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Major League Soccer

Chelsea will face All-Stars August 5 at new Fire stadium.

Jose Mourinho
Dapper manager Jose Mourinho will lead Chelsea against the MLS All-Stars August 5 at the Chicago Fire's new Bridgeview stadium.
-- Chelsea FC web site photo --
By Gary Davidson
SoccerTimes

(Thursday, April 13, 2006) -- Chelsea FC, on the verge of repeating as English Premier League champion, will face a team of top Major League Soccer players in the MLS All-Star Game August 5 at the Chicago Fire's new stadium in the Bridgeview suburb.

This is the second straight year and third in four that MLS will face an foreign team in its All-Star Game. Last July 30, MLS defeated Fulham of the EPL 4-1. In 2003, the MLS All-Stars defeated Mexico's CD Chivas de Guadalajara 3-1, a prelude to Chivas placing an expansion team in MLS last season.

"We've been able to show some of our young guys have been able to stand toe-to-toe against some of the great teams from around the world," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a press conference in Bridgeview today.

The Fire will play its first nine games of 2005, and 11 of 12 on the road, leading up to the opening of the Bridgeview stadium June 25 when the New York Red Bulls visit. The $70-million facility has a capacity of 20,000.

The Fire announced tickets to the All-Star Game will be initially made available in a private sale to the team's season ticket holders, as well as those with partial plans.

Chelsea's heralded lineup features players whose annual salaries each approach, or even greatly exceed, what an entire MLS team is paid. Though the Blues will be in preseason form and will probably limit its stars to playing a half, Chelsea business affairs director Paul Smith promised his club will not let up on the representatives of the American league.

"The match will be very competitive. Chelsea doesn't play exhibition games," he said. "(Manager) Jose Mourinho has an American view of sport, the team that comes in second is the first loser.

"We will be bringing our full first-team squad to the match. We have 17 players on our current squad that will be playing in the World Cup this summer, and that is the most out of any club in Europe. It's a club that is very cosmopolitan in nature as well, having 14 nationalities in the 25-player roster." "

Garber predicted a special event. "What you're going to see on August 5 is unique among All-Star game is pro sports," he said. "No other league really has the ability to bring this kind of competition, this kind of intrigue, because of the unique format we have with this game."

On March 29, Chelsea announced a "major strategic alliance" with Anschutz Entertainement Group, which owns and operates four MLS teams -- the Fire, Los Angeles Galaxy, Houston Dynamo and D.C. United -- since selling the MetroStars to Red Bull Company, the entity that makes the so-called "energy" drink.

While the terms of the agreement are somewhat nebulous, Chelsea seems to have planned a special relationship with the Galaxy, one that would Chelsea first option to sign Los Angeles players and loan young players to the U.S. side. Should this deal prove fruitful, more AEG teams could participate in the arrangement.

A dialogue will be established between the coaches and trainers of Chelsea and the Galaxy, as well as AEG as a whole.

The negotiations for the All-Star Game commenced in December. A deal was thought to have been reached last month, but fell apart.

"It's something Don and I have been talking about for a long time and we're pleased it actually came to fruition," Smith said. "I think the reason we're going to come here is recognition, in part, of the enormous effort and contribution that Don and the guys at MLS, AEG. . . have made to really establish football, or soccer, in North America. And by not being proud and distinct from the rest of the world's sport, they've actually looked to engage the European soccer clubs and have been welcomed in the process and, I think, eventually everyone will see the benefits of that.

"This is not something we've looked at in isolation because, as some of you have seen, we've recently announced a major alliance in AEG. . . We think it's a natural evolution, that announcement, and part of our deep commitment to the sport in North America."

The All-Star Game could not be played on the planned July 29 date because the English soccer player's union prohibits players who participate in the World Cup from playing in a match within 30 days of the tournament. With the World Cup running June 9 through July 9 in Germany, the original day would have prevented Chelsea's bevy of international stars from participating.

Because of the change, the game will now be broadcast on ESPN, rather than ABC.

Chicago's home game with the Columbus Crew had to be rescheduled to a week earlier, as were three other MLS matches planned for August 5. The New England Revolution's August 6 visit to Chivas USA has not been moved, making it unclear if players from those two teams could participate in the All-Star Game.

Chelsea will be visiting the United States for a third straight summer and plans to return in 2007 and 2009 as part of its preseason. Last year, Chelsea faced the MLS defending champion D.C. United and Italian power AC Milan on its tour of the States.

Two years ago, Chelsea faced Glasgow Celtic, and AS Roma and AC Milan of Italy in the Champions World Series.

The Blues' plans call for them to make preseason visits to the U.S. in 2007 and 2009. "It will be five summers out of six Chelsea will have been in North America," Smith said.

Gary Davidson is SoccerTimes publisher and managing editor.

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