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.

WATCH LIVE: U.S. vs. England in U-17 World Cup quarters

AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal
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The United States are three wins from the U-17 World Cup title, and look to beat traditional power to set up a semifinal against another (Watch live at 10:30 a.m. ET online via Telemundo En Vivo).

England is on the docket Saturday in Margao, India, and the winner gets the winner of Germany and Brazil. Those two play Sunday in Kolkata.

[ WATCH LIVE: U.S. U-17s vs. England ]

The Americans are widely considered the best U-17 group to come through the ranks, especially in attack, and have a chance to make a big statement against an England side with a bevy of Premier League Academy stars, heavily drawn from Chelsea and Man City.

LINEUPS

USMNT: Garces (Atlanta United), Gloster (New York Red Bulls), Durkin (DC United), Booth (Real Salt Lake), Watts (Portland Timbers), Sands (New York City FC), Ferri (Solar Chelsea SC), Carleton (Atlanta United), Akinola (Toronto FC), Weah (PSG), Sargent (c, Werder Bremen)

England: Anderson (Man City), Sessegnon (Fulham), Latibeaudiere (c, Man City), Guehi (Chelsea), Panzo (Chelsea), McEachran (Chelsea), Oakley-Boothe (Tottenham), Foden (Man City), Gibbs-White (Wolverhampton), Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), Brewster (Liverpool).

Watch Live: Five Premier League games at 10am ET

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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Huddersfield host Man United, Burnley head to Man City, Stoke welcome Bournemouth, Crystal Palace are off to Newcastle and Swansea do battle with Leicester.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Huddersfield vs. Man United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Man City vs. Burnley – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle vs. Crystal Palace – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Leicester City – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]

Chelsea 4-2 Watford: Blues launch superb comeback

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  • Chelsea score two late goals towin
  • Watford led 2-1 with 71 minutes gone
  • Azpilicueta grabs winner in 87th minute

The pressure eased slightly on Antonio Conte as Chelsea fought back from 2-1 down to beat Watford 4-2 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Chelsea took the lead through Pedro but Watford came surging back with Abdoulaye Doucoure equalizing and Roberto Pereyra putting them ahead either side of half time.

Richarlison had two glorious chances to extend Watford’s lead further but Michy Batshuayi jumped off the bench to make it 2-2 and Cesar Azpilicueta made it 3-2 late on before Batshuayi added another in stoppage time.

Cue relief around Stamford Bridge as Conte  jumped in with the fans to celebrate as for most of the game his team looked like they were heading for three-straight PL defeats for the first time since October 2015.

With the win Chelsea move on to 16 points for the season and jump ahead of Marco Silva‘s Watford into fourth place.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]  

After an even start where Watford threatened on the break, Chelsea started to look dangerous down their right and Eden Hazard won a controversial corner kick which shouldn’t have been awarded as the ball came off his heel last.

From that corner it was played short to Pedro on the edge of the box and the Spaniard curled home a stunning effort off the far post and into the far corner. 1-0 to Chelsea as relief spread around Stamford Bridge.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Chelsea then wasted a glorious chance as Hazard danced free of Tom Cleverley and played in Alvaro Morata who found Cesc Fabregas in acres of space but his chipped effort was tame and Heurelho Gomes saved easily.

Richarlison was causing problems down the left flank as Watford tried to get back into the game but it was Chelsea who came close to going 2-0 up as Pedro flashed a low effort just wide of the post. Fabregas smashed a shot on goal which Gomes saved well but right on half time Watford equalized through Doucoure.

Jose Holebas’ long throw caused havoc and the ball dropped to Doucoure who squeezed home his effort at the near post. 1-1.

Game on.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

A lively start to the second half saw both Chelsea and Watford go close with crosses flying into the box and Watford should have gone 2-1 up with Richarlison somehow missing from a few yards out. A true miss of the season contender.

The Brazilian winger made amends for his miss moments later as he played in Pereyra to slot home. 2-1 to Watford.

With Chelsea’s defense all over the place it should have been 3-1 to Watford as Richarlison sent a header horribly wide from close range with the goal gaping.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

The chances kept coming for Watford as Richarlison was a nuisance and the Hornets looked more likely to extend their lead than Chelsea grabbing an equalizer.

Batshuayi was then introduced off the bench and he flicked home a header from Pedro’s cross to make it 2-2 and the Belgian went close on two other occasions as Chelsea pushed for a winner. Conte got his substitutions spot on as another sub, Davide Zappacosta, helped set up two attacks and the latter saw the home side seal victory.

Azpilicueta was the hero for Chelsea a few minutes from normal time as he arrived at the back post to nod home to make it 3-2 and then Batshuayi scored again in stoppage time to complete a hugely impressive comeback.

Some of the pressure on Conte is dissipating.

VIDEO: Pedro scores stunning goal for Chelsea

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Not a bad way to start the Premier League weekend…

12 minutes into the first game of Matchweek 9, Chelsea’s Pedro curled home a stunning effort into the far corner and off the far post after a corner was played short to him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A simply stunning goal from the Spaniard which you can watch in the video above.