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MLS All-Stars aim to stay perfect against foreign foes
by Ridge Mahoney, July 29th, 2009 7:02AM
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[MLS] All coaches are competitive, so Houston head honcho Dominic Kinnear doesn't need any extra motivation for the annual exhibition known as the MLS All-Star Game. But there is a streak on the line. Pitting the best of MLS, with a few exceptions, against a foreign team on five previous occasions has produced five victories, and that's the streak that's at stake Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Galavision) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, against English Premier League club Everton.

"The most important thing is, we take this event very [seriously], and we look to win this game," said Kinnear, who earned the All-Star job when Houston compiled the most points in the first half of the season. "The MLS has done well in the past against some great competition over the years, and it's very important that we have the attitude to continue that success."

Besides, Commissioner Don Garber wants that competitive sheen of playing a foreign team to brighten, not fade away.

"We have been competitive with games against European teams in their preseason, and there's been great entertainment and they've always been good events," says Garber of victories against Guadalajara, Glasgow Celtic, Fulham, Chelsea, and West Ham. "I believe that formula will continue to work for us."

Two of Kinnear's Dynamo players - goalie Pat Onstad and forward Brian Ching - have withdrawn from the All-Star squad, but he still has Houston midfielders Brad Davis and Stuart Holden, and defender Geoff Cameron to call upon, as well as four members of the Seattle Sounders - Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg, Fredy Montero, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado -- and Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

Among the missing is a former Dynamo player, Toronto FC midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, who plays for his club team Wednesday in a Concacaf Champions League match against the Puerto Rico Islanders. Even without the bursts and quirks of De Rosario, Kinnear has plenty of attacking guile to unleash, though most of his defenders play centrally for their clubs, so there might be some confusion if not outright chaos on the flanks.

"When you get a group like this - and you see it in other sports when they have their all-star teams - they may feel free to try things more skillfully," says Kinnear. "A lot of the stuff comes off because great minds think alike and great players think alike. It should be fairly easy."

Nothing about the game will be easy for Everton, which played Argentine club River Plate in Toronto a few days ago and rested several regulars, including American goalie Tim Howard, who are expected to start against the All-Stars. Its players have trained at altitude (7,000 feet) in nearby Park City, but the thin air and high temperatures (in the high 80s during the day) have taken a toll during their sessions. Temperatures should drop to the mid-70s by kickoff time, but a team of players in midseason form figure to be fitter and tighter.

"A lot of their players are going to be a lot sharper than we are at this stage in our preseason," said captain Phil Neville, who played two years ago when Everton lost at Real Salt Lake, 2-0, in a friendly. "It's a good test to see how far we've come in our preseason work thus far."

Two young American players recently signed by Everton - Anton Peterlin (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo/Ventura County Fusion) and Cody Arnoux (Wake Forest)- are not with the team for its U.S. visit. Peterlin is training and playing in Austria with Everton's reserve team, and Arnoux is in England awaiting the team, which flies back across the Atlantic on Thursday.

Howard is looking forward to a rematch with Keller, a U.S. teammate and an opponent on several occasions in England.

"When I was coming up, I broke into the national team when I was 21, 22 so I was learning a heck of a lot and he was right in his prime," says Howard, who at 30 is 10 years younger than Keller. "I got a chance to just work with him, talk to him, lean on him. I went to the World Cup with him, got a chance to see how he acted and worked on the biggest stage.

"He is someone who I would consider a friend and somebody who, throughout my career, I've always looked up to."


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