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.

WATCH: Camila’s wicked swerving goal for Brazil

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The Tournament of Nations got underway earlier Thursday, with Brazil and Japan drawing 1-1 in Seattle.

While some in the crowd may’ve been waiting to see the United States women’s national team and Australia in the second game of the twin bill, they got an absolute treat from Brazil’s Camila.

[ MORE: Galaxy’s season-changing signing ]

The Orlando Pride midfielder is yet to scoop up 10 caps, but blasted this 25-yard goal home with a wicked outside bend.

The aesthetics are terrific.

LA Galaxy’s second Dos Santos signing is a season-changer

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Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.

The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.

Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).

Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).

Joey Barton’s gambling ban lowered by almost 5 months

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Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.

Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.

Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:

The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.

“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”

Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.

We may see him on the field in August 2018.

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

[ MORE: Nainggolan staying at Roma ]

The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.