By TRAVIS CLARK
In the middle of a hectic league schedule, MLS is set to take a short break to face Manchester United in Wednesday evening's All-Star game in Houston (8:30 p.m., ESPN2, ESPN3.com).
Even though the allure of United is immense, Sir Alex Ferguson will likely field a much younger side as he has during most of the USA tour. Thanks to World Cup duty, several members of United's first team, players like Nemanja Vidic, Park Ji-Sung and Wayne Rooney won't be in action.
That hasn't deterred the excitement in Houston, as a sold out will be on hand at Reliant Stadium for the festivities. The match concludes the USA leg of Manchester United's North America tour, as the storied English Premier League club will make a stop over in Mexico to face Chivas Guadalajara before heading back to England.
Wednesday night's match could be the first time to catch rising CONCACAF and Mexico star Javier "El Chicharito" Hernandez in a Red Devils uniform. The 22-year-old sealed a move to Old Trafford prior to his World Cup experience that ended when Mexico was knocked out in the second round by Argentina.
After getting extra time to rest prior to joining up with United, Hernandez met his new team this week, and is likely to make his debut in front of a crowd of 70,000 in Houston. El Chicharito, who scored 21 goals in his last 28 games in Mexico, looks to bring his scoring touch up front in England.
Other youngsters who have featured in previously friendlies should get the nod again — Federico Macheda, Danny Wellbeck, and Tom Cleverly are supported by veterans like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov. Hernandez mesh to mesh quickly with his new teammates, and show Alex Ferguson that he deserves playing time this year with the start of the season around the corner.
As for the All-Stars, representatives from Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew may have the burden of carrying the load of minutes. With Toronto FC and Los Angeles Galaxy playing Tuesday evening, First XI selections Dwayne De Rosario, Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle will see limited time for head coach Bruce Arena.
Omar Gonzalez and Donovan Ricketts both sat out the Galaxy's 4-1 loss against Puerto Rico Tuesday night, and should get at least a half of action. They'll be joined by Guillermo Barros Schletto, Chad Marshall, Jamison Olave and Javier Morales, giving Arena the chance to use opposing players for as long as he pleases.
He'll have plenty of options off the bench as well, with Sebastian Le Toux, Nick Rimando, David Ferreira and Brad Davis on the list of reserves.
The result isn't important — in fact, 2011 league newcomers have the most at stake tonight. A coin toss held during halftime between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers will determine which team gets the first pick in the Expansion Draft, 2011 SuperDraft, Allocation Ranking and a few other player rules.
It is worth noting that ever since the All-Star game adopted this approach back in 2005, MLS has posted a 4-1 record, losing on penalty kicks to Everton in 2009. Whatever the result, the most important things fans, players and coaches hope to see is an open and entertaining game, supplemented by no injuries.
What do you think about tonight's game? Any predictions? Who are you excited to see?
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