Does the soccer world care if the MLS can run its winning record
against foreign opposition in the All-Star Game to 5-0?
No, despite the fact it is being televised to nearly 100 countries (TV: ESPN, TeleFutura, CBC, live, 7 pm ET) )and approximately
300 media credentials have been issued.
But MLS players, coaches and executives care, and the head coach and players from West Ham United, the opponent for Thursday night's game
at BMO Field, know that an MLS with David Beckham
has boosted awareness of America's soccer league.
"David Beckham coming here has
raised MLS a lot higher in England and in Europe," said striker Dean Ashton
Wednesday, following a West Ham training session. "Everyone is talking
about it. It's on the up and if it it keeps getting better a lot of players will want to come here."
Translated, West Ham may be just two weeks into preseason training and is
short on fitness as well as match sharpness, yet there are positions up for grabs, and manager Alan Curbishley
is expecting a better showing than the Hammers
gave last Sunday in beating a mostly Columbus reserve squad, 3-1, even though that match was played on grass, and FieldTurf is the surface for the All-Star Game.
"Artificial turf isn't ideal and we're not familiar with it, but we won't use that as an excuse," said Curbishley. "We came here to get two games because we thought it
would help us in our preseason getting ready for the Premiership. A couple of our guys couldn't play in Columbus and but I expect them to play in this game, and a few others we'll just have
to see how it goes."
All-Stars head coach Steve Nicol
said much the same thing about two Houston players, midfielder Dwayne De Rosario
and Pat Onstad
, who played a twice-rescheduled league match Wednesday night in Washington.
"We'll see how they are when they arrive," said Nicol. "But I told all the players I can't guarantee if they'll start or how much they'll play."
, Sacha Kljestan
and Robbie Rogers
were scratched from the
All-Star squad when they were named to the U.S. Olympic team. Juan Toja
, Jonathan Bornstein
and Steve Ralston
were named as replacements, yet Toja and FC Dallas teammate Kenny Cooper
have been negotiating possible transfer moves in the days
leading up to the game, so in that respect, at least, both Curbishley and Nicol have distractions to consider as their teams prepare for a friendly.
MLS is 4-0 in matches against
foreign club teams, having beaten Chivas Guadalajara (2003), Fulham (2005), Chelsea (2006) and Glasgow Celtic (2007). Those results might not resonate around the globe, but the MLS All-Stars take
the reputation of their league seriously even if not a lot of other people do, Beckham or no Beckham.
"On the one hand, it was nice when it was East versus West and just the MLS
guys getting together for a few days," says Landon Donovan
of a format used in past seasons before MLS decided to pit its best against foreign opposition.
"But a game like this means a lot more on so many levels, and as professional players, we're always anxious to face a challenge. We know West Ham is in preseason, but they're
professionals, like we are, and nobody wants to lose any game. I expect us to play well and I know they'll want to give a good showing, too."
For Beckham, the game is a
chance to reconnect with his boyhood from far across the Atlantic Ocean. Its name notwithstanding, West Ham is located in the East End of London, from whence Manchester United plucked him as a
teenager after inviting him to train for a week while he was 14.
"It's great, being an East End boy playing against West Ham so many times with Manchester United and also
scoring against West Ham, which didn't go down well with a few friends," he said. "But it's always nice to play against a quality team. They're a team that have got some good
players and they're working towards the start of the Premiership. It'll be a tough game -- you always look forward to that." MLS All-Star
Pat Onstad (Houston Dynamo), Matt Reis* (New England Revolution). Defenders:
Jim Brennan (Toronto FC), Jimmy Conrad* (Kansas City Wizards), Frankie Hejduk* (Columbus Crew), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA). Midfielders:
David Beckham* (Los Angeles Galaxy), Cuauhtemoc Blanco* (Chicago Fire), Dwayne De Rosario (Houston Dynamo), Christian Gomez (Colorado Rapids), Shalrie Joseph* (New England Revolution), Pablo
Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Steve Ralston (New England Revolution), Juan Toja (FC Dallas). Forwards:
Juan Pablo Angel (forward, New York Red Bulls),
Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy), Kenny Cooper* (FC Dallas), Landon Donovan* (Los Angeles Galaxy).
*First XI picks.