For the players, it's a litmus test, a chance for MLS' chosen few to see where they rate in comparison to some of the world's top footballers.
"I think the fans want to see a big club; that kind of goes without saying," Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. Beckerman, selected to the 18-man game-day roster, spoke at the All-Stars' first training session, held Monday at the Eagles' NovaCare complex. "Players, it's a little bit of both; we enjoy playing a big club like Chelsea or Manchester United, but I think also doing it this way, makes the event a little bit more serious, as opposed to the East vs. West format."
The All-Stars are 6-2-1 since the switch to the MLS vs. the World format, including a 1-0 win over Chelsea in 2006 in front of 21,210 at Toyota Park, home of MLS' Chicago franchise in Bridgeview, Ill. Wins over such storied European clubs as Fulham (4-1) in 2005, Celtic (2-0) in 2007, and West Ham United (3-2) in 2008 have all been played in front of sellout crowds and on national TV. It's become a big deal to the players, but a win-win across the board for MLS.
"Along with the MLS Cup, this is the biggest production we host in this league," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a recent interview with the Daily News. "We take a lot of pride in the fact that we can get these big clubs to challenge our guys and show that MLS is a league continually growing in skill and talent, not just in the big time names we have [see Beckham, Henry and Landon Donovan], but in the American talent pool as well.
“We take just as much pride in having players like [Sporting Kansas City midfielder] Graham Zusi, [Seattle] forward Eddie Johnson and [D.C. United forward] Chris Pontius representing our league, as we do in our top international talent, as well."
This year's All-Star collective will have the tough task of beating Chelsea a second time, in addition to bucking a string of losses since coming up short in penalty kicks against Everton in 2009. The All-Stars lost twice in a row to English Premier League power Manchester United, 2-0 in 2010 in front of 70,728 at Houston's Reliant Stadium and 4-0 last year at Red Bull Arena.
"This is a big celebration for MLS, and we are definitely going to try to do our best," All-Star coach Ben Olsen said. "We are not only looking to represent the league in the right way, we are also out to get a result. Now, I don't know if there is any advantage [to playing international teams], but it certainly makes it more of a competitive match. Although everyone here and involved in this game is a professional soccer player, so it gets competitive either way, but with this [format], there is a sense of league vs. the world and that brings these guys together, and I think it's a good format."
Chelsea will be without Champions League hero Didier Drogba, who left the team in June after helping secure the club its first European Champions League title. However, Chelsea, which will be partaking in this one as part of its preseason training, is bringing plenty of star power in goalkeeper Petr Cech, midfielder Frank Lampard, forward Fernando Torres and the controversial John Terry, the club's captain and defender, who was recently acquitted on charges of racial abuse. Where ever Terry goes, trouble seems to follow (see allegations of an affair with the girlfriend of former best friend and English national team teammate Wayne Bridge), but Terry undeniably ranks among the best defenders in the world.
"We know the score line is going to go around the world," Beckerman said. "But it's tough to really call this game a test for us as players, because I am going to play with a bunch of guys I've never played with, really, and we have just a few short days to build a relationship. But we are all trying to get it together as quick as possible, because we all want to win. We're all competitors, no one wants to lose."
Odds and endlines
Ben Olsen announced at Monday's training session that midfielder-forward Dwayne DeRosario will be the All-Star captain. DeRosario, 34, making his seventh All-Star appearance plays for Olsen on D.C. United ... Carlos Valdes, the Union's lone All-Star representative spoke out on his first practice session: "Practice was very good. We didn't do too much, because of guys who played yesterday and Saturday, but it was a good experience. It's really something different, because it not liking the training I'm used to with my [Union] teammates, but it felt good, really good."
Contact Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sprtswtr.
The Daily News will cover the daily events and let fans know what to expect leading up to Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game, which pits the league's top players against Chelsea (8:30 p.m., ESPN2).
8 a.m.-6 p.m.: MLS VIP lounge, Sofitel Hotel (17th and Sansom); fan info on events happening in and around the city, ticket packages and more, located directly inside the lobby.
8 a.m.: MLS W.O.R.K.S Union Foundation Playground build, Science & Discovery High School, 1100 W. 10th St., Chester; officials from MLS will join the Union, AT&T, Chester Upland School District and organizers from the non-profit KaBOOM! to construct a new playground to provide more than 500 children in the Chester community with a place to play.
5-6:30 p.m.: Union player appearance at Center City Macy's, 1300 Market St.; Freddy Adu, Zac MacMath and Jack McInerney will be on hand signing autographs.
7-8:30 p.m.: Michael and Gabriel Farfan at Tir Na Nog, 1600 Arch St.; both will sign autographs and pose for pictures as part of All-Star festivities.
— Kerith Gabriel