Chicago: Veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard says top North American club players should expect "cut-throat" competition from Spanish giants Real Madrid in Wednesday's Major League Soccer All-Star Game.
The All-Star match at Soldier Field, home of the NFL's Chicago Bears, marks the end of a four-match, 11-day pre-season US tour for Real Madrid that included a 3-2 loss to rival Barcelona in a Clasico matchup at Miami.
But Howard expects Real Madrid to bring their best as they prepare for the upcoming La Liga campaign.
"When you get to play for a team like Real Madrid, there's no days off," Howard said. "There are no easy games. They have a world-class coach that they are trying to impress.
"They have got to play well to earn a spot coming up for the La Liga season. World football is intense and it's cut-throat. There aren't any days when guys just take it easy. When you put your jersey on and cross the line -- whether it's a tournament, a regular-season game, a pre-season game, an All-Star Game -- these guys are going to be up for it."
Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Howard will start in goal for Chicago Fire coach Veljiko Paunovic in the mid-season exhibition.
In 2001, Howard represented the East in a conference versus conference All-Star Game and in the following year he was part of an MLS All-Star squad that took on US national team.
He played against the MLS All-Stars when he returned with English Premiership side Everton in 2009 in the current format that pits the All-Stars against top-flight European competition.
"I'm not sure which one's better," he said of the various permutations of the All-Star Game he has experienced. "But it will be certainly exciting to play Real Madrid -- there's no question about that."
The All-Stars feature plenty of heavyweights with marquee match experience, including World Cup winners Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Villa and Kaka.
"It's an honor to play for the MLS All-Star team, especially here in Chicago," said the Fire's German import Schweinsteiger, who launched his MLS career this season and will captain the All-Stars by popular vote.
"We will look to have a good game, to be competitive against Real Madrid and if we can win, we will go for the match," Schweinsteiger told the Chicago Tribune.
"We know that it is a very strong team and that we are playing together for the first time. It is not going to be easy at all, but we will try and have a good game and enjoy it a little."
Orlando City's Brazilian star Kaka, who helped Real Madrid to the 2011-12 La Liga title, said facing his former team will be "a very emotional experience."
"I do not know how the game will go, but we have a great team to play a very even game with Real Madrid," he said.