So can any European club outside of Manchester United beat Major League Soccer’s All-Stars in regulation time?
On Wednesday, Chelsea FC will get its chance when the eighth meeting between the MLS All-Stars and a select European club takes place at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., outside of Philadelphia (ESPN2, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT).
The MLS All-Stars won the first four games, outscoring opponents 10-3 before Everton beat the All-Stars on penalty kicks in 2009. Manchester United then routed the best of the MLS the last two years by a combined 9-2 score.
As expected, both coaches have said they are taking the game seriously but let’s face it, the entertainment value for soccer fans, the chance for Chelsea to see who can do what on the pitch in a friendly and avoiding any injuries are way more important than winning or losing from each side’s perspective.
Here are 20 things I can see happening in the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday night.
This should be the most-watched of all of the MLS All-Stars-European side games and I would expect around 850,000 viewers on ESPN2.
Last year’s game had 781,000 viewers and a 0.5 share rating (US), up nine percent from the year before. In 2009, the game had 484,000 viewers and a 0.3 share so it’s easy to see the popularity of soccer is slowly growing in the United States.
In the 2011 MLS Cup between the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, ESPN attracted 784,000 viewers and a 0.4 ratings share and I think this season’s clash between world-renowned Chelsea and the MLS All-Stars will again end up having at least 100,000 more viewers than this year’s MLS Cup.
Chelsea fans can be found in every corner of the globe and sometimes I suspect there are Blues backers elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy. Possibly Pluto.
In Philadelphia on Wednesday, I would not be the least bit surprised if there are more Chelsea backers than MLS All-Stars fans. And if the crowd at Yankee Stadium on Sunday is any indication, there will be much royal blue in the crowd.
No doubt there will be loads of Union fans in attendance, but this relatively new team to the league can’t compare in fan passion to the European and FA Cup champions and backers of other MLS clubs would make a trip like this less of a priority compared to a Chelsea fan in the USA getting a chance to watch his or her team play in person for the first time.
We’ve heard it over and over again: Soccer is gaining in popularity in the USA. I fear this cliché will still be around 100 years from now.
Those Americans who know what’s up are aware that soccer dwarfs American football in popularity worldwide but many are delusional and expect some sudden astronomical increase in popularity here.
Football will always be way more popular than soccer in the US, although I see soccer’s popularity slowly increasing annually over the next couple of decades, whereas other major sports should see minor declines or holding patterns.
So to grow slow is a good thing for the sport in the USA, and future demographics suggest that when the Hispanic population explodes here, so will soccer’s popularity.
A recent trend in sports television is to show hometown cooking from the site of the event.
And when you think Philly, you think cheesesteak. The two you always hear about in Philadelphia are Pat’s (King of Steaks) and Geno’s (Cheese Steaks).
So I expect to see a shot of some cook scooping a pile of meat onto some bread (with attitude of course) and then showing the completed sandwich to the camera to make our collective mouths water. And likely before kickoff.
If so, cruel ESPN, very cruel. How is a guy living in Las Vegas supposed to deal with all this knowing he’ll probably never visit Philadelphia or ever taste a Pat’s or Geno’s sandwich?
I hate you.
Fans in the City of Brotherly Love will possibly reward San Jose Earthquakes defender Ramiro Corrales with a semi-standing ovation, although 80 percent of the attendees probably won’t even recognize his name and will only do so because of the more astute fans surrounding them who rise in respect.
The 35-year-old Corrales, one of two selections made by MLS commissioner Don Garber, is the only active MLS player who was in the league when it started back in 1996.
The MLS’s leading scorer (17 goals) is finally getting some recognition and his team, the San Jose Earthquakes, are quietly having a great year and own the league’s best record (13-4-5, 44 points) at the All-Star break.
I think Wondolowski will score the first goal of the match and will do so by beating one of the planet’s best goalkeepers, Chelsea’s Petr Čech.
As a Drogba fanatic who has a tattoo of the Ivorian striker on his left buttocks cheek (I kid, I kid. It's a Branislav Ivanovic tattoo), I have no problem with this not-so-bold prediction.
Any viewers unaware of how Chelsea won its first UEFA Champions League trophy in May will be treated to a clip of Drogba’s epic header and then his penalty-kick shootout game-winner against Bayern Munich in the final.
This will likely be followed by an announcer saying Drogba is now playing in China for Shanghai Shenhua forcing the novice viewer to ask, “Why did he leave Chelsea for China?”
And the answer, as it is for many things in life is pretty simple, Bubba: the money.
After explaining Drogba’s importance to the Blues, I expect an announcer to then stress how important it will be for Fernando Torres to replace Drogba in the club’s starting XI at the striker position and to have a solid year leading Chelsea.
I couldn’t agree more. For Chelsea to thrive in the English Premier League and the Champions League this coming season, El Niño will have to shine.
Although he beat all his Blues teammates to Philadelphia, Torres probably won’t play according to Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo.
After getting a well-deserved extended break after Spain won Euro 2012 earlier this summer, Torres should see action on Saturday when the Blues travel to Miami to face Serie A powerhouse AC Milan in Chelsea’s final game in the USA in the World Football Challenge (ESPN2, 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT).
The Blues' two biggest transfer window signings to date, Eden Hazard and Marko Marin, looked pretty darn good in Chelsea’s first two friendlies in the USA (against MLS’s Seattle Sounders and France Ligue 1’s Paris Saint-Germain) and I expect them to continue to show what they can do in this match.
