Six United players and their coach will emerge from the tunnel in the northwest corner of RFK Stadium on Saturday just as they would for any home match. However, as they look around at their teammates and competition, they will certainly realize that this is, in fact, not the same as any other game.
For back-to-back SuperDraft top picks Alecko Eskandarian (2003) and 15-year-old Freddy Adu (2004) the MLS All-Star Game experience will be a first. In fact, Adu is also set to become the youngest player to make an All-Star appearance in MLS history. For United's more experienced players, including Jaime Moreno and Dema Kovalenko, stepping onto the field for Major League Soccer's midsummer celebration will be nothing new.
One nerve-calming factor for the All-Star rookies will be the sideline guidance of a coach they are accustomed to, as United manager Peter Nowak will take on a new All-Star role when he leads the East as they take on the West. He was an All-Star in his playing days three times (1998-2000) during his tenure with the Chicago Fire. However, other soothing presences that will not be available to the young honorees include D.C. captain Ryan Nelsen and veteran midfielder Ben Olsen. A sports hernia operation earlier in the week will deny Nelsen a second consecutive All-Star appearance, while Olsen is also sidelined by an injury.
Nelsen and Olsen won't be the only United players selected for the All-Star Game that will not take the field, though. Bobby Convey, already a D.C. United veteran at the age of 21, was given the nod this year for the second time in his five seasons with D.C. But Convey won't be able to represent his first professional club in front of the Black-and-Red faithful after being transferred to Reading Football Club on the English first division less than two weeks ago.
Despite the absences of Nelsen and Convey, the All-Star Game will still carry a distinct United flavor, Moreno taking the field as a starter and Nowak accompanied by several of his regulars on the Eastern bench. With so many familiar faces and the bouncing mass of fans that are sure to fill the RFK Stadium stands, Saturday may not be so different from a United home game after all.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.