Kansas City, KS – Major League Soccer's Midsummer Classic kicks off Wednesday as the MLS All-Stars battle Serie A heavyweight AS Roma at Sporting Park.
The All-Stars will hope to carry over some positive momentum from last year's event at Philadelphia's PPL Park that resulted in a 3-2 victory over then- European Champions Chelsea FC.
In last year's match, Eddie Johnson netted the wining goal late on to lift the All-Stars to victory, and while Johnson will not be participating this season, the home side will have plenty of firepower to go around.
Vancouver's Camilo Sanvezzo and Chicago's Mike Magee lead the league with 13 goals apiece and will both participate in the festivities, while Montreal's Marco Di Vaio and Philadelphia's Jack McInerney, the next two names on the goal-scoring list, will be making their first All-Star appearances.
McInerney, who led the league in scoring for several weeks before missing three games due to international duty for the United States during the Gold Cup, was added to roster late on Sunday after Red Bull New York's Tim Cahill pulled out with a torn PCL in his right knee.
United States international Landon Donovan originally was left off the roster, but was added when Los Angeles Galaxy teammate Robbie Keane withdrew due to a thigh injury suffered in a July 13 match against the Portland Timbers. Donovan's selection marks his 13th consecutive All-Star appearance.
Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman will anchor the midfield, while playmaker and hometown favorite Graham Zusi and Montreal's Patrice Bernier are likely to see significant minutes in the middle of the park.
Defensively, Sporting Kansas City fans will be happy to see one of the best central defense pairings in the league as Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin were both named to the squad. Los Angeles' Omar Gonzalez, RSL's Tony Beltran and Houston's Corey Ashe also will be available along the backline for manager Peter Vermes.
Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando, who manned the sticks during the Americans' run to the Gold Cup title, will be available for selection, as well as FC Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez.
For Roma, the All-Star game represents a chance for the Italian club to get fit for the upcoming Serie A season, which begins in mid-August. As such, many of Roma's stars have made the trip to Kansas City.
Among the biggest star attractions is United States midfielder Michael Bradley, who is heading into his second season in the Italian capital after moving to the club from Chievo Verona prior to last season.
Bradley began his professional career in MLS at the age of 16 and was selected 36th overall by the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now Red Bull New York) in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft.
He missed much of his rookie season with an injury but earned a starting spot in 2005 before becoming the youngest MLS player to be sold when he completed a transfer to Eredivisie club SC Heerenveen in January of 2006.
Since Bradley left, the league has grown by leaps and bounds, something he noted during a press conference on Monday.
"I think you look around the league and you see the stadiums being built and the teams that come into the league that have support and fans like they do in Seattle and Portland," Bradley said. "And I think that this is something that's great for the league, great for our country and I think the quality continues to get better when you look at the run that the U.S. team made in this Gold Cup.
"I think a lot of that is thanks to the MLS and the quality of the players that are playing here week in and week out. And I think it's a very positive thing with everybody, because at the end of the day we're all trying to grow the game in this country, make the league better and make the national team better."
In addition to Bradley, Roma will also field such international superstars as Daniele De Rossi, Francesco Totti and Erik Lamela, as well as new signings Maicon, Kevin Strootman, Tin Jedvaj and goalkeeper Morgan DeSanctis.