By FRANCO PANIZO
PORTLAND, Ore. — The festivities in the Rose City have been going on all week, but the real fun will get underway on Wednesday night.
The 2014 MLS All-Stars will host Bayern Munich and their cast of quality players at Providence Park in a match that will feature several members of the U.S. Men’s National Team. From Michael Bradley to Clint Dempsey to Julian Green and more, there will be no shortage of World Cup players on the field as the MLS All-Stars try to get back to winning ways after losing last year’s match against AS Roma.
At its core, the match is a glorified friendly that will help showcase the talents of MLS players and give Bayern Munich another test as they continue preparing for the Bundesliga campaign. But make no mistake about it, MLS players want to put forth solid performances and leave Portland victorious.
“Unfortunately, if you win and play well it probably doesn’t matter very much and if you lose it probably matters a little more,” said Bradley. “The challenge for us is still to enjoy the week and the festivities, but still make sure that when it’s time to step on the field we do so in a way where we’re able to play.
“As players, you enjoy playing in big games,” Bradley later added. “Big games can be finals, big games can be World Cups but big games can also be games like this where now it’s a big opponent. Even if it’s just a friendly game, there’s a buzz and there’s excitement.”
That much is true. Throughout the week, the busy streets in Portland have been littered with soccer fans chatting about things like the hometown Timbers, Bayern Munich and the upcoming All-Star Game. Jerseys have been worn with a casualty and frequency that is not commonplace in other soccer markets, and it is hard to miss all the soccer-focused advertisements – from a pink T-Mobile bus with a huge image of Green in a Bayern Munich jersey to large ads promoting the MLS All-Star Game – that are currently in the city.
Anticipation for the game has grown with each passing day, and it should be quite an entertaining match despite the fact that there will be a litany of substitutions made on both sides.
MLS All-Star head coach Caleb Porter said earlier in the week that he plans to field two different lineups in the match, each playing a half, while Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola has said that he will limit his just-arrived World Cup players to short cameos.
Green, however, will get a bit of a longer look for the Germany powerhouse. There were questions as to if the U.S. youngster would even play in this game after recently recovering from a knee injury, but Green is healthier now and is expected to play.
“He’s going to play a little bit more,” said Guardiola with a smirk. “For the fans, for the girls, he’s going to play a little bit more.”
Much of the attention will understandably be on Green and the U.S. teammates that he has that will be representing the MLS All-Stars, but Bayern Munich’s top-notch players will also grab the spotlight. Talented veterans like Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery should feature in the match, giving it even more star power and quality.
“If I had a son right now playing I’d say look at Ribery and look at Muller,” said MLS All-Stars forward Thierry Henry. “What (Cristiano) Ronaldo does and (Lionel) Messi, they are just freaks. It’s true. Don’t try to copy those guys because they’re just freaks and that doesn’t happen often. But you can copy Franck Ribery and you can copy Thomas Muller.
“It’s funny how people don’t look at the game the way they should look at the game. People, especially now the media, they love a guy with stepovers, tricks and things like that. But the game is what Thomas Muller is doing for me. That’s the game.”
The MLS All-Stars also have plenty of players capable of making a difference, including the legendary Henry, Landon Donovan and Nick Rimando. Porter plans to have his team attack, and that should make for an open and fun game filled with chances.
“My hope is that we put on a great show and we do everything we can to win the game,” said Donovan. “This is not a game where we’re just going to concede the fire and be conservative against a better team and a great team. We’re going to try to win the game.