A year ago, the MLS All-Stars surprised some folks, defeating Chelsea 3-2 in extra time. Sure, it was just an exhibition and, sure, it wasn't a Chelsea team with all of its stars or one in midseason form.
No matter—that triumph was a pretty big deal against the champions of Europe.
This season, the MLS All-Stars will take on a less prestigious but a nonetheless talented side in Roma. The Serie A side has plenty of talent, with players like Maicon, Michael Bradley, Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman, Erik Lamela and Francesco Totti littering the roster.
This should be an excellent, even match. Let's break it down.
When: Wednesday, July 31 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kansas
Streaming: WatchESPN (in selected markets)
MLS All-Star Roster
Goalkeepers: Raul Fernandez (FC Dallas), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
Defenders: Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders: Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Mike Magee (Chicago Fire), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact)
Forwards: Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Camilo Sanvezzo (Vancouver Whitecaps), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union)
Goalkeepers: Morgan DeSanctis, Bogdan Lobont, Łukasz Skorupski
Defenders: Federico Balzaretti, Nicolas Burdisso, Mehdi Benatia, Leandro Castan, Alessandro Crescenzi, Dodo, Maicon, Tin Jedvaj, Alessio Romagnoli, Vasilis Torosidis
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, Marquinho, Miralem Pjanic, Kevin Strootman, Rodrigo Taddei, Valerio Verre
Forwards: Gianluca Caprari, Erik Lamela, Pablo Osvaldo, Federico Ricci, Francesco Totti, Junior Tallo
What They're Saying
As Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated found out, this exhibition actually means a lot more to both sides than going through the motions during a meaningless game. In fact, it likely will mean quite a lot for both teams.
Thierry Henry, a world and European champion at both the international and club level, said Monday that he felt proud when the All-Stars showed well against newly crowned European champion Chelsea last year.
"What was great last year when we won against Chelsea, it's not (just that) we won against Chelsea, but at the end of the game the guys I played with so many times in England, they said, 'You guys can play,'" Henry recalled. "They were actually surprised the (MLS) guys were passing around and playing football."
He continued, "If Roma at the end of the game Wednesday—we obviously want to win—but if they can turn around and say, 'We saw some great players and that team can play,' that speaks volumes for the league."
Sporting Kansas City and U.S. national team midfielder Graham Zusi, representing the host team, guessed that Roma had an interest in a good performance as well. The Giallorossi, featuring U.S. lynchpin Michael Bradley, finished sixth in Serie A last season and failed to qualify for European competition in 2013-14. They also lost the Italian Cup final to archrival Lazio.
"Roma is a world class team and honestly, they're coming off a year (in which) for them, they underachieved a bit," Zusi said. "We know that they're going to come out and jumpstart their season as best they can. We're expecting a serious game out of them. We're going to take it seriously as well."
In other words, expect a very competitive match.
MLS All-Stars Player to Watch: Chris Wondolowski
Every appearance counts for Chris Wondolowski these days. With a shot to make next year's World Cup squad, Wondo has to take advantage of his chances in the spotlight. This will be one of those chances.
He hasn't had a great MLS season—despite leading the fan vote for this game—with just five goals and two assists. He was quite good at the Gold Cup, however, scoring five goals and adding an assist in his five appearances for the team.
Still, it was Eddie Johnson who started the semifinal and final in the Gold Cup, an indication that Wondo hasn't firmly established his place on the USMNT roster just yet. He's the most clinical finisher this MLS roster possesses, even if he hasn't shown in for the Earthquakes this year, so he'll be a primary focus of the Roma defenders in this contest.
Roma Player to Watch: Michael Bradley
Bradley fell out of favor for Roma at times last season, though he did start 24 games in Serie A play and make 35 total appearances. His place on the team isn't guaranteed, and with the World Cup a year away, he'll want to earn regular starts this season.
So you can bet Bradley will come out humming, whether he starts or comes on as a substitute.
Besides, playing against a large contingent of his countrymen should give him a little bit of extra juice in this contest. Remember, Clint Dempsey may be the United States' best player and Landon Donovan its most experienced, but Bradley is arguably the country's most important.
He's the lynchpin in the midfield and stabilizing force for the United States. The last thing he needs is a poor season heading into the World Cup. He'll want to use this exhibition to get off to a good start.
Which team wins?
The MLS All Stars surprised Chelsea last season, so Roma won't take them lightly. And Roma clearly has some talent. But things are looking up for United States soccer these days, and with the homefield advantage behind them, I expect the All Stars to keep that momentum going.
The MLS All-Stars win, 3-2.