Thursday, 10 July 2008

Beckham Adds Fizz To The Pepsi All-Star Game

West Ham United are set to face England midfielder David Beckham when the club plays the Major League Soccer All-Stars in Toronto on Thursday 24 July. The LA Galaxy player was among the eleven names voted into the First XI following a poll of fans, players, media and coaches/general managers that was announced today in Toronto. Beckham was second in the combined voting behind US star striker and club-mate Landon Donovan, while the next most popular was the veteran Chicago Fire and Mexico playmaker Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The match, which kicks off at midnight London time, will be broadcast live in England via Setanta Sports.

The MLS-leading New England Revolution led the way with three players getting the nod, with centerback Michael Parkhurst, midfielder Shalrie Joseph and goalkeeper Matt Reis each having outstanding seasons thus far. The L.A. Galaxy and Columbus Crew each had two players make the team, while the Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, FC Dallas and Kansas City Wizards each had one player named.

Kansas City Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad and Columbus Crew defender Frankie Hejduk will join Parkhurst in a back three in front of Reis. Coincidentally enough, Conrad, Hejduk and Reis are all UCLA alums. In addition to Beckham, Blanco and Joseph, the midfield will also have Chivas USA’s Sacha Kljestan and Columbus Crew’s Robbie Rogers. Donovan, who leads MLS with 11 goals, will be joined up top by FC Dallas striker Kenny Cooper, whose eight goals rank fourth in MLS.

The First XI is reflective of Major League Soccer's diverse player pool. Ranging in age from 21 (Robbie Rogers) to 35 (Cuauhtémoc Blanco), this group brings an array of experience both domestically and abroad. Three players born outside of the United States and Canada are among the eleven, each having captained their respective country's national team - Beckham (102 caps with England), Blanco (97 caps with Mexico), and Joseph (Grenada).

On 15 July, Revolution head coach Steve Nicol and his staff will select five additional All-Stars, who will join two Commissioner selections to complete the 18-man MLS squad. Nicol earned the honor of coaching the MLS side by leading his team to the highest points per game average in the league through games on 29 June. The First XI is not necessarily the starting lineup. Nicol will select the starters based on player availability and tactical considerations.

"West Ham, you have been warned," MLS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis said before unveiling the line-up in Toronto. “This is a very competitive lineup.”

Beckham, speaking in a recorded video interview, said he expected a competitive outing against West Ham, the English Premier League club closest to his childhood home in east London. "I’ve played against a few of the players before in the Premiership and it’s always going to be a tough game," Beckham said. "They’re preparing for the season, it’s their pre-season, so they’ll be working hard to get their fitness and it will be an interesting game."

Donovan, appearing in his seventh straight All-Star selection at the age of 26, said he was relishing the game in front of a sold-out attendance of 20,000 fans at BMO Field, and whose Toronto FC fans have quickly established a reputation as generating the best stadium atmosphere in MLS, just a season and a half after their induction into the league. "I can’t wait. I can’t remember being this excited for an All-Star Game,” Donovan said. “It’s a good team we’re playing against, a very good team, and I’m hoping, because in the past few years I’ve been injured and haven’t been able to play as much as I’d like, I want to play with some of these guys that I watch and idolize.”

2008 MLS All-Star First XI

Goalkeeper: Matt Reis (New England Revolution)
Defenders: Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Michael Parkhurst (New England Revolution)
Midfielders: David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Chicago Fire), Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)
Forwards: Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Closer to home and the hard work continues apace at Chadwell Heath as the squad gears up for their MLS challenge. The first team have been enduring intensive double sessions as they enter the second week of the pre-season programme. With virtually the entire squad involved, the signs are also good for those working their way back to full fitness. England midfielder Kieron Dyer is due to be back in full training by the time the squad return from North America and the games against Columbus Crew and the Major League Soccer All-Stars on 20 and 24 July respectively. The club describe his progress as 'excellent' over the summer as he recovers from his double leg-break suffered just over a year ago and will stay behind at Chadwell Heath to continue his fitness work in readiness for the new campaign.

Another welcome sight back on the practice pitches has been James Collins who has been joining in full running sessions and ball work with his team-mates. His Welsh international team-mate Danny Gabbidon is also back in training and is running. With and James TomkinsFreddie Sears set to join up with England for Under-19 duty, the only other two players not at Chadwell Heath are Freddie Ljungberg after his Euro 2008 exertions and Jonathan Spector who has begun his rehabilitation programme after hip surgery in the United States.

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