MLS’s All-Star Game Man of the Match: Thierry Henry

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CHESTER, PA – JULY 25: Chris Wondolowski #8 of MLS All-Stars celebrates with Thierry Henry #14 after Wondolowski’s goal in the first half against Chelsea during the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at PPL Park on July 25, 2012 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

CHESTER, Pa. – Substitute Chris Pontius’s game-tying goal won the D.C. United attacker Wednesday’s Most Valuable Player award, but in the opening moments of a match MLS Soccer hoped would turn the page on two lopsided losses to Manchester United, it was the All-Star Game starters who set the tone. Osvaldo Alonso broke up play at the base of midfield midfield. David Beckham fired the darts that got his team into attack. Chris Wondolowski pinned Chelsea’s defenders, while Landon Donovan picked his spots coming in from the left, providing a crucial link on the first goal.

(MORE: The nuts and bolts from Wednesday’s win at PPL Park)

Thierry Henry, however, delivered the goal’s final ball, with Wondolowski beating a stumbling John Terry to give MLS the first goal of a 3-2 victory, their first in All-Star competition since defeating West Ham United in 2008. It was Henry’s biggest contribution of the night – a bullet cross from the left that gave the league’s leading soccer time to settle before beating Henrique Hilario – but it wasn’t his only play of note. Persistently turning Chelsea’s defense with through balls that tested Terry and Gary Cahill, the Red Bulls’ star the match’s most influential player.

Henry spent his 57 minutes operating in the space between Chelsea’s center backs and their deep midfielders (often coming from his defensive position in midfield to occupy the space). Regularly able to feed balls through the Blues’ defense, the only thing keeping Henry from generating multiple chances was a lack of familiarity with Wondolowski. A few offsides whistles, a couple passes that Hilario was able to swallow up – Henry just couldn’t make that one, perfect connection with his attack partner. For his part, though, Henry was the most dangerous man on the field when he had the ball, always one inch away from breaking the match open. Had MLS been able to feed him more in the first half, they may have gone into half with a lead.

But on Wednesday, there was something more to Henry’s game than the typical technical superiority we’ve come to expect from a man who’s played a Juventus, Arsenal, and Barcelona. Early in the match, he was as diligent as defending in midfield as partner Dwayne De Rosario, the duo marking Frank Lampard and Michael Essien as Chelsea tried to build from the back. The work rate coupled a certain whimsy – a mischievous joy he showed through that week – to capture the occasion.

“I thought Thierry had the joke of the night,” head coach Ben Olsen said post-match, prompted to recall some highlights from the teams’ on-field interaction. ” [Henry] trying to get that free kick from Beckham. Did you see that?”

The league’s two highest profile players? Embraced in a laugh at the edge of the penalty area? Yeah. We saw it.

Chelsea had given away a foul 26 yards from goal. No doubt: Beckham’s going to take that kick, but Henry immediately ran to the ball. For a second Beckham was frozen, seemingly unclear on how to start negotiating the issue. Before he could begin to make his case, Henry turned and hugged him, laughing at the joke he’d played on his old Manchester United rival. Of course Beckham was going to take the kick. That was Henry’s point.

His name only barely made the scoresheet, but this game constantly reminds us how little can be captured by recording goals and assists. On Wednesday, Henry was the night’s danger man. Every time he got the ball and turned toward goal, he brought PPL’s record crowd to the edge of their seats. He may not have taken home the hardware, but Henry was the game’s best player.

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”