After a week of unprecedented publicity and some criticism due to David Beckham's arrival, the MLS All-Stars will try to prove once again they can beat one of the top clubs in the world Thursday night when they meet Scottish powerhouse Celtic F.C. at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Colorado.
Beckham was officially introduced as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy on Friday, completing a surprising free transfer from Spain's La Liga champion Real Madrid for a staggering five-year, $32.5 million incentive-laden contract that could be worth as much as $250 million. The English midfielder's arrival in the United States touched off raucous debate about the viability and level of play of MLS.
Beckham, whose scheduled debut for the Galaxy on Saturday in an exhibition match against English side Chelsea -- losers last year to the MLS All-Stars -- is in question due to a nagging ankle sprain, will watch one of those arguments play out on the field Thursday as a spectator in Colorado.
Houston's Dwayne De Rosario got MVP honors for scoring the lone goal in the 70th minute against the 2005 and 2006 English Premier League champions as the MLS All-Stars improved to 3-0 against club teams since the format was introduced in 2003. The MLS All-Stars also have wins over Mexican side Chivas of Guadalajara and England's Fulham.
De Rosario is again expected to fill the playmaking role for the MLS, starting behind Kansas City's Eddie Johnson and Juan Pablo Angel of New York at forward.
Johnson is enjoying a revival for the Wizards this season, tying for the league lead with 10 goals in 10 games after totaling only seven in 34 games over the previous two years. His play earned him a recall to the United States national team.
Angel, who has nine goals in 11 games, has been a superb addition for the Red Bulls, joining them from Aston Villa of the EPL via the league's new designated player rule -- dubbed the "Beckham rule."
The offensive trio will have support from Juan Toja (Dallas) and Ronnie O'Brien (Toronto) on the wings, while Shalrie Joseph (New England) and Ricardo Clark (Houston) share the defensive midfield duties in the 3-5-2 formation set by Revolution coach Steve Nicol.
Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City) and Michael Parkhurst (New England) round out the lineup on defense with the Revs' Matt Reis in goal.
A native of Scotland and 15-year veteran with Liverpool, Nicol -- a Champions League winner with the Reds in 1984 -- appears to have his own motivation in guiding the All-Stars to a win over Celtic.
"Obviously being Scottish, (coaching the MLS All-Stars) is fantastic," Nicol told the league's official Web site. "Being a Rangers supporter, obviously I want to beat Celtic."
Celtic is Scotland's second-most decorated club with 41 league titles and 47 domestic cups to Rangers' 51 league championships and 55 cups. Celtic has gained some ground on the Glasgow rivals, winning the last two Scottish Premier League titles and completing the "double" last season with the Scottish Cup.
It was eliminated from the Champions League in the Round of 16 in a two-game aggregate series defeat to eventual champion AC Milan.
Celtic is in the middle of preseason before it commences defending its titles on Aug. 5. Despite the game only being used as preparation for the upcoming season, Celtic manager Gordon Strachan is still looking for a victory.
"First of all, we want to win, because we're competitive animals, and so is the MLS," Strachan said. "That's why we've got to this level, because we're competitive people.
"The last couple years have been good, two championships, two cups, knockout stage of the Champions League. We hope to continue the good work, and we hope that coming to America will help us prepare for that."
Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Celtic's top scorer last season with 13 goals in 21 league games, is expected to start at forward as he prepares to build on his first season in Scotland, which was hampered by injuries. The 6-foot-2 Dutch international is a dynamic player for Celtic, capable of also playing physical in the box. He will likely have to contend with the 6-foot-2 Conrad, who is known for his tough play in MLS.
"There's no doubt these games are preparation games for our season, but what you'll find is playing for this club, there's no 'friendlies,'" Celtic defender Steven Pressley said. "Thursday will be no different. It will be a real test for us as a club. The MLS has some fantastic talent, and we're looking forward to the challenge."
Celtic should be familiar with at least one of the players on the MLS squad after a 4-0 loss to D.C. United on July 12 at RFK Stadium. United midfielder Christian Gomez had two assists in the contest and is the club's lone representative for the All-Star game.
After facing the All-Stars, Celtic will meet the Chicago Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park to complete the U.S. tour.