Stejskal: Five ways the MLS All-Stars could beat Real Madrid

CHICAGO – Let’s not get this twisted: The MLS All-Stars are facing an uphill battle against Real Madrid in Wednesday night’s All-Star Game, presented by Target (8:30 pm ET; FS1 and Univision in the US | TSN and TVA Sports in Canada).

Los Blancos are back-to-back UEFA Champions League winners, boast a roster full of some of the best players in the world and, unlike the cobbled together MLS team they’ll be facing, actually have a system, identity and chemistry.

They’re the deserved favorites at Soldier Field, but the All-Stars shouldn’t be written off. MLS has upset some of the biggest clubs in the world in previous All-Star Games, notching twowins against Chelsea and taking down Bayern Munich in Portland two years ago.

Could they bag another win on Wednesday? Here are five factors that could lead to the MLS All-Stars beating Real Madrid:

Villa the villain

For the most part, the MLS All-Stars were full of praise for Real Madrid following Tuesday’s training at Soldier Field.

One player, however, couldn’t quite bring himself to gush about Los Blancos.

Spanish legend David Villa, who spent years with Madrid archrivals Barcelona and crosstown enemy Atletico Madrid, evaded when asked if Los Merengues were the best team in the world.

“I can’t say that. I can’t say that because obviously for me the teams I’ve played for are better,” Villa said. “As a former Atletico Madrid and Barcelona player, it’s difficult to praise Real Madrid. What they have earned is based on merit and I have a lot of friends on that team and respect for them despite always being my rival.

“They’re enjoying a great moment right now, but I can’t say that because for me the better teams are the ones I have played for.”

Given his longtime ties to their biggest rivals, it’s fair to say that Villa will be seriously motivated to lead the All-Stars to a result on Wednesday. It helps that he’s in fine form: the 35-year-old has 14 goals and seven assists in 21 regular season games for NYCFC this year, and has scored in four of his last five matches entering Wednesday’s contest.

Reds on a roll

Stejskal: Five ways the MLS All-Stars could beat Real Madrid -

After a slow start to the season, Sebastian Giovinco has found his groove in recent weeks, recording five goals and two assists in his last six games for Toronto FC. His TFC running mate, US national team striker Jozy Altidore, is also plenty hot, bagging two goals and an assist in his last two outings for the Reds and scoring twice in three games in the USMNT’s recent run to the Gold Cup title.

Perhaps most importantly, Giovinco and Altidore understand how to play with each other. Expect All-Stars head coach Veljko Paunovic to team them up on Wednesday in an effort to take advantage of one of the few existing partnerships on the MLS roster.

Schweinsteiger out to prove a point

Giovinco and Altidore aren’t the only positional partners who could bring the club form to the All-Star stage on Wednesday. Chicago Fire teammates Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty are one of the best central midfield duos in MLS, and they could have a shot to run the midfield against Madrid.  

Don’t discount the importance of that partnership. Schweinsteiger, who made clear on Tuesday that he won’t withhold anything as he wears the captain’s armband against his old European rivals, and McCarty could do a lot to gum up the works for Real Madrid, and both have the attacking chops to play MLS’ attackers behind on the break.

Howard the hero

Stejskal: Five ways the MLS All-Stars could beat Real Madrid -

The All-Stars will likely be outshot, out-possessed and out-chanced on Wednesday night, but that shouldn’t bother Tim Howard all that much. The longtime US national team goalkeeper has a long history of leading underdog sides to upset results, and could do the same on Wednesday.

Howard most notably played the hero to keep the US in their Round of 16 match against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup, but turned in a mighty fine performance against a few of the Madrid players he’ll face on Wednesday to help the US to their shocking 2-0 win against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup. If the All-Stars snatch a win on Wednesday, Howard will probably be a big reason why.

Siesta for Madrid stars?

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane will undoubtedly run out his biggest stars on Wednesday night, but some of them might be looking at limited minutes.

Eight of Madrid’s starters from May’s UEFA Champions League final started in Madrid’s 3-2 loss to Barcelona in El Clasico Miami on Saturday, with four – Karim Benzema, Marcelo, Casemiro and Dani Carvajal – going 74 minutes and goalkeeper Keylor Navas putting in a full 90. Attacker Gareth Bale, who didn’t start the Champions League final, also went 74 minutes in Miami on Saturday.  

Combined with their quick turnaround, travel and not-yet-full-levels of fitness, those heavy minutes could mean some of Madrid’s stars have their normal time deducted on Wednesday. We’ll see if the MLS All-Stars can make their reserves pay.