Familiarity gives All-Stars the edge
PORTLAND, Ore. -- For a decade now, Major League Soccer's midsummer classic has followed a simple formula: A European club preparing for its new season pitted against a hodgepodge band of hastily convened standouts from across the domestic league.
This time around, on the eve of Wednesday's match between mighty Bayern Munich and the MLS All-Stars (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN) at Providence Park, the blueprint appears the same.
Coverage from MLS All-Star 2014:
- Parker: Henry should be cherished
- McIntyre: Merits of the All-Star Game format
- Davis: 2014 MLS midseason awards
- Carlisle: MLS Power Rankings: Week 21
- McIntyre: Dempsey discusses U.S. future
- Marshall: Torres enjoying the limelight
- Carlisle: MLS midseason report cards
- Parker: Cynics wrong about All-Star Game
- McIntyre: Familiarity gives All-Stars the edge
In the 12 months that have passed since last year's event, when the hosts lost 3-1 to a Roma squad headlined at the time by U.S. national team veteran Michael Bradley, Bradley and fellow Yank star Clint Dempsey have returned to play in the league where they began their careers, and MLS sent another seven players to their first FIFA World Cup.
In total, eight of the men who helped the Americans advance to the knockout stage earlier this summer are here (all but Houston's Brad Davis, who started vs. eventual champ Germany in the USA's first-round finale), plus longtime national teamers Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu and Michael Parkhurst.
The result could be a team that actually plays like one.
"It's nice to be back with the guys," Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler, who was in Jurgen Klinsmann's lineup for all four U.S. games in Brazil, said at Monday's pre-match news conference.
"There's a feeling of comfort to see the familiar faces. Hopefully we can use that a little bit to our advantage, the fact that a good amount of us have spent the last six or eight weeks playing together."
It's not as though MLS has embarrassed itself often in these matches, even with teams thrown together just a couple of days before. Sure, the score line against Roma wasn't pretty, and there were even uglier defeats to Manchester United in 2010 and '11. But the All-Stars also have beaten Chelsea twice, including two years ago, when the Blues arrived fresh off a victory -- over Bayern Munich -- in the Champions League final.
Still, the format means the visitors always have the edge, even in the preseason.
"Obviously they play together every day," Seattle Sounders youngster DeAndre Yedlin, a revelation for the Yanks in Brazil, said Monday. "So it's not more of an advantage than they have."
Portland Timbers captain Will Johnson added: "It's not going to be as fluid as if we were a real club team."
That means Timbers coach Caleb Porter, who'll helm the All-Stars in his home stadium, has a decision to make. He could instruct a team overloaded with attack-minded talent to play conservatively, or go forward and risk getting torn to shreds by Pep Guardiola's world-class squad.
On Monday, Porter made it clear which approach he favours.
"It wouldn't do these players justice to sit back all game, so we're going to attack and make it exciting," he said, adding that he probably would use almost entirely different elevens in the first and second halves.
"We'll put into place a simple structure that they can work from, but then you just want to let them go. The key is to highlight these players. It's a celebration of what these guys have done this year -- but not just this year, in their careers. Hopefully we can make it a competitive game."
Having some familiarity for once can't hurt.
"Any time you can have a group of guys who have been together and who can have a good understanding, that certainly helps," Bradley said. "The hope is when you step on the field on Wednesday night, that helps us."
-Bayern coach Pep Guardiola said 19-year-old U.S. forward Julian Green will play "a little bit more" than Bayern's other returning World Cup players, who Guardiola said would see a maximum of 15 minutes.
-Yedlin is hoping to catch up with Green, his roommate in Brazil, before Wednesday's game. "We've shot a couple texts back and forth," Yedlin said. "We'll try to meet up, but it's tough with our schedules."
-Donovan played for Bayern (on loan from the Galaxy in early 2009) and was controversially left off the World Cup team by Klinsmann, but he insisted Monday that that won't give him any extra motivation to make a statement. "Not for that reason," he said. "But honestly, this is the most excited I've been at one of these games in a long time. I think everyone's excited to come to Portland. We all love this city, we love playing at Providence Park. For once we get to play with the fans behind us, which will be nice."
-Donovan also suggested that his former U.S. teammates might use the game to exact some revenge for the 1-0 loss to Germany in June. "I'm sure some of the guys will recall quite well what happened against some of those players," Donovan said. Dempsey disagreed. "Nah, I don't see that," he said. "It's a different type of game. It's not a World Cup. You can't replicate that pressure. You can't replicate that four-year process to get to that moment."
-Besides former French teammate Franck Ribery, the player Thierry Henry is most looking forward to facing against Bayern -- if he plays -- is German star Thomas Muller.
"It's funny how people sometimes don't look at the game the way you should," Henry said. "They love a guy who does step-overs, tricks. That's not the game. The game is what Thomas Muller is doing, for me. If I had a son right now playing, I'd say look at Ribery, look at Muller. Because what Ronaldo does, and Messi -- they're just freaks. Don't try to copy those guys because they're freaks, and that doesn't happen often.
"But you can copy Frank Ribery and Thomas Muller. If anyone else had the record Muller has at the Word Cup -- people don't talk about it the way they should. He plays the game the right way. He defends, he attacks, he controls the ball when he has to control it and when he has to finish, he will. He does what the game asks him to do."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.