MLS All-Stars put reputation on line
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 (ESPN, 7 p.m. 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 Toronto's BMO Field -- know that an MLS with
"David Beckham coming here has raised MLS a lot higher in England and in Europe," said striker
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
"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."
"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."
MLS has won all four of its matches against foreign club teams, having beaten Chivas de Guadalajara (2003), Fulham ('05), Chelsea ('06) and Glasgow Celtic ('07). 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 vs. West and just the MLS guys getting together for a few days," says
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 where Manchester United plucked Becks 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."
*First XI picks.