The best and brightest from the past, present, and future of United States soccer ran out onto the RFK Stadium turf Friday morning, as the 2004 MLS All-Star weekend kicked into high gear.
The East and West All-Star squads each had light training sessions, followed by an easygoing workout for the grizzled participants in Saturday's opening event, the MLS Celebration Game.
On the 10th anniversary of World Cup USA 1994, the Celebration Game brings together members of that trail-blazing '94 USA team to play a collection of international stars with World Cup and MLS ties.
Familiar faces like Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes, and Alexi Lalas, who helped push soccer into the American mainstream, will play a 50-minute match against the likes of Richard Gough, Marco Etcheverry, and Carlos Valderrama.
A relaxed, family atmosphere was on display for the celebration squads, with several players' children cavorting alongside their fathers' old teammates. Even Lorrie Fair, a former U.S. women's national player now working as a sideline commentator for ESPN, jumped into a few drills with the World team.
One of the most visible figures was D.C. United coach Peter Nowak, a former Chicago Fire and Polish national team standout who will play for the World squad, then quickly change for his role as coach of the MLS East All-Star team.
"It's good to play with guys I've played with before," he said. "It's going to be a great game. Actually the second game is more important to me, because its my first year as the All-Star coach. It's very special -- my team got me there."
West coach Sigi Schmid, of the league-leading LA Galaxy, was similarly deferential, praising his team and hailing this year's gathering of All-Stars.
"Obviously I'm excited to be here," said Schmid. "It's a great honor to have been selected as the All-Star coach because it's a reflection of what the team's been able to accomplish in the first part of the season. But it's also a lot of fun to be together with this talented group of individuals."
Both games figure to be fan-friendly exhibitions, light on defending and full of attacking flair.
"As usual, its going to be a very offensive game tomorrow, a chance for people to showcase their individual skills and talents, so it's a great game for the fans to see," said Schmid. "I think it'll be a fun time."
"I look for a 1-0 or 0-0 game tomorrow," wisecracked San Jose defender and West team captain Jeff Agoos. "This is usually a high-scoring event, and as a defender, I usually have a tough day of work."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.