All-Star Games are supposed to be wide-open, entertaining affairs, and if so, are tough tests for all of those players burdened with defensive responsibilities.
A few of Arsenal’s
top attackers stayed home to rest from their international duties at the European Championship and Copa Centenario, but the likes of Jack Wilshere
, Joel Campbell
, Theo Walcott
and Granit Xhaka
even in preseason mode can be daunting challenges.
The MLS All-Star roster includes Euro-experienced veterans such as centerbacks Jelle Van
and Laurent Ciman
as well as Costa Rican international Kendall Waston
, yet rookie outside backs Keegan Rosenberry
and Brandon Vincent
could be in for some rough
lessons in their soccer education.
Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic
is happy that Vincent. which has played 13 games (12 starts) at left back for the Fire and debuted for the USA in
February, was picked.
“It's going to help him having that experience to learn from more experienced guys on the All-Star team,” Paunovic, who is coaching his first season on
MLS, said in his weekly conference call.
Paunovic’s enthusiastic comments contrasted sharply with those of New York City FC head coach Patrick Vieira, the other first-year MLS coach
brought in from Europe. He lamented losing midfielder Andreas Pirlo
and striker David Villa
for several days to play in a “friendly.”
That was before Villa was
suspended and can’t play in NYCFC’s important home game against Colorado, but Vieira isn’t the first European coach puzzled at the need for a midseason exhibition, even if it is
against the club that made him famous, or notorious, as the case may be.
The power of Pirlo drew several dozen fans to cluster around him after the Tuesday training session. Dads with
their sons, star-struck teenagers, and a young woman wearing a Pirlo Juventus jersey (“No. 21”) met the Italian icon and posed for a photo. Pirlo smiled every time.
potent array of attacking players -- Sebastian Giovinco
, Sacha Kljestan
, Ignacio Piatti
, Didier Drogba
, Pirlo, Villa and Kaka -- in midseason form and Quakes fans wanting
action from them as well as hometown star Chris Wondolowski,
the Arsenal back line may also be under duress. Said Kaka, who is looking forward to playing with Pirlo, his AC Milan teammate for
six years, “The mentality is to win.”
There are several such intriguing matchups/duels possibly on the docket. Gunners keeper Petr Cech
won four Premier League titles
and a Champions League crown at Chelsea with Drogba. Of his former teammate Cech said simply, “I’ll be ready for him.”
Centerback Per Mertesacker
did not travel
with the squad to the U.S. after suffering a knee injury in a training session and is probably out for several months. At the All-Star press conference on Tuesday, Arsenal head coach Arsene
confirmed surgery had been performed on Mertesacker’s knee.
The Gunners play Chivas at StubHub Center on Sunday, then fly back to England to face a daunting opener
against Liverpool in less than three weeks (Aug. 14). Despite the All-Star setting and national TV audience on ESPN, they will avoid any situations that smell of injury.
So, too, will the
All-Stars, but for at least some of them, this exhibition, friendly -- whatever -- means a lot.
As the hometown hero, Wondolowski -- selected for his fourth All-Star Game -- is just as
motivated as always to win at Avaya, where the Quakes have lost only once this season.
“It’s always a great opportunity to play with these guys and against such a great team
as Arsenal,” he said. “We know it’s preseason for them but we know they don’t want to lose and neither do we, so it hopefully it will be a good game and the fans will enjoy
One interesting tidbit did emerge when asked about the teams he enjoyed watching while growing up in Danville, a small city about a 40-mile drive from Avaya Stadium.
“I liked watching Tottenham,” he said with the grin of someone well-versed in the North London derby.
Like or hate the All-Star format, it does operate on many levels.