- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 5, 2006

The latest incarnation of the annual Major League Soccer All-Star Game has a select MLS team taking on back-to-back English Premier League champion Chelsea today at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. The 23,000-capacity venue is the new publicly funded home of the Chicago Fire. This is the third time the All-Star format has involved a foreign club team.

“We’ve been evolving the All-Star format for many years,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said yesterday. “I think it’s important we go up against the best in the world.”

Last year a select MLS team played English club Fulham, winning 4-1, and in 2002, a select team beat Mexican club Chivas 3-1. Taking on a big-name club has the potential to offer a more competitive and exciting event than the typical Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference formula, which became so predictable over the years.

Chelsea arrives with a gold-plated reputation and this game will be closely watched because a number of name players could be making their first appearances with the club, notably Ukrainian star Andriy Shevchenko, who signed for a record $57million, and Germany’s most famous player, Michael Ballack. The London club has more name players than any other club in the world and certainly will seek to avoid being embarrassed by the low-paid MLS stars.

The MLS All-Star team has a D.C. United flavor, with eight United players on the roster, which will be directed by United coach Peter Nowak. United (13-2-6, 45 points) is currently the best team in MLS. with a 19-point lead in the Eastern Conference

This is the third summer Chelsea has traveled to the United States. Last year the club beat D.C. United 2-1 in an exhibition game at FedEx Field. In that exciting game, United’s took a surprising lead on a brilliant header by defender Bobby Boswell. Six United players on today’s team played in that match.

The fashionable London club, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, is seeking to make inroads into the American sports market and has hired U.S. media consultants Hill and Knowlton. Abramovich wants to make his team as famous as Manchester United and Real Madrid and has spent more than $600million on players in the last three years and has an annual payroll of $200million. The team is reported to have 4million fans in Britain and 20million worldwide.

“Chelsea wants to help build soccer in this country,” Garber said.

Chelsea, which has a business agreement with Anschutz Entertainment Group and the AEG-operated Los Angeles Galaxy, has practiced all week at UCLA.

In the offseason, Chelsea not only brought in AC Milan’s Shevchenko, who is rated as one of the best strikers in the world, and Ballack from Bayern Munich but also added two promising young rising stars, Nigerian ace John Obi Mikel and Dutch striker Salomon Kalou.

The MLS All-Stars expect to face World Cup stars Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Michael Essien (Ghana), and English World Cup stars Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and John Terry.

Nowak will select his starting 11 from a roster of 18 that includes goalies Troy Perkins (D.C. United) and Joe Cannon (Colorado); defenders Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City), Chris Albright (Los Angeles), Facundo Erpen (United), Bobby Boswell (United), Josh Gros (United) and Eddie Robinson (Houston); midfielders Richard Mulrooney (Dallas), Ronnie O’Brien (Dallas), Ricardo Clark (Houston), Freddy Adu (United), Dwayne De Rosario (Houston), Christian Gomez (United); and forwards Alecko Eskandarian (United), Nate Jaqua (Chicago), Brian Ching (Houston) and Jaime Moreno (United).

Forward Ante Razov (Chivas) and New England midfielder Shalrie Joseph and Clint Dempsey originally were named to the team but can’t play because of tomorrow’s scheduled league game between the Revolution and Chivas as part of the double-header with Barcelona vs. Chivas (Mexico) at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Other named players like Landon Donovan, Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni, will miss the game because of injuries.

United players Perkins, Moreno and Gomez were part of the All-Star First XI, named July 12 and voted equally by fans, players, coaches and the media, and are likely to start along with other elected players like Conrad, Albright and De Rosario. Players added later like Ching, Gros, O’Brien, Boswell and Robinson might round out the starting lineup.

MLS notes — For the first time next season, ESPN and ABC will pay rights fees to MLS to air games and will produce and promote those matches. “We are out of the risk business,” Garber said. Also, ESPN will show a live game on Thursday nights instead of Saturdays.

Garber said that in the future, players discovered by clubs in their youth programs would be able to advance to the senior team and not have to go to the draft. The commissioner also said the league will have 13 teams in 2007 with a new team in Toronto, increase to 14 teams by 2008, and stabilize at 16 teams in 2010.

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