MLS aiming to move beyond All-Star struggles
CHESTER, Pa. -- Like most of its mid-season counterparts, the MLS All-Star Game is an exhibition featuring an assortment of star players and an awkward balance between competition and self-preservation.
Yet, unlike most sports, the young MLS finds itself on a constant proving ground to the rest of the world. So when the 2012 MLS All-Stars take on English Premier League and European club champion Chelsea FC on Wednesday at PPL Park, it’s more than just another game.
“Soccer people understand what’s going on,” said MLS and Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “We’re trying to gel as quick as possible. We’re all competitive people and we know the box score is going to go around the world. People are going to see the score line. We’re all in this to build Major League Soccer and soccer in this country and in order to do that, we need to get some results and put on a good performance.”
Lately, looking good in the box score hasn’t been the case for the MLS. In the past two events, 2010 and 2011, the MLS lost, 5-2 and 4-0, to Manchester United. The league tied Everton in 2009 and defeated West Ham in 2008, 3-2. Overall, the record hasn’t been good lately and the All-Stars know that.
“Those scorelines don’t help us,” said Beckerman, who will play beside Union midfielder Michael Farfan and Union defender Carlos Valdes. “We’re going to try and do better this game on Wednesday and put on a good performance.”
However, that’s easier said than done. Despite featuring such legendary talents as Thierry Henry, David Beckham and Landon Donovan, along with superior scorers Chris Wondolowski and Dwayne De Rosario, the All-Stars are the underdog against a Chelsea team with a chance to make a statement during its pre-season.
“[All-Star manager Ben Olsen] is a winner and I know he’s going to go into this game wanting to win,” said MLS and Seattle Sounders striker Eddie Johnson. “We’re pumped up for the game, the training has been good. We’re looking forward to it.”
Winners of the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, Chelsea, which lost to the All-Stars, 1-0, in 2006, features some of the biggest names in English soccer -- players like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech and Michael Essien, just to name a few.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity and experience,” said MLS striker Eddie Johnson, formerly of Fulham in the EPL. “Not many people in the world get to play against Chelsea. You can’t go and scout those guys, we all know what they are capable of doing as a team. They have proven they are the best team in Europe. They have world class players. For us, we have a lot of good players who have a ton of experience and lighting up the league. Thierry Henry was my idol growing up, Landon Donovan, Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Wondolowski, these guys are having unbelievable seasons.”
Chelsea will likely be without big-name striker Fernando Torres, leaving a vacant spot on the club’s front line. Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo could rely on Romelu Lukaku to step into that role or shift wingers Eden Hazard or Marko Marin into the mix. Either way, the visitors are tinkering and that’s to the All-Star’s advantage.
“When you get these kind of players to put on the roster sheet, that’s the best part,” said assistant All-Star coach and Union coach John Hackworth. “You have incredibly tough choices as a coach. We’re playing Chelsea and they are one of the best teams in the world. It’ll be tough no matter what.”E-mail Ryan Bright at RyanBright13@gmail.com