MLS All-Star 2012 logo

MLS All-Star format works, but still requires some tweaking

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PHILADELPHIA – What’s worse than a 5-2 beat-down, like the one Major League Soccer’s overmatched All-Stars took two years ago?

A 4-0 beat-down, like the one Major League Soccer’s overmatched All-Stars took last year.

So here we area again, and the level of competition is not a bit diminished, even if the jersey color has morphed this year from Manchester United red to Chelsea blue.

The MLS All-Star game serves its purpose of attracting a short burst of attention from fans, networks, sponsors, advertisers, etc.  It’s like one of those big banners pulled along by a single-engine plane: it creates awareness among set of people who might not otherwise notice, who see it and consider it, if only briefly, while it flashes across the sky.

And I do love the format. In a wasteland of pointless all-star gray screens – baseball is the exception, whereas the rest are mostly empty calorie events for the sake of having an event – Major League Soccer’s unique format does manage to add a splash of color.

But one thing surely needs tweaking: either the level of competition needs re-assessing, or the methodology for MLS All-Star selection needs revision.

On the one hand, nobody who understands these things believes a collection of players with two brief practices – even a selection of abundant talent – can compete with the moneyed likes of Manchester United or Chelsea. Or with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or any other teams that have danced on the edge of MLS deciders’ dreams, some closer to fruition than others.

Those are real teams in the truest sense, assembled with an eye to roster balance, chemistry and placement of round pegs into round holes in terms of personnel that fit a manager’s idea of how the game is played. Plus, these are “All-Star” teams, too; most of Chelsea’s men are internationals who would take a DP tag here.

Meanwhile, the MLS All-Stars are a hodgepodge of mostly worthy talent assembled through the flawed vagaries of traditional all-star selection processes. Fan input is always part of this, and it probably should be – but let’s don’t pretend it will ever represent a best 11 or best 18. Nor that it will ever deliver the All-Stars their maximum competitive chance.

source: Getty Images

Which means this: the opportunity will always exist for Major League’s Soccer’s best and brightest to get clobbered – this year to be figuratively whacked and then dumped right into the Delaware River outside PPL Park (pictured, right).

Which wouldn’t be a big deal except for this: every time it happens, it validates the soccer snobs who don’t see MLS as worthy. And that’s an issue.

It shouldn’t be, but it is. There should be room for fans to love their La Liga, Serie A, Mexican league, English Premier League, etc., and still have a place in their soccer hearts for their local MLS outfit.  But plenty don’t, for whatever reason – and quality or the perception of un-worthiness becomes a convenient excuse.

As one MLS executive told me here in Philadelphia: “Every time we get beat badly in one of these games, the very fan we need to go get says, ‘See there. That’s why I don’t watch MLS.’ And it kills us.”

Major League Soccer needs those fans. It may not always be that way, but in 2012 it is.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.