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MLS All-Star Game Preview

The MLS All-Stars take on English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur tonight in Colorado at 7:00 PM local time, 9:00 ET. This year’s All-Star Game marks the 10th anniversary of Major League Soccer’s decisive switch to a format in which the best of the MLS play not one another, but rather match up against some of the top clubs from Europe.

Last year, the MLS All-Stars took on Bayern Munich in Portland, defeating the German side 2-1 in a game which saw Pep Guardiola so intensely frustrated he refused the hand of MLS and Portland manager Caleb Porter upon the match’s conclusion. Will this season’s matchup see as fiery a contest? Can the MLS hope to repeat their winning ways for a second consecutive year?

MLS: Missing Stars, But Still Studded

Unfortunately for the fans lining up in Colorado tonight, some of Major League Soccer’s newest and brightest stars won’t be participating in the All-Star Game. Iconic English midfielders, and MLS debutantes, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have both been ruled out of the MLS squad due to injury. Other more seasoned MLS stars, such as Michael Bradley and Robbie Keane, will be missing as well.

If ticket-holders for tonight’s match might be crestfallen that they won’t see “Stevie G.” or “Fat Frank” on the pitch, there will nonetheless be a wealth of big names lining up against Spurs for the MLS. Despite missing current team captain Bradley, a stockpile of U.S. National Team veterans will be on hand this evening, including DeMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi, Gyasi Zardes, and Nick Rimando. Perhaps most anticipated among the USMNT squad is Clint Dempsey, who will take part tonight fresh off a Gold Cup performance that won him the tournament’s Golden Boot.

Beyond the American participants, even without Lampard and Gerrard, the MLS will have a trio of international stars at their disposal for tonight’s match. Famed Brazilian midfielder Kaka will line up for the All-Stars, and he’ll have two European stars to find in attack in front of him. Sebastian Giovinco, Italian international and former Juventus star, has been lighting up MLS this season with Toronto, but despite Giovinco’s scintillating form, he’s not the biggest name on the MLS roster. That would be Spanish striker David Villa, who is himself coming off a brace at the weekend against Orlando. They may not be with their full compliment of players, but the MLS All-Stars have a very, very strong squad.

Tottenham Hotspur: Players to Watch

Even if they’ve been somewhat in the shadow of North London arch-rival Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur have a very strong squad as well. Leading their attack is young starlet Harry Kane, who is coming off a breakout 2014 -2015 Premier League campaign. Kane scored 21 goals in his 28 EPL appearances, second only to Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero (26). Having turned 22 just yesterday, Kane is a rising star if ever there was one, and soccer fans in Colorado could be poised to witness a future great take the field in Commerce City.

In addition to their up-and-coming striker Harry Kane, White Hart Lane—Tottenham’s stadium in London—serves as home to another 22-year-old star who might be more familiar to fans of MLS: DeAndre Yedlin. Having recently moved to England from MLS club Seattle Sounders, Yedlin is still gunning for playing time with Spurs. But coming off a very strong Gold Cup performance, one in which he assisted Clint Dempsey’s equalizer in the Third Place Match, Yedlin will be hoping to bolster his first team hopes with a strong performance on his native US soil.

Who Wins? Quality vs. Chemistry

In the ten years of this All-Star format, the games have been a fairly even split, with MLS winning 6 of 10. But today, this league is on the rise. What’s more, despite their strong team, Tottenham Hotspur are no Manchester United or Bayern Munich, having failed to win a trophy in the past seven years—and even that piece of silverware was the League Cup, arguably England’s least illustrious prize (well, save the lower-division Johnstone’s Paint Trophy).

Make no mistake: even if this league does not have the global draw of La Liga or the Premiership, MLS absolutely have the quality to beat Spurs. This month New York Red Bulls defeated Benfica 2-1, and even more impressively, downed Chelsea 4-2. Even more surprising, Premier League side Newcastle United, with new signing Giorginio Wijnaldum on the pitch, were defeated 4-3 in Portland—not by the Portland Timbers, but rather by their reserve team, Portland Timbers 2. Tottenham are a stronger squad than Newcastle, having finished the 2014-2015 EPL campaign a full 10 places higher, in 5th to Newcastle’s 15th. Still, they are in the same league, and if in years past some have doubted MLS’ ability to hang with the big English clubs, the defeat of Newcastle United at the hands of an MLS reserve squad would seem to indicate that the playing field is much, much closer to level.

Tonight’s match is likely to come down to one question: as a squad who play together throughout the year, will Tottenham’s team chemistry combined with their quality be enough to outplay the MLS? Or will the quality of Villa, Dempsey, Kaka & Co. overpower the North London side? Against teams like Bayern Munich or Barcelona, one might say that the MLS All-Stars were evenly matched, if not even underdogs, but considering the strength of their squad—even without Lampard, Gerrard, and Bradley— and that the opposition is without the overwhelming skill of a Lionel Messi or a Mario Götze, this is a game MLS will be hoping–perhaps even expecting–to win.

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