Whereas some veterans and second- and third-stringers looked average at best in the first two games in the USA, Hazard and Marin have looked like they have played with the team for years and have quickly gotten into the flow of things.
And that has to be comforting for a rebuilding Chelsea side which finished an unacceptable sixth last season in the EPL.
Despite an incredible number of big names like David Beckham, Landon Donovan, John Terry, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard and Petr Čech likely playing on Wednesday, this match may not be the shootout or thriller fans are anticipating.
And with risk of injury to the players whose clubs need them for real games that count in the real standings, playing it safe is the best prescription here as nothing would be worse than losing a star one needs for MLS or EPL play because of an injury in a friendly.
Toss in the reality that the game will serve as a proving ground for some players on Chelsea fighting to make the first team and it’s no surprise both teams may play pretty conservatively, making for a dull watch.
For those hip to the ways of the MLB All-Star game, the NFL Pro Bowl, the NBA All-Star game and the NHL All-Star game, you get the point. Fun to watch, but fairly meaningless in the whole scheme of things.
For the first time ever in a major league sporting event, a new tracking system is going to be worn by each player to monitor their heart rates in this All-Star game.
Adidas will unveil its “Micoach” Elite system, which will monitor every player's heart rate, intensity of play, distance covered, acceleration and other personal characteristics.
The players will insert a “player cell” into a pocket in the shoulder blades of their uniforms which will include an RF radio, a 3D accelerometer, a GPS unit, a gyroscope and a magnetometer.
The RF radio will then relay all that data to a computer on the sideline which will then be routed to iPad application. Geeky stuff brother.
Are you still awake?
With Drogba gone, Torres resting, Daniel Sturridge playing for Great Britain in the Olympics and Romelu Lukaku the only real forward striker Chelsea had to work with, manager Di Matteo decided to put teenage phenom Lucas Piazón’ at the position and he came through with a beautiful game-tying late goal against PSG on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Should Piazón’ play again and impress Wednesday, it will make it hard for management not to want to keep him on the first-team roster in the next two weeks.
And the best way to get up to speed with the level of play in the EPL and Champions League is simply to play and see if you can hang. In my opinion, Piazón’s time has finally come.
The 21-year-old winger from France got the start against PSG on Sunday and he looked out of place and like he might not be improving as much as some of Chelsea’s other youngsters.
If Kakuta plays on Wednesday and looks mediocre again, then he may just be killing his chances of sticking around and may become a loan candidate with less than a month until the EPL season opener at Wigan Athletic.
The perception for several years is that players like Thierry Henry (34-years-old), David Beckham (37), John Terry (31), Frank Lampard (34) and Petr Čech (30) are getting “old,” but in reality, if you really watch them, they all are still incredible soccer players.
On Wednesday, expect these geezers to show the younger guys on the field they still have it and I wouldn’t be surprised if two of the aforementioned five actually scored.
Now if Cech happens to be one of those two scorers, we will have quite a story on our hands.
As the level of play in MLS slowly improves, the league becomes more of a place for the EPL to look for future players it would like to sign.
If I were in management on a decent EPL side, I would be taking a good look at guys like Chris Wondolowski (San Jose), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) and Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United) during this match to see if they can prove they have the stuff to hang with a club like Chelsea and a league like the Premiership.
Although this will be such a high-profile game, I doubt manager Di Matteo will leave Čech in the entire match, meaning backups Henrique Hilario, Ross Turnbull and Jamal Blackman may get their shot to shine under the big spotlight.
RDM has used all four of his goalkeepers in Chelsea’s first two matches stateside and giving his backups time while resting his starter should be more important than leaving Čech in the entire match just to try and get a win in a very meaningless game like this one.
Against PSG on Sunday in the Big Apple, Chelsea captain John Terry was given a standing ovation from the crowd of 38,000 when he entered the match in the 63rd minute.
Terry joined the club this weekend after being found not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand on June 13 at the end of his five-day trial at Westminster Magistrates Court in London.
When Terry is announced or comes in, expect him to get the loudest applause of all the players on the pitch at PPL Park as he, more than anyone, is the real face and heart of Chelsea’s squad.
Named captain of the MLS All-Stars by his D.C. United coach Ben Olsen, De Rosario is a clutch player and has definitely proven he can hang with the big boys.
And as he did against the Blues in this same game in 2006, I can see De Rosario scoring the game-winner in the second half and improving his legacy as a world-class soccer player.
Although a club from the EPL has won the last three MLS All-Star games, I see the MLS All-Stars as the more likely side to prevail in this competitive friendly.
With Chelsea still fielding several new players and having others fighting for a spot on the squad, that pressure could hurt the Blues while the MLS All-Stars should be pretty loose, knowing they’re not fighting for any spots.
The shots on goal should favor the MLS All-Stars and if Chelsea looks anything like it did on Sunday, then its scoring attempts could be few and far between.
After getting hammered by Manchester United two straight times in this game, the MLS All-Stars will also be playing for pride and with so much veteran talent out there, I can see them handing the Blues their first loss on this American tour.
In the end, this match as well as this story are meant for fun and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
The LVH SuperBook here in Las Vegas puts out its odds on the match Tuesday and Chelsea is a 200 favorite with the MLS All-Stars being a +550 underdog. A draw is +280. If you want some value and a chance to spin $20 into $110, take a shot on the MLS All-Stars. Hard to bet $20 on the Blues to win just $10.
Best bet? Just watch and enjoy.
Follow me on Twitter: @KevinStott11