CHESTER, Pa. – Like countless other soccer fans, Sheanon Williams grew up watching the English Premier League. For the Philadelphia Union defender, though, there was always one EPL team he rooted for more than any other – the same team that’s coming to PPL Park for the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game.
“I would say that’s the team I’ve followed most in the EPL,” Williams said shortly after Wednesday’s press conference was held to unveil Chelsea as the MLS All-Star team’s opponent. “They’re a great team with a lot of great players, so to have them come here is definitely a good thing for MLS. It seems like every year they get good teams to come, so all the credit goes to them.”
Other players and coaches around the league will probably echo Williams’ thoughts as the July 25 All-Star game (8:30 pm ET on ESPN2, ESPN3, TeleFutura, TSN and RDS) approaches. When it comes to premier clubs, after all, it’s hard to get too much bigger than Chelsea, who are gearing up for a UEFA Champions League semifinal showdown against FC Barcelona.
“Chelsea is a renowned, world-class football brand – an authentic football brand,” Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said. “They’re doing extremely well in the Champions League and with any bit of luck they might come here as Champions League champion, which would be huge.”
Of course, playing prominent teams is something the league has strived to do since instituting this format for the MLS All-Star Game in 2003. Since then, the game has featured Manchester United (2010 & 2011), Everton FC (2009), Fulham FC (2005) and Chivas de Guadalajara (2003), among other well-known international clubs.
This is the second time the MLS All-Stars will play Chelsea, the last coming in 2006 when they beat the English powerhouse, 1-0. (Interestingly enough, Union manager Peter Nowak coached the All-Stars to a win in that 2006 game – and will be the head honcho again for the 2012 game.)
Sakiewicz, who spearheaded the campaign to get the All-Star Game to PPL Park, said there was a worldwide search to find the right team for the 2012 game, before the league happily landed on Chelsea for the second time in seven years.
“I think ideally, with our partner adidas, we wanted to bring in an adidas opponent,” the Union CEO said. “We were looking across the board, throughout the world at other adidas teams. And, in the end, we were able to work out a good deal with Chelsea.”
In addition to rolling out the red carpet for the Blues, Sakiewicz expects fans to flock to PPL Park to see such a high-profile squad – so much so that he’s been studying ways to allow for an overflow crowd.
He also expects a competitive game and, he hopes, for another all-star game triumph for Nowak and MLS.
“We don’t play games not to win them,” Sakiewicz said.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WATCH: MLS All-Stars to take on Chelsea