2013 MLS All-Star Logo

Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry set to lead MLS All-Stars against Italy’s AS Roma


KANSAS CITY – Goals generally pour forth at MLS All-Star games like thick red sauce over that famous Kansas City barbecue around here.

Then again, Major League Soccer teams aren’t usually staring at Italian opposition. Any student of the game will tell you Italians have always treated defense with a certain reverence. You can be sure that as AS Roma conducts two-a-days practices in the American heartland this week, part of its preparation for the rugged Italian Serie A season to come, a significant element is the constant tweaking and polishing of defensive shape.

Sporting Park on the city’s outskirts is sold out (as usual) for the 9 p.m. ET kickoff. There has even been a little scalping action on tickets around the city this week (which is not usual for MLS All-Star contests).

The MLS All-Star format has long been thus: foreign opposition against the league’s very best. It’s a departure in that way from traditional all-star games here and it tends to coalesce the league’s tip-top talent in a way other formats might not.

Roma does not carry the weight of some past visitors to the event, a smidge less heralded than Manchester United or Chelsea from England’s venerable Premier League, for instance. But credit the league for diversifying the opposition for 2013. Besides, the Italians are certainly a talented bunch, sixth place finishers in Serie A last year.

Historically, Roma sits just a shade under the Italian heavyweights, but does have three Serie A crowns (the last in 2001) and nine Coppa Italia titles. And it also has a strong American attachment in U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, who has become perhaps the most indispensable man in for United States national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

Any media-related event for Roma this week in Kansas City has come with a strong dose of Bradley.

Major League Soccer’s side has plenty of star value, too, starting with Frenchman Thierry Henry, who still has ample skill and just enough showmanship to create the perfect blend for such an event.

There is also a heavy contingent of U.S. players coming off a successful CONCACAF Gold Cup run. Seven members of the United States team that won Sunday’s final in Chicago made their way down to Kansas City a day later. That group included Landon Donovan, the star of the United States’ surprisingly easy dash through the Gold Cup field, who is participating in his 13th MLS All-Star contest. (He was the All-Star game MVP back in 2001. Yes, the man has been around that long now.)

So Donovan was part of the roster that took a 4-0 thumping from mighty Manchester United back in 2011. And he was on the MLS side in Philadelphia last year that posted a spirited 3-2 win over Chelsea. U.S. striker Eddie Johnson supplied the stoppage time game winner for that one.

Donovan said the added element of this U.S. group coming directly in from Chicago add something, since a part of the larger group has already invested so much shared time and energy over the past month.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but to me it means something,” Donovan said at Tuesday’s practice at Livestrong. “We have an opportunity to show ourselves well. This whole trip has been fantastic, since the minute we got in [Monday]. Everybody is taking it the right way, and we want to put on a good show.”

Like most everyone else, Donovan will play only a half. Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes, in charge of the All-Star team, recognizes that everyone on the field at Sporting Park tonight has a league match this weekend. He has already said that his own players, center back Aurelien Collin, will be one of two men asked to play all 90 minutes. He’ll have to pick one more, which is sure to leave some fellow MLS manager something less than giddy.

Collin is one of three players from the host team, along with U.S. internationals Matt Besler and Graham Zusi.

Projected MLS starting lineup:

Raul Fernandez; Tony Beltran, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Corey Ashe; Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi, Will Johnson, Brad Davis; Thierry Henry, Marco Di Viao.

Juninho hoping Willian breaks his Champions League free-kick record

xxxx during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
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Willian has scored six goals for Chelsea this season, with all six coming from free kicks.

Four of those have been scored in the Champions League, as the Brazilian has tied the record for the most free-kick goals in a single UCL campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Willian is tied with his fellow Brazilian Juninho, known as one of the deadliest set-piece takers of all-time, who scored four times for Lyon during the 2005-06 campaign.

When asked about the possibility of his record being broken, Juninho was glad it would be by another Brazilian player, and said Willian will likely surpass him in the coming matches.

