Same Chelsea, and yet a very different Chelsea

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PHILADELPHIA – Chelsea is Wednesday’s MLS All-Star opponent, of course.

It’s the same club – although not the same club, if you know what I mean – that met Major League Soccer’s All-Stars back in 2006. And that was a big one.

The 2006 All-Star game was a breakthrough moment for MLS in some ways, and a meaningful one. It wasn’t the first match in the current format, which pits the league’s more-or-less Best 11 against a globally branded team. But it was the first against a club as mighty as Chelsea, and the result fell as a real shocker.

The MLS All-Stars won, 1-0. Sporting News soccer writer Brian Straus and I talked it recently on the radio show I co-host, and he astutely pointed out it was a cathartic moment for domestic soccer.

First, it was Major League Soccer’s first attempt at aiming so high in the format; previous opponents had been good clubs, but Chelsea was a big cut above, the reigning champion of perhaps the world’s top league.

Mostly, though, it was significant because the United States was coming off a highly disappointing World Cup in Germany. That was a bad moment for domestic soccer, and the game here needed a boost, needed something to feel good about. As interest was high (thanks to Chelsea and the format), the surprise win at brand new Toyota Park in Chicago provided that very lift.

If the MLS All-Stars were to pull off something special and repeat that outcome Wednesday outside Philadelphia, how would it compare? Is this version of Chelsea better or worse than the 2006 version?

Chelsea veteran and England international Frank Lampard, talking at today’s press conference downtown, says it difficult to say:

It’s really hard to compare the two different teams, so many changes. Literally, it was two different eras. Last year, we proved ourselves to be a great team over the second half of the season. Now this is also a slightly different team because of fact we’ve got more young players coming in, and there might not be the settled-in kind of togetherness that we had on the pitch at that time.