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McCarthy's Musings: MLS All-Star Game Preview

By Kyle McCarthy

PARK CITY, Utah – It's time to get down to business.

For the past two days, the MLS All-Star team has gone through the All-Star experience. Those festivities are now over and the players now have to shift their focus to English Premier League side Everton FC ahead of tonight's match.

Make no mistake about it. This is a game that the MLS All-Stars want to win. Can this group keep the unblemished run of five all-star wins against foreign club teams alive? In honor of that streak, here are five factors that will help to determine whether that streak will continue.

PRELUDE. MLS Projected Lineup

Goalkeeper: Kasey Keller (Seattle)

Defenders: Geoff Cameron (Houston), Chad Marshall (Columbus), Wilman Conde (Chicago)

Midfielders: Stuart Holden (Houston), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Freddie Ljungberg (Seattle), Brad Davis (Houston)

Forwards: Fredy Montero (Seattle), Conor Casey (Colorado), Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Chicago)


1. The Fun Factor

If I had to selected one word to summarize the MLS All-Star experience in the words of those taking part, fun would be it. All-star after all-star has mentioned over the past two days how much he has enjoyed the festivities surrounding the game. Perhaps it's the first-time factor – 14 of the 18 MLS All-Stars are on the gameday roster for the first time – or the fact that this match represents a nice break from the summer grind, but these players are enjoying the chance to hang around with other stars from around the league.

“It's been a lot of fun,” Beckerman said. “The two practices we've had were just amazing because of how talented everybody is. You see a bunch of those guys and all you know is just battling against them. Now they are on your team and you can joke around with them, which is fun.”

For the MLS All-Stars, the key is to now translate all of the fun they are having off the field onto the pitch against Everton. Playing loosely and avoiding the first-time all-star jitters will go a long way to keeping that spotless record in tact.

2. The Entertainment Factor


Part of the fun of the MLS All-Star Game comes from the license these players will have to captivate the audience. There won't be any tongue lashings forthcoming from coach Dominic Kinnear if a player tries an audacious move or attempts a defense-splitting pass through a maze of Evertonians. Kinnear made sure to tell his temporary charges that showboating for the fans has its place in the game so long as they do not shirk their other duties, according to Davis.

“He's expressed to us that it's lax, he wants us to have fun and he doesn't want to hold us back, but we want to win the game,” Davis said. “He doesn't want us to bomb forward and not get back. He said right from the beginning to go out and have fun, but let's try to go out and win this game.”

Watch in the early stages of the match to see how the MLS All-Stars strike that balance between playing to the crowd and playing the team in front of them. Everton may be in preseason, but David Moyes' group isn't a bunch of mugs and won't step aside so the All-Stars can waltz their way to victory.

3. The Defensive Factor


Establishing the balance between playing entertaining soccer and winning soccer will likely come in the defensive third. Kinnear has charged four players – Beckerman as the holding midfielder and Cameron, Conde and Marshall as the back three – with the primary defensive responsibilities. Those four players have never played together, a problem that Cameron and Marshall both said can be solved if they commit to finding common ground.

“It all comes down to communication,” Cameron said.

Those four players – plus defensive substitutes Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare – will have to remain on the same page throughout in order to fill the gaps that inevitably open up as players press forward in search of goals. If the communication falters and holes emerge, Everton has the attacking players – dynamic Australian midfielder Tim Cahill leads an often underrated attacking group – to slice open the MLS defense all night long.

4. The Fitness Factor

Neither of these teams are in what could be dubbed ideal condition.

The All-Stars are in the middle of the MLS season and are plenty fit, but most of them have played a staggering amount of matches over the past six weeks and have the niggling knocks to show for it. In the one massive injury blow to the side, Landon Donovan's calf injury may keep him out altogether, even though he is slated to arrive on Wednesday after receiving treatment in Los Angeles.

Everton, on the other hand, is in the middle of its preseason campaign. Fitness is a considerable concern, particularly for the Toffees' persistently injured group of front runners. The heat and the altitude in suburban Salt Lake City could take a dramatic toll on a side not used to the difficult conditions.

All of those fitness worries mean there could be ample room for an impact substitute to come off the bench in the second half and change the match. For the MLS All-Stars, it could be an attacking player like Donovan, Davy Arnaud or Javier Morales. Everton will probably have to rely on the one or two men left out among its forward options – Jo, Louis Saha, the promising James Vaughn or the less-than-fully-fit Yakubu – to provide a spark because the Toffees lack extra attacking options in midfield. Given the quality on both benches, don't rule out a game-changing contribution as those legs tire.

5. The Fan Factor

Real Salt Lake fans may not get the publicity that Columbus, D.C. United, Seattle or Toronto FC supporters receive, but they pack quite the punch inside Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL is one of the best home sides in the league with the fans and the altitude playing a critical role in that success.

“The fans here in Salt Lake deserve this game,” Beckerman said. “They've gone through some tough times here and they've stayed loyal with the team. They keep coming to games and supporting the team. They always believed that it was going to turn around.”

As those All-Star legs start to fade in the second half, those RSL fans may be able to give the side an extra push if required. In a game that looks like it could and should be close, that extra boost could prove decisive.

BONUS. The Prediction


This isn't the strongest group of MLS All-Stars, but they have plenty of quality in their ranks and should have enough to keep the All-Star Game unbeaten streak alive against a formidable Everton side still in preseason form and fitness.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

For more on Major League Soccer, visit Goal.com's MLS page.