Kickoff: Landon
Getty Images

Kick Off: Countdown to AT&T MLS All-Star game begins

PHILADELPHIA – The buildup is over. The parties, events and other various hobnobbing are in the past – until later on tonight at least.

In less than 12 hours, the AT&T MLS All-Stars will take the field against Chelsea at PPL Park (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada) for their annual opportunity to knock off a giant of the world’s game.

And although the previous two editions of the game didn’t go as planned, with Manchester United defeating the All-Stars handily for two consecutive years, Landon Donovan feels this group is more well-rounded and better prepared to give the reigning European Champions a real test.

“We’re going to be a lot more competitive this time around,” Donovan said. “A lot of times you get a bunch of offensive players, even defenders that are more attacking-minded defenders, and Ben’s done a good job of putting together a real team. So I think we’re going to have a much better chance.”

At least one prediction has the All-Stars emerging victorious, as EA Sports used the software engine in FIFA Soccer 13 to simulate the match, which will end with an MLS victory in PKs.

Philadelphia’s Michael Farfan was a late addition to the roster on Tuesday, and will provide additional reinforcements in case of an unexpected development. Defender Carlos Valdés is the other Union representative, and said playing in the game was a special moment in his career.

"When I was in MLS for the first time, one of my goals was to be the best defender of the league," Valdés said. "And now this is our reward for hard work."

Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard was part of the squad that lost to the All-Stars in 2006, and he said that match was eye opening and that the Premier League side was under no illusions about the quality of player they’ll go up against.

“I remember [the 2006 match] being a very tough game, for a lot of reasons,” said Lampard, who also addressed the rumor that he would be headed to MLS himself in the near future. “The MLS is stronger now and so the top players are at a higher level than they would have been when we played them before.”

Chelsea are early in their preseason preparations and still building the nucleus of the team that will attempt to defend the Blues’ Champions League crown from last season.

Fernando Torres won’t play tonight, but he said Chelsea will challenge for the EPL title this season after a disappoint domestic campaign from a year ago. They’ll likely have even more reinforcements in the next few weeks, with the brother of another recruit joining the squad and a Brazilian wunderkind eyeing a London move.

Check out this interview with Chelsea legend Graeme Le Saux, who has watched soccer in the US grow since the 2002 World Cup.

With the summer showcase looming, ESPN took a look at the behind-the-scenes developments occurring in the marketing of MLS, one columnist proposed a few strategic changes to the format and a giant soccer ball made the rounds in Philadelphia.

In the buildup to the match, it appears Thierry Henry may have let the cat out of the bag regarding the status of a potential future All-Star. Henry told media on Tuesday that only a medical separated Tim Cahill from joining the Red Bulls, a claim that shines light on a deal that Everton say is done while New York decline comment.

Everton fans were certainly attached to the Australian star, and Alecko Eskandarian says the addition will make New York the prohibitive MLS Cup favorite as the season approaches the home stretch. It seems Cahill will prevent any chance of Kaká making the move from Real Madrid, although Spanish sports daily Marca still posed that possibly on its front page.

It turns out LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez’s recovery might not have been as far along as previously thought. In early July, when the center back made his return, it looked like he would back in the lineup sooner rather than later. A setback canceled those plans, but he’s slowly ramping back up again after Bruce Arena gave him 64 minutes of action in a 1-1 draw with Tottenham on Tuesday night.

And while Gonzalez’s injury came during a bid to catch on outside the US, LA’s international profile and MLS’ steady growth is making the league an increasingly tempting destinations for players headed the other way: “There’s a lot of people, day in and day out, that ask me, ‘Can you get me a club in MLS?’” Brad Friedel told reporters after the Galaxy-Spurs match.

Speaking of Friedel, the annual curiosity about just how long the 41-year-old will continue to play has begun. This season will be his 21st as a professional, and Friedel is seven years older than his manager at Spurs, André Villas-Boas.

In addition to the LA match, MLS clubs suited up for five other friendlies on Tuesday night. Columbus knocked off Stoke City 2-1, Lyon defeated Montreal on PKs in Alessandro Nesta’s Impact debut, Montpellier took down Sporting KC 3-0, the Rapids earned a 2-1 win vs. Swansea City and Aston Villa heaped more misery on Portland.

Predictably, Jason Kreis isn’t thrilled about having Kyle Beckerman return for Friday’s match against Vancouver.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Fire swapped Designated Players on Tuesday, with Federico Puppo headed to Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting Club on loan and Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald arriving in the Windy City.

If you aren’t familiar with the rungs on the soccer ladder below MLS in the United States, it might have seemed Vancouver manager Martin Rennie came out of nowhere. That’s not true of course, but his journey from businessman to manager is still fascinating.

The US women begin Olympic play today against France (noon ET, NBC Sports Network), and Sporting NewsBrian Straus tells you all you need to know ahead of the tournament.

According to FIFA, spending in the transfer market is down. That doesn’t seem to stop the rumors from flowing, however. Musts

March to the Match: EPL vet, first-time All-Star DeMerit breaks down Chelsea

All-Star head coach Olsen wrestles with lineup challenges vs. Chelsea

Future All-Stars? Five breakout teens from USSF Dev. Academy Finals

Get the Kick-Off delivered to you!

Enter your email address and favorite team below to sign up for The Kick-Off mailing list and get it delivered to your inbox every morning.