CHICAGO (AP) — The best team in the world facing off against the local lads sounds like a recipe for disaster — just not when it takes place in the MLS All-Star Game.
Then, it’s a showcase.
For the 13th straight year, North America’s best take on a top international team, this time glamour-boys Real Madrid on Wednesday night at sold-out Soldier Field. The game caps a three-day, MLS-styled celebration of the sport — from matches on the sand at Oak Street beach to star-studded endorsements of the town’s deep-dish pizza — that had fans in the City of Big Shoulders following along with their feet.
The payoff for those inside the venerable 61,000-seat stadium, coincidentally the site of the inaugural match of the 1994 World Cup, will be an embarrassment of soccer riches.
Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be on hand for what amounts to another preseason friendly, but Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Isco, Luka Modric and nearly all the front-liners who helped every important club championship in sight, will. They’ll encounter some familiar, if aging, faces across the pitch.
They range from World Cup winner, former German national team and current Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, to one-time Real teammate and Orlando City playmaker Kaka, as well former Atletico Madrid rival and New York City FC striker David Villa. Also familiar will be a handful of Americans who logged considerable time with the U.S. national team and European clubs, among them Toronto’s Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, Houston’s DaMarcus Beasley and Seattle goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Expect a competitive match, even though Real manager Zinedine Zidane is expected to reach deep into his bench after the starters played the opening 60 minutes against Barcelona in Miami last Saturday as part of their preseason tour. The MLS team has won seven of the previous matches.
“I do not know how the game will go,” said Kaka, “but we have a great team to play a very even match with Real Madrid.”
MLS fans chafe at the perception the league lags well behind their top-tier counterparts in Europe and want their team to show up once again with something to prove. The All-Stars’ 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in 2014, however, may have been too competitive; then-Bayern manager Pep Guardiola left that game without shaking hands, instead wagging his finger at what he considered unnecessarily hard tackles by MLS defenders.
Yet the games have proved worthwhile for both sides, providing MLS with an opportunity to…