Thursday, February 12, 2009

Speculation on All-Star Game Opponent

As most of you know, Rio Tinto Stadium will host this year's All-Star Game which will feature the best of the league against a yet-to-be-named international opponent. The last two years have featured West Ham, from the English Premier League and Celtic from the Scottish Premier League.

If the past is any indicator an announcement will likely come within the next 30 days. My bet is that it will not be an English club, just to add variety to the mix. So who will it be this year? Here are a few intriguing prospects:

Real Madrid
The initial speculation after the announcement of Rio Tinto being the 2009 home for the MLS All-Star Game went straight toward the team that calls the Bernabeu home. The tie-in is obvious as Real Salt Lake and Real Madrid announced a partnership that brought the Spanish club to Salt Lake in 2006 and saw RSL travel to Spain in 2007. The La Liga juggernauts were supposed to also make an appearance in Salt Lake last year, but backed out citing financial reasons. My hunch is that the Real Salt Lake brass would prefer that the All-Star game opponent is NOT Real Madrid, and they would prefer to have them return for a friendly during 2009 to make up for the void that was created last season. This would allow the team to market a top-notch team for the All-Star Game, Real Madrid for a friendly and a WCQ against El Salvador. That would surely sell some additional season tickets.

Of course, Barcelona is another powerhouse in La Liga and has quite a following world-wide. The team features Lionel Messi one of the most exciting young players in the world. In addition, Barcelona has been vying (and is rumored to be close to being awarded) an affiliated team in MLS, located in Miami. So could the league arrange a match with them against the All-Stars in conjunction with an announcement of their Miami affiliate being accepted in the league?

AC Milan
A powerhouse in Serie A, who after a team of lawyers and about $20M, will likely be the proud owner of David Beckham on their roster - is an obvious potential choice. Beckham's time with the LA Galaxy and the fact that he is such a great ambassador for the game would make this a solid opponent. The team ain't that bad either.

Bayern Munich
Although Bundesliga teams don't carry quite the following in the US as EPL and La Liga teams, all MLS fans are sure to recognize this team. Especially after the expected departure of Landon Donovan finds him on the roster of this top-flight European team. MLS fans would be sure to be drawn to this match, and Donovan's appearance for the foreign team would turn on TV sets.

While those would be the most obvious choices, there are others that would be of interest:

AS Monaco
This French side may be middle of the pack in Ligue 1, but they feature former Real Salt Lake midfielder, and US National team member Freddy Adu. And of course when I say feature, I mean rarely plays. I assume that would be a different story if Monaco came to town on July 29th.

Another French-side, this time a top-flight one. Lyon has been on a torrid streak and has left victims in their wake all across Europe. The interesting connection is that the team had reportedly agreed to play Real Salt Lake last season to fill the void left by Real Madrid. Apparantly they had an opt-out clause in the contract and exercised it prior to the match being announced.

Boca Juniors
The storied history of this club in Argentina is a strong one, as it has been the breeding grounds for soccer legends that went on to play all around the world. Real Salt Lake faced off against them in an exhibition in 2007, but nobody would complain about a return visit.

C.F. America
This Mexican side is the former club of last year's MLS ALL-Star MVP, Cuahtemoc Blanco. This would create an interesting story and the soccer fanbase in the Salt Lake area would eat this one up. As they would for many top-flight Mexican teams: Santos Laguna, Cruz Azul, etc.

Who is your pick? Who do you think it would be? And who do you want to see?