Arsenal to face MLS in 2016 All-Star Game as part of preseason tour
Major League Soccer has announced that Premier League side Arsenal will be the opponent for the 2016 MLS All-Star Game, to be held in San Jose, California, on July 28.
The game will be played at the San Jose Earthquakes' Avaya Stadium and telecast in the U.S. on ESPN and in the UK on Sky Sports.
After last year's game against Tottenham, the appearance of Arsenal marks the second consecutive year -- and ninth time in the past 12 years -- that the MLS All-Stars will face English opposition.
The Gunners are one of England's most decorated clubs, having won 13 league titles in England's top flight, a record 12 FA Cups, two League Cups and 14 Community Shields.
The game is the first of two that Arsenal will play in California this summer. After the All-Star festivities, the Gunners will play Mexican club Chivas at the StubHub Center in Los Angeles on July 31.
"Preseason is a critically important time for us, and we are delighted to be going to San Jose and Los Angeles to participate in the 2016 MLS All-Star game and to play Chivas," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said in a club statement.
"We have tremendous support across America and enjoyed our visit to New York in the summer of 2014 when we played the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.
"We look forward to giving our U.S. fans the chance to see the team play live."
Arsenal said the two California games will be the only ones the club will play outside of Europe in the 2016 preseason.
"We're thrilled to be able to welcome Arsenal this summer for a number of reasons," said MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott. "Not only are they one of the top clubs in the world, which continues our tradition of having high-level competition for the AT&T MLS All-Star Game. There are a number of deep connections between Arsenal and our league."
Arsenal majority shareholder Stan Kroenke also owns the Colorado Rapids of MLS. Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis was the long time deputy commissioner of MLS prior to joining the Gunners in his current role.
Former Arsenal players like Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg -- the latter of whom was in attendance for Thursday's announcement -- also played in MLS.
"For these reasons, it's particularly fitting that we have this club join us this summer," said Abbott.
The match will take place 15 years to the day since San Jose last hosted the MLS All-Star Game. On that occasion, the match was held at Spartan Stadium, and used an Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference format with the two sides playing to a 6-6 draw. Landon Donovan, then of the Earthquakes, was the MVP.
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Avaya Stadium is the newest stadium in MLS, opening last year when the Earthquakes played a preseason match against the LA Galaxy on Feb. 28. The first official match then took place on March 22, 2015, against the Chicago Fire.
"We built Avaya Stadium for events like this," said San Jose Earthquakes president David Kaval. "This was the whole impetus for the stadium, to bring people together across socioeconomic lines, to enjoy soccer, a great international sport, here in San Jose, a great international city.
"We're excited about it; we can't wait to host everyone. We're excited that our season ticket holders get a first crack at tickets, and it should be a great event."
At the game's announcement, Arsenal was represented by Ljungberg, now a club ambassador, as well as Alex Wicks, the club's head of partnership development. Wicks couldn't help but take a playful jab at rivals Tottenham, who lost the 2015 MLS All-Star Game 2-1.
"Fingers crossed, in the All-Star Game we'll do better than our north London rivals did last year," quipped Wicks.
The only teams to beat the All-Stars in regulation were Manchester United in 2010 and 2011.
Earthquakes season-ticket holders will be able to buy tickets first in the U.S. before a lottery is held in April. Arsenal said they will announce their own ticket plans at a later date.