NEW YORK — David Luiz is a defending European champion and a key fixture of the Brazilian national team.
But that doesn't mean that the Chelsea center back can't be in awe of other soccer stars.
The defender with the recognizable flowing, curly locks revealed to MLSsoccer.com that he's relishing the chance to play against the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry for the first time. They're the two names that stand out most to him from the MLS All-Star squad Chelsea will face Wednesday night.
"Those two," he told MLSsoccer.com after Chelsea's 1-1 tie against PSG on Sunday night. "They are great players that not just I know about, but the whole world knows them. I hope to have the opportunity to play against them in the next game."
The 25-year-old Luiz talked about how he often would tune into Major League Soccer on the tube while in Portugal — he says he doesn't get the channel in England — just for the chance to watch the two stars in action.
"Soccer in America is growing and today you have a lot of players of a different quality, when no one believed in soccer before," Luiz said. "Today, MLS is recognized as being at a different level and it has a different image in the world."
Luiz's image also changed for good over recent months. It started when he tore a hamstring in an April 15 FA Cup semifinal and was a gametime decision for Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League final on May 19 against Bayern Munich.
He shouldn't have played, but with the Blues experiencing an emergency shortage of center backs for the European final, Luiz made sure he was available. Then after 20 minutes in the biggest game of his career, he says he tore the hamstring again.
Instead of pulling himself out of the match, he went on to play 120 minutes and even took a penalty kick in the shootout that decided the final.
“I told myself I would play with my heart," Luiz told media in the days after the triumph in May. "I did not need to play with my body when my heart was strong."
So a defender who was often criticized for rash challenges and taking risks pushing up into the attack, was now a player with the heart of a lion, winning over Chelsea fans after a little more than a year at the club.
Luiz told MLSsoccer.com that the time he spent idle to allow the hamstring to heal, has left him with a long road back to reach full fitness. He mentioned he was gassed after 10 minutes against PSG at Yankee Stadium, but gutted it out — "I'm just beginning," he said of his training.
But he seems undaunted and full of optimism, just happy to play and happy to talk soccer, including the upcoming match against the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday at PPL Park.
"[The MLS All-Stars] are players of a high level and players who have done everything in the game," he said. "There are players who will play here that already know everything there is to know [about soccer]. Of course they don’t know each other well on the field, but the language of soccer, for who knows how to play, is easy to understand."