In 2001, Howard represented the East in a conference-vs.-conference setup. The following year, he was part of a league-wide squad that took on US national team stars of the past and (then-)present. In 2009, Howard returned with top-flight English side Everton as the opposition in what has become the now-standard format of a single MLS squad facing a European club.
This week, Howard will make his first All-Star appearance on the MLS side in 15 years, starting for Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic against arguably the strongest team in the world at the moment: Spanish behemoths Real Madrid.
“I think it’s exciting to have all the East and West [All-Stars] together, playing against some of the best teams in the world,” Howard told MLSsoccer.com on Saturday, after the Rapids’ 1-0 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes. “And at the end of the day, it’s an All-Star game, right? So people want to be entertained. And that’s bringing the most entertainment value. So it’s great.”
Howard, 38, wouldn’t voice a preference for one format over another – although the quality of this year’s opponent cannot be denied.
“I think it’s always exciting to be an All-Star and to be recognized as such,” Howard said. “There’s a lot of pageantry involved. I’m not sure which one’s better. But it will be certainly exciting to play Real Madrid, there’s no question about that.”
Even though the All-Star Game represents the end of a whirlwind, four-games-in-11-days US tour for Real, Howard is not expecting any restraint from the visitors, who open their competitive play for the 2017-18 campaign on August 13 with the first leg of the Supercopa de España against archrival Barcelona.
“When you get to play for a team like Real Madrid, there’s no days off,” Howard said. “There’s no easy games. They have a world-class coach that they’re trying to impress. They have got to play well to earn a spot coming up for the La Liga season. World football is intense and it’s cutthroat. There isn’t any days when guys just take it easy. When you put your jersey on and cross the line, whether it’s a tournament, a regular-season game, a preseason game, an All-Star Game, these guys are going to be up for it.”
Howard will be up for it as well – if only to match the high bar he set in his last appearance. Playing with the Toffees, Howard saved three penalty kicks to secure a shootout victory, stopping Brad Davis, Davy Arnaud and, in the sixth and final round, Freddie Ljungberg.
“It was exciting for me, playing for the club that I love, being back in America with lots of family and friends,” Howard said. “Those games are great. I have a lot of fond memories, but certainly that’s one of them.”