After months of speculation, it’s finally official: the MLS All-Stars will face Real Madrid this summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos and the rest of Zinedine Zidane’s cast of Galacticos will take on the best of MLS in Chicago on Aug. 2, with Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic set to lead the All-Stars in the midsummer showcase at Soldier Field.
Any lineup Paunovic trots out against Madrid will naturally be an underdog. The La Liga leaders are one of the best teams in the world for a reason, and Cristiano and his buddies make plenty of well-schooled, talented rosters look silly on the regular. An All-Star team, who might have two training sessions together before the match, will have their work seriously cut out for them.
Still, the MLS team will have plenty of ability, and the All-Stars have taken down some serious titans in the past. Here’s the lineup that I think would give them the best chance to add Real Madrid to their list of scalps:
Goalkeeper – Tim Howard
Perhaps the easiest choice of them all. He’s 38, but Howard has plenty of game and a resume that speaks for itself. He’s shutdown plenty of Madrid’s stars in the English Premier League and while with the US national team, and is often at his best when the lights are brightest.
Right Back – Nick Lima
I’m having a hard time writing a blurb for why Real Madrid won’t torch Nick Lima, but I really like the San Jose rookie. He’s got as good of a shot against Bale and Ronaldo as Keegan Rosenberry, Harrison Afful, Scott Sutter, Tony Beltran, Alvas Powell or any other right back in the league – I’d like to see him tested.
Center Backs – Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman
LA’s Jelle Van Damme definitely deserves a mention here, but, in an All-Star Game setting with essentially zero time to prepare, I’ll take the FC Dallas duo of Hedges and Zimmerman. Neither of them have the pedigree of some of the other notable center backs in MLS, but they know how to successfully play with each other. In a position that will be tested all night long, that understanding will be critical.
Left Back – Greg Garza
Joevin Jones and Ronald Matarrita are better going forward, but, for my money, Garza is the better all-around left back. He’s also a bit quicker than Justin Morrow, giving the Atlanta left back the nod over Toronto’s consistently (if quietly) solid veteran.
Defensive Midfielders – Michael Bradley and Kellyn Acosta
Based on current form alone, Fire midfielder Dax McCarty probably deserves the nod ahead of Bradley. I’m not going off of current form, however, and Bradley’s resume and organizing ability is hard to argue with. I’d pair him with FCD’s Acosta, who’d provide a bit more forward thrust than Bradley and has the range required against a juggernaut like Real Madrid.
Right Midfielder – Nicolas Lodeiro
Lodeiro is often thought of as a central playmaker, but, as we saw during Seattle’s magical run to MLS Cup last year, the Uruguayan is often at his best when he roams out wide. He hasn’t really started firing on all cylinders in 2017, but he’s a world-class talent and unafraid to work on both sides of the ball. He’s a shoo-in for my starting XI.
No. 10 – Sebastian Giovinco
Like Lodeiro, Giovinco hasn’t really clicked yet in 2017, but the Italian’s resume speaks for itself. He’s had the best two-year run of any player in MLS history playing in the hole for Toronto, a role that he’d reprise for the All-Stars. I think he’d give Madrid fits.
Left Midfielder – Miguel Almiron
Almiron lines up in more of a central role for Atlanta, but the young star is more than capable of playing out wide. He’s a burner, too, and would have a lot of fun operating in the spaces created by Giovinco and MLS’s starting forward…
Forward – David Villa
Few in the world have as much experience against Madrid than the former Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico striker and reigning MLS MVP, who just happens to have pulled this off on Friday.
Be careful, Keylor Navas.