Technically, Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was a MLS All-Star two years ago, but that honor didn’t include actually playing in the game.
Nielsen was voted onto the team by his peers in 2010, but he wasn’t even in Houston for Manchester United’s 5-2 exhibition win against the MLS team on July 28 at Reliant Stadium.
Flash forward to tonight’s MLS All-Star Game against reigning UEFA Champions League winner Chelsea FC, which kicks off at 7:30 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. Nielsen and defender Aurelien Collin are expected to be in the starting lineup.
Meanwhile, Sporting KC’s third all-star on the MLS First XI, midfielder Graham Zusi, likely will come on for the second half.
“I’ve tried not to put too much focus on it, but I’m sure it’s going to be a fun time and a fun game,” Nielsen said. “You get to play against some of the best players in the world, so if you don’t look forward to that you should probably quit.”
Nielsen, 34, a native of Denmark and the Danish goalkeeper of the year in 1998 and 2004, insists he won’t be star struck for the game.
“Collin and Zeus are my buddies, so I am looking forward to having a good time with them,” he said when asked if there was anyone he was excited to share a locker room with.
But for his younger teammates, the All-Star Game still inspired a bit of awe.
“I’m looking forward to playing with all the guys really,” Zusi said. “It’ll be fun to take the field against with a lot of the guys. It’s fun to play with guys you usually play against. There’s a lot of high quality in the locker room, so it’s fun to be on the same side with them.”
Collin zeroed in on a specific player he was eager to play alongside for the first time, French striker Thierry Henry, who plays for the New York Red Bulls.
“I’ve played against him, but never with him, so of course I am very honored to play with guys like Thierry Henry as well as David Beckham and (Landon) Donovan,” Collin said. “I hope we’ll all be on the same page to play the best we can against Chelsea and get a win.”
Beginning in 2005, the MLS started the tradition of bringing in a European club in preseason training for the All-Star Game.
The MLS team, which also beat Chivas Guadalajara in 2003, won the first five all-star contests before Everton won the 2009 exhibition on penalty kicks.
Manchester United spanked the MLS squad the last two seasons, including a 4-0 win last year in New York.
“Of course it’s going to be a party and I’m very happy to be a part of this, but the game is important for me,” Collin said. “I want to prove to the (English Premier League) and to the world that MLS is a very good league and that the players in MLS can match up with players from an EPL team.”
That won’t be an easy task.
“We’re throwing a group of guys together who have two practices with each other,” Zusi said. “Chelsea is a team that’s been together years and years. I’m not sure how much you can expect, but of course we want to go out there and put our best foot forward.”