SANDY, UTAH – Four Seattle Sounders have never seen anything like it.
Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg, Fredy Montero and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado have never seen anything like the MLS All-Star Game, because there are no such things in the English Premier League, Sweden or Colombia.
The concept is so foreign that Ljungberg isn’t even sure if he should kick anyone when the MLS All-Stars meet Everton of the English Premier League at 6:30 tonight at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I know the Everton players quite well,” Ljungberg said Tuesday after training. “So I said to them, ‘How hard are you guys going to play it? I need to know if I need to kick you or not.’ We’ll see the first 10 minutes. For me, that’s the most difficult thing: I don’t know how intense it’s going to be or not, so I’ll see the first 10 minutes. But (All-Star coach Dominic Kinnear of Houston) said in the press conference he wants us to win, so we’ll have to play well.”
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While the Sounders’ All-Star players aren’t all that sure of the details, all four said they are happy to have been invited.
“It is a little bit curious, but also a very enjoyable thing,” Hurtado said through a translator. “There are players you crossed with on the field, but now they’re next to you, and you get along fine. There’s nothing like this in Colombia. Maybe there should be. It might be fun.”
Major League Soccer has always had an All-Star Game, but the format has varied. In five of the first six seasons, from 1996 to 2001, stars from the Eastern Conference met stars from the Western Conference. The exception came in 1998, when MLS divided its All-Stars by American-born and foreign-born players. In 2002, the MLS All-Stars met the U.S. national team.
Then the league struck on the format that has stuck: uniting its stars against an international club. In 2003, the MLS stars beat Chivas of Guadalajara, 3-1. The league reverted to the East-vs.-West format in 2004 but has met only international sides since: Fulham in 2005, Chelsea in 2006, Celtic in 2007, West Ham last season and Everton this year.
The MLS stars have never lost in this format. Part of that could be explained by the midsummer game date – which is midseason for MLS teams and early preseason for most of the rest of the world.
Everton is a Liverpool-based club that has played in England’s top division for 107 seasons and has won nine league championships. Last season, Everton lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final and finished fifth in the EPL behind Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.
“They can sometimes be up in the beginning of the season, and then they drop sometimes,” said Ljungberg, who played 11 seasons in the EPL. “Their problem probably is a little bit they don’t have the budgets that the big teams have. … I think Everton don’t have that much money where they have a massive squad; so if they have injures, they get hit more.”
The Toffees opened their North American preseason tour Saturday with a 1-0 loss to River Plate of Argentina in Edmonton. Everton was criticized in the Canadian press for resting some of its top stars, including goalkeeper Tim Howard – Keller’s former backup with the U.S. national team – and captain Phil Neville.
However, Howard is expected to start today. He got his professional start in MLS and has been one of the top stories of game week. Keller, a native of Lacey who proved himself overseas, likely will start for the MLS stars.
“I think any time you’re selected for any kind of honor, it’s always exactly that: It’s an honor,” Keller said. “… I’m proud to be an All-Star, and I’ll do my best to keep Everton out of the goal.”
Rio Tinto Stadium has a capacity of 20,008. As of Tuesday, only scattered single tickets remained. … Seattle Sounders FC has announced that its Aug. 5 friendly with Barcelona is officially sold out. … After the All-Star break, the Sounders return to league play Sunday at San Jose.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
More reaction from the All-Star Sounders is available at blogs.thenewstribune.com/soccer