All-Stars relish chance to play with, not against, Giovinco and Villa

Sebastian Giovinco -- shakes hands -- David Villa

CHICAGO – Since joining MLS in 2015, David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco have consistently made life in the league tougher for defenders.

Both players have hit at least 50 league goals and picked up an MVP honor in two-and-a-half seasons. And as even their teammates in Wednesday night's MLS All-Star Game can tell you, some the only way to stop them is to drag them down.

“They’re good players, they’re big players, they’ve had a great career and even now they still have a good level,” LA Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme said Tuesday after the All-Stars’ training at Soldier Field. “You have to be ready and focus with those kind of guys. Giovinco is a great player, very quick feet. I always joke against him, ‘For me the only way to stop you is to just block you or hold you.’”

Now that those defenders don't have to worry about solving a seemingly impossible problem, All-Star preparations are allowing them a chance to get to know the MVP attackers who have tormented them.

“You get a little more of the personality of the guys,” FC Dallas and US national team center back Matt Hedges said. “It’s not necessarily on the field -- because everybody is very serious on the field, and in games they’re serious --  so you don’t get to know them very well, but in the locker room or hotel, that’s where you kind of get to see the differences in guys.

“It’s interesting, because sometimes when you’re on the field, you kind of think of ‘What’s that guy like off the field?’ Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re completely off base, so it’s pretty cool.”

It's not just defenders who are looking forward to finally being in the same XI as Villa and Giovinco.

“They’re just quality players; if you give them an inch of space they’ll kill you,” Dallas' Kellyn Acosta said. “They’re guys that can finish with both feet, they’re definitely clinical, they’ve played at the highest level. … They just have that extra instinct, that quality in front of goal that anything bounces, it usually goes their way. 

“Definitely hate playing against them, but playing with them is going to be cool.”

Despite scoring a beauty of a free kick for the US recently, Acosta said he may also be looking for some set-piece tips from the league's record scorer of direct free kicks.

“I mean, I can learn a couple things from Giovinco,” Acosta said. “He’s a free-kick specialist, he’s scored numerous goals, I’m still on the come-up, but I hope I can learn a thing or two from him.”