Some kids dream of getting shiny fire trucks for gifts. I dreamed of one day getting to pick a lineup to play against a Champions League team. I didn’t quite imagine it would be for an article online, but if I squint the right eye, it feels close enough.
The opponent: Juventus. The legendary Italian side are set to play in the 2018 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target. Juventus are the reigning champions in Italy and recently lost in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League final to Real Madrid.
The first-team roster is loaded. Like most Italian teams, they have a strong defensive foundation, anchored by goalkeeping legend Gigi Buffon as well as centerback Georgio Chiellini. In the midfield, they have German World Cup winner Sami Khedira, French international Blaise Matuidi, Bosnian maestro Miralem Pjanic, and Juventus lifer Claudio Marchisio. In the attack, they have multiple threats, including Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa, Juan Cuadrado, and Mario Mandzukic. I could keep listing famous names, but you get the point. They’s good.
In August, actual MLS All-Star head coach Tata Martino (ATL) will need to roll out an XI to beat the reigning Italian champs from a set roster. Today, I get to pick the selection from everyone in MLS.
I’m basing my selection on MLS form through the first three weeks, overall ability, and suitable traits to fit a gameplan to beat Juve.
We are going to play a wide-open game. Against a team like Juventus, we need to decide what we want to try to dominate and what we want to concede. I’m conceding the midfield. I’m not sure if we have three players in MLS who could boss Khedira, Matuidi and Pjanic and dictate possession. What we do have in the league, though, are electric attackers who would give the Juventus trouble on the break. As such, we are going to let them feel comfortable in midfield and hit them with counter attacks.
When Juventus are in possession, we are going to chase after them immediately; when they break our initial line of pressure, we are always going to drop the back four along with the defensive midfielder. They can have the ball, but we are going to limit the space around the goal, mostly to constrict the space for Dybala and Higuain to do damage.
As long as we can make life difficult on Juventus in the final third, I like the chances of our attackers to score.
Bobby Warshaw's MLS All-Star Starting XI
- Zack Steffen (CLB)
Crew SC 'keeper Zack Steffen has shown a flair for the dramatic. | USA TODAY Sports Images
We'll probably need a few big saves, and nobody in MLS right now seems more apt at making jaw-dropping stops in big moments than Zack Steffen. Also, I view him as the next USMNT stalwart; let’s get him some big games.
- Harrison Afful (CLB)
- Kemar Lawrence (RBNY)
- Michael Parkhurst (ATL)
- Ike Opara (SKC)
Juventus can find goals in a lot of ways, but the two most common come from chances created out of the wide areas and individual moments of creativity from Paulo Dybala. I don’t know how to create a system that stops creative interplay around the box, but you can plan on stopping wide play. So that’s what we're going to do.
Fullbacks Kemar Lawrence (sliding) and Harrison Afful have the two-way talent to handle Juve. | USA TODAY Sports Images
Centrally, we need to keep an eye on goalscorer Higuain. The Argentine No. 9 scored three of Juventus’ four goals in their recent Champions League tie against Tottenham, and has 39 goals since joining Juve at the beginning of 2016. He finds most of his goals through clever movement in the box; we need to match wit with wit. Michael Parkhurst is the smartest center back in the league and the most able to keep track of Higuain.
Juventus also get a lot of success from cross from wide areas that find Higuain in the center or Mandzukic on the backpost. Parkhust could use someone more athletic and dominant in the air next to him. Ike Opara is fantastic at dealing with aerial crosses.
- Michael Bradley (TOR)
Michael Bradley has the talent, discipline and Serie A experience. | USA TODAY Sports Images
Michael Bradley has shown in the last two MLS Cups just how good he can be. At his best, Bradley remains the most effective defensive midfielder in the league. He’s also the only player I trust to have the positional awareness and discipline with my wide-open gameplan.
I know it’s a totally empty midfield – but that’s part of the plan. Juventus can have the middle. We are prioritizing the two final thirds.
- Miguel Almiron (ATL)
- Ignacio Piatti (MTL)
- David Accam (PHI)
- Sebastian Giovinco (TOR)
- David Villa (NYC)
Attackers David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco lead the theoretical way. | USA TODAY Sports Images
Pretty nice, isn’t it?
These are the most lethal transition attackers in the league. When any one of these guys runs at you with open space nearby, you think more about how to take the tactical foul than how to stop them. As I said, Juventus would probably have more of the ball no matter how we shake it, so this frontline ensures we are efficient in counter-attacking moments. In the opportunities we get in the attack, we'll be fully committed.
I believe in a preplanned cohesive approach for any group of players, but we don’t have any training days so I’ll keep it simple:
“When you get the ball, go. Keep your passes simple. Don’t be scared to give the ball away, but don’t give the ball aware trying to do too much. You guys are all sick, and I trust you can score some bangers on this team.”
- Pipa Higuain (CLB)
Because everyone loves family drama.
Look, I’m not at all sure my plan would work. I wouldn’t normally go with the 4-1-5 formation. But I can’t think of any other approach I prefer. What fully cohesive plan can you build without training sessions? It’s the All-Star Game, so if I have to decide which poison to pick, I’m going with the fun one.