SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The hype of MLS All-Star Week arrives at a crescendo on Thursday afternoon, as Arsenal FC and the MLS All-Star team face off in the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.
Arsenal, who despite missing some key players due to their participation in big summer international tournaments both in Europe and the USA, bring a loaded roster on their west coast preseason tour. Goalkeeper Petr Cech and midfielder Jack Wilshere headline a team that will want to build momentum ahead of its Premier League opener on August 14 against rivals Liverpool.
"It is going to be a challenge because the players from the MLS All-Star team are in the middle of their season and they are match fit," said Cech at Tuesday's press conference. "They have the advantage. For us, we have to keep working and keep our focus. We want to concentrate on what we need to do, and we want to win."
The MLS All-Star team will be a who's who of international and domestic talent -- much like Arsenal in many ways -- with former Chelsea FC forward Didier Drogba and Spanish World Cup winner David Villa leading the attack. For Drogba, who spent almost a decade as teammates with Cech at Chelsea, he is looking forward to facing his friend on Thursday.
"He's a legend, and he's a very good friend," said Drogba, who now features for the Montreal Impact. "We've been talking about this game. He told me he was coming. We have a group chat with a few other Chelsea players and we've been talking and making a few jokes about that game. I only hope that I will score."
Both teams are stacked, ensuring that the All-Star Game will be a highly competitive fixture, even though it technically is a friendly. The head coaches of both sides -- Arsene Wenger for Arsenal and Dominic Kinnear for MLS -- promise to put out their best players in the quest to win. For the EPL giants, they now how difficult the best of MLS have made it for visiting European teams in past All-Star Games.
"Of course, we want to win the game, and we know, in fact, that the history of this game is in favor of the MLS," said Wenger. "We know we face a very motivated and determined team, but we want to win."
For MLS, it is about pride, especially as the league is gaining attention both overseas and at home. The players see the game as a measuring stick as to how far they've come in growing MLS, but most importantly, they want to win. For Kinnear, who was a player himself when the league debuted in 1996, he is ready to showcase what MLS is all about twenty years later.
"When the team steps out onto the field, we are trying to win the game," said Kinnear. "That is my intention, and I plan to pass it along to the players."
How to Watch:
2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game
Arsenal FC vs. MLS All-Stars
Date and Time: Thursday, July 28, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
Location: Avaya Stadium, San Jose, CA
TV: ESPN (English) and UniMas (Spanish)
Streaming: WatchESPN.com, UnivisionNow.com