It’s good it’s a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have.

It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.

I’m being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record. The Champions League has barely reached half way and Chelsea still have a few more games to play.

Willian has converted 6 of 12 free kicks this season, scoring at an unheard-of 50-percent clip. All of his goals have come from almost the exact same spot on the pitch, about 20-25 yards out at the corner of the box to the keepers right.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy scores in record 11th straight Premier League match ]

Chelsea’s next Champions League match is on December 9 at Stamford Bridge against Porto. The Blues need a draw to advance into the knockout round.

West Brom’s Jonas Olsson backs Zlatan for Premier League move

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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With his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in the summer, where Zlatan will go next is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Having already played in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France, the Premier League would be a logical next step in Zlatan’s career.

[ MORE: Aguero injury update ]

However, at 34-years-old, Zlatan himself has said it is “too late” for him to play in England, adding more mystery to where he will end up.

Despite what Zlatan says, his teammate on the Sweden national team Jonas Olsson believes the PSG striker is more than capable of playing in the Premier League.

Olsson, who has made nearly 400 appearances for West Bromwich Albion over the past eight seasons, said Zlatan’s elite talent would be fit for England’s top flight.

He’s still at the top of his game. He is the strongest player I have faced. I really hope he comes.

Zlatan on his day is the most talented footballer in the game. He has played under Mourinho before and the only place where he’s not 100% appreciated is in the UK.

I think he can play for any team in this league – he is still that good.

Even at 34, Zlatan has proven he is still one of the best strikers in the world. He recently became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer, and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons.

[ VIDEO: Jamie Vardy speaks after scoring in 11 straight Premier League matches ]

The Premier League certainly has the money to entice Zlatan, and it is the biggest league in the world that he hasn’t conquered yet. Expect his name to be linked with a move to every major club in Europe for the rest of the year, as we’ll just have to wait until June and see what he decides.

Three questions ahead of Sunday’s MLS Conference Finals

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Goal keeper Adam Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers slides in on Michael Barrios #21 of FC Dallas during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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There are only two matches remaining before MLS Cup, with both conference’s top seeds in need of a big result.

FC Dallas lost to the Portland Timbers 3-1 in the first leg out West, while the New York Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the East.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Leg 2 of the Conference Finals will both be played on Sunday, as we will know the MLS Cup finalists by the end of the night.

WEST: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET
EAST: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET

With each home-side needing to overcome a two-goal deficit, here’s what to look out for in the Conference Finals.

Will FC Dallas capitalize on home-field advantage?

Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate, FC Dallas will be looking forward to Sunday’s second leg. Dallas finished the season 13-2-2 at Toyota Stadium, the best home record in MLS. After scoring a crucial away goal in Portland, a 2-0 win for Dallas will see the side advance to the final. Their 33 goals scored at home was the second-best mark in the Western Conference, as Oscar Pareja’s men will feel confident despite the aggregate.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores twice for Monchengladbach ]

Is Norberto Paparatto ready to replace Liam Ridgewell?

Norberto Paparatto has played just six matches for Portland this season, but it looks like he’ll be starting on Sunday. Liam Ridgewell, who started all 32 matches at center-back, injured his calf in the first leg and manager Caleb Porter said Paparatto will “most likely” be starting, as Ridgewell was seen warming up separately from the rest of the team in training. With FC Dallas in need of goals, Paparatto will have his hands full on defense, especially with the likes of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz bombing forward.

Can Luis Robles keep a clean sheet for RBNY?

The Red Bulls’ Luis Robles was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year this season, and he’s going to need to play like that on Sunday. After losing 2-0 in the first leg without scoring an away goal, New York needs a 2-0 win themselves just to force extra-time. If Columbus scores at Red Bull Arena, New York needs to score four goals to advance. While it will have to be a collective team effort to keep the Crew off the scoresheet, Robles will have to make some big saves in goal to keep his side in it.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)