Philadelphia, PA – The Major League Soccer All-Stars have not fared particularly well in America's summer showcase over the past few seasons.
Playing English Premier League heavyweight Manchester United in consecutive matches left the team battered, bruised and licking their wounds, falling to the 19-time league champions by a combined score of 9-2 over the two games.
But don't be fooled by that small sample size. Since the MLS All-Star Game switched from the prototypical "East vs. West" format to a match that pits all of the league's best players against a world-renowned team, the All-Stars have done more than simply hold their own.
Aside from the two humbling defeats to the mighty Red Devils, the MLS All- Stars have produced a 5-0-1 record against their foreign opponents (though the draw ultimately turned into a loss to English side Everton on penalties).
Wednesday, the MLS All-Stars will be out to prove that their losses to Manchester United were nothing more than outliers in an otherwise impressive record against the world's best as they face reigning European champion and FA Cup winner Chelsea at PPL Park.
The idea to face international clubs began in 2003 with a 3-1 win over Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara. The East vs. West format manifested itself once more in 2004 before the league reverted back to contests with international powerhouses, and MLS has not looked back since.
The All-Stars crushed Fulham, 4-1 in 2005 before Dwayne De Rosario helped them squeak past Chelsea with a 1-0 win in 2006. After taking successive wins against Scottish giant Celtic (2-0) and English side West Ham United (3-2), the All-Stars played to a 1-1 draw with Everton in 2009, ultimately losing on penalties.
Major League Soccer has fought a battle to gain notoriety in a crowded sports marketplace for some time. In many ways, it is still fighting - there are plenty of people who contend that soccer in America will struggle to gain long-term popularity and that players from the United States won't be truly competitive in the world's game.
The All-Star Game, in its current format, was viewed as a tool to combat this notion - putting our boys against global footballing giants and proving that we're good enough.
But even on the back of two sizable losses to Manchester United, Ben Olsen, head coach the MLS All-Stars, is much more realistic with his expectations. The D.C. United boss is not feeling the pressure to get a positive result in a glorified friendly.
"If anything, I should feel less pressure with that," said Olsen in response to how the two previous All-Star Games will affect his approach. "I'd feel more pressure if they won both of them [against Manchester United].
"Look, it's a situation where you fly guys in with games on the weekend, you try to get them on the same page, give them a template to succeed, but you can only do so much in 36 hours. That's the beauty of this; it's about the individuals and they go out there, they try to gel under quick circumstances and help each other out. We'll see. We'll give it our best shot, that's for sure."
Landon Donovan knows a thing or two about All-Star Games having been voted to an MLS-record 12th appearance this year. The Los Angeles Galaxy star echoed Olsen's mentality, but believes his All-Star teammates still have the motivation necessary to pull off the desired result.
"It's an All-Star Game at the end of the day," Donovan said. "But I think guys take some pride in it. And it's good to have guys who are experiencing it for the first time because they're probably a little bit more excited than guys who have been there before.
"I think we're going to be a lot more competitive this time around."