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.

FA Cup Final preview: Desperate Arsenal meets Double-seeking Blues

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  • Clubs split PL series
  • Chelsea’s Conte aims for double
  • Chelsea 8W-3D-2L vs. Arsenal since 2012

Arsenal and Chelsea face off with a trophy on the line for the fourth time this century when the London sides hit Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup Final.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield, the first silverware match-up between the two sides since the 2007 League Cup Final in Wales. The Blues won that one, 2-1, while Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: Conte open to contract extension ]

A win would be Arsenal’s third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, and Arsenal would be thrilled to put something shiny in its trophy case following a season of tumult at the Emirates Stadium which ended without UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.

Conte knows Arsenal is desperate for something good.

What they’re saying

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on what a win could mean“We wanted to finish higher up in the league, there is no doubting that. We cannot hide from that and we need to own up to that. The FA Cup is a big trophy, one we want to win and which would definitely boost morale going into next season.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the match: “If you ask me who is the favorite now, I can tell you it is Arsenal because Arsenal now has the possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this reason, we must play with great patience. We must find in ourselves the right motivation, the right anger because the game can be very difficult for all of these reasons.”

Prediction

Could go either way, with many players not just glory-hunting but in the shop window. Will Alexis Sanchez be the difference maker? Mesut Ozil? Maybe, but we think Chelsea ratchets up the intensity one more time and claims a double with a 2-1 win.

Chelsea’s Conte open to extending his contract

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Antonio Conte is readying Chelsea for a bid at a season double, with the Blues meeting Arsenal on Saturday afternoon for an all-London FA Cup Final.

Conte is on a London-high himself, having led the Blues to a Premier League title in his first year in charge. He’s moving his family to the area, scooping up plenty of individual hardware, and has dynastic aims for the Stamford Bridge set.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

His first deal was for three years, and Conte is thinking beyond that now.

From the BBC:

“If the club give me the possibility to stay and extend my contract, for sure I’m available to. … We have the same idea about the future, the way we have to do together, to improve the squad and the team.”

How they improve the squad will be interesting, as veterans Cesc Fabregas, Willian, and Diego Costa have uncertain futures at the Bridge. But why wouldn’t Conte sign a bumper new deal after wild first year success?

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

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Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle players picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

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Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.