Of the five exhibitions being played Wednesday night between MLS and English Premier League clubs (full schedule), a few stand out: LA Galaxy-Manchester United for history and the iconic venue, Toronto FC-Tottenham Hotspur for the Jermain Defoe subplot.
But neither of those can claim two defending champions.
That distinction falls to the “Champions Shield” friendly between Sporting Kansas City, the reigning MLS Cup holders, and Manchester City, which won the Premier League title in 2013-14 and also took the Football League Cup last season. Despite that cachet, Sporting manager Peter Vermes says the game is still only a friendly that falls in the middle of an important stretch of league matches.
“We take it like any other game,” Vermes told reporters after Tuesday's training session. “Obviously, we have a game on Saturday [at Toronto FC], so we have to be a little careful with all the guys. We'll probably use two different groups in the game, just to make sure that we're still well-rested for our game come Saturday.”
That means Sporting fans likely will get to see Honduran World Cup veteran Jorge Claros in uniform for the first time, although Filipino international Martin Steuble will not play after arriving only Tuesday from Swiss side FC Wil 1900. Rookie midfielder Michael Kafari, another summer acquisition, also could see the pitch against the English powerhouse.
“These exhibitions are always good, because it's good experience for our players,” Vermes said. “It doesn't change the way we go about our business.”
On the other side, four members of Manchester City's World Cup contingent – including defender Vincent Kompany, part of the Belgian side that eliminated the United States in the World Cup's Round of 16 – will not be on hand while taking a well-earned respite from competition. With his club still in their preseason and Sporting's Eastern Conference leaders in midseason form, Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini said he expected a competitive match on Wednesday.
“Of course, it's an important game, because, as you say, we're playing champions,” Pellegrini said during a news conference before City's training session Tuesday evening. “But I think that we are in a different moment of the season. Kansas City is playing already in MLS. I know that they're doing very well, that they've won a lot of games, and we are just starting the season. But I am sure that the people who come here to see them will see a very good match.”
The improving quality of MLS clubs should also make for a challenging match, City defender Aleksandar Kolarov said during the news conference.
“We are here [in the United States] for the third time,” Kolarov said. “Kansas City did very good at the World Cup with a couple players from MLS. We know that soccer here in America is growing quickly, so we expect a very tough game tomorrow. We are in a different moment of our season, but we represent the champions of England. So we’ll have to do our best tomorrow.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.