a team from the league in which he spent his glory days.
So what are your thoughts regarding the MLS All-Star Game? Leave comments below.
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