ZURICH – Manchester United has had its way with MLS competition on this summer's tour of the United States, and while the reigning Barclays Premier League champions will once again be favored in tonight's MLS All-Star Game, the opponent they will be facing will be capable of offering a stern test and putting on a good show for the fans lucky enough to score tickets to the mid-summer showcase.
The MLS All-Stars didn't put up much resistance in losing last year's All-Star Game to Manchester United, falling 5-2 in Houston, but the group assembled by New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe has more star power and quality than the 2010 edition.
The match will be especially meaningful for David Beckham, who will face Manchester United for the first time since playing against them in the UEFA Champions League with AC Milan. As much as there may be some sentimental aspect to facing United, Beckham was clear that he is hoping that he and the rest of the MLS All-Stars can provide a tough test for Manchester United.
"They're the biggest club in the world,'' Beckham said. "When you play at that level you approach every game the same. You play to win.
"Manchester United players didn't come over here just for holiday and to have a nice runaround on the field. They came over here to win. We're well aware of that.''
While Henry and Beckham have owned the headlines leading up to tonight's All-Star Game, Henry was quick to point out that he and Beckham won't be the only good players facing United.
"You have some amazing players in this league," Henry said. "Obviously, sometimes people are going to talk about me or Becks and players coming from Europe, but you'd be surprised if some of the guys watching the games in MLS, and hopefully you do, there are some amazing players playing all around the league."
"If you look tomorrow for our starting lineup it's definitely a quality team," Backe said. "Absolutely good footballers at every position."
Despite missing stars such as Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez (injured), as well as the likes of Brek Shea and Osvaldo Alonso (CONCACAF Champions League commitments), the 2011 MLS All-Stars boast a good mix of veterans (Henry, Beckham, Mondragon and Brad Davis) and exciting youngsters (US national team members Juan Agudelo and Tim Ream).
Will it be enough to stay with (or even beat) Manchester United? The task will be a very tough one considering United is not only strong but also a team that has been together for years. The nucleus of the squad has helped United reach the UEFA Champions League Final in three of the past four years, so rather than being a team adjusting to new blood, it is a stacked squad very familiar with each other.
The MLS All-Star Team doesn't have such luxury, having had just one training session together.
"It's almost like being involved with the national team," Backe said. "You get the same short preparation, one or two sessions before you play, and you just have to think what the priority is.
"I like it, it's a little bit difficult. A huge difference compared to playing on the club level."
The MLS All-Stars will be looking for a result, but the ultimate goal will be to have the game be a great show for the fans. Manchester United will be a good bet to hold up its end of that bargain, with the likes of Wayne Rooney in action, and it will be up to the MLS All-Stars to try and show that Major League Soccer's talent is also capable of entertaining.
"It's nice for the fans," Henry said. "They're going to see some of the best players in the league, some of the best players in the world.
"We're going to try and perform well. In games like this you have to include the fun factor, but we will also play to win and to show the quality that this team has."