MLS All-Stars fall to Italy’s AS Roma, 3-1

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KANSAS CITY – For the third time in four years Major League Soccer’s All-Stars landed on the wrong side of a lopsided result in their own showcase event, never really establishing themselves in a 3-1 loss to Italy’s AS Roma on Wednesday’s inside Kansas City’s Sporting Park.

Omar Gonzalez’s 91st minute goal off a Camilo free kick prevented the MLS All-Stars from being shut out for only the second time. Still, these results are falling with some frequency now, following 5-2 and 4-0 losses to Manchester United in 2010 and 2011.

The MLS All-Stars are now 7-3-1 in this format, where teams from abroad face the league’s top men.

Not appearing stung from the loss, several MLS All-Stars players and officials, including prominent striker Thierry Henry, said exposure is more important than the outcome.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” All-Stars manager Peter Vermes said. “In the end, it’s a great game, a great environment. If all we wanted to do was win a game, we could easily set something up. These are real games. These are real teams that come in here to play. Sometimes the results don’t go your way. But at the end, I go back to, it’s more than just winning the game. It’s the experience of everything that goes on around it.” 

Still, it would have been nice to see Major League Soccer’s best be just a little more competitive. They did enjoy more possession in the second half, as Roma’s tiring starters remained on the field longer than the “home” team’s first 11. Still, the Italian team never looked stretched.

“We did take the game seriously,” MLS center back Matt Besler said. “But there are a lot of challenges coming into this game tonight, and you also have to give Roma a lot of credit.”

(MORE: For MLS, the validation is  in the event  itself)

Important U.S. national team midfielder Michael Bradley played all 90 minutes for Roma, lined up as a right central midfielder in his club’s 4-3-3. Playing just ahead of holding man Kevin Strootman, who figured into two of the Italian team’s goals, the U.S. international’s night was quintessential Bradley, all full of tidy possession and smart movement with and without the ball. In the 68th minute, Bradley’s perfectly placed, clever little ball through heavy defensive traffic for striker Junior Tallo cut apart the MLS defense for a 3-0 lead.

Roma’s quality was apparent early, although the men of MLS did enjoy a nice spell of early possession. As soon as Roma put its first real string of passes together, some quick interplay between Miralem Pjanic and Alessandro Florenzi put Strootman through in the 4th minute. MLS center back Aurelien Collin gave valiant chase, but his desperate slide as the Roma man closed in on goalkeeper Raul Fernandez could not prevent the early Roma goal.

Most of the first half looked something similar, with last year’s sixth-place finishers in Italy’s Serie A coming close here and there and getting one goal disallowed for a close offside decision.

The Italians, so quick to organize after losing possession, already surprisingly well put-together even though just into the third week of their preseason, was a stark contrast to the MLS bunch. As you expect from these matches, MLS in possession was frequently an exercise in duplicated runs and lots of standing around, wondering what their less-familiar teammates would do.

Things went further downhill for Major League Soccer’s All-Stars – and the substitutions and management of minutes that were already a headache for MLS coach Peter Vermes became even more of one – when local man Graham Zusi went off injured in the 24th minute.

Vancouver’s Camilo came on, giving the United States three forwards, Camilo, Thierry Henry and Marco Di Viao, who were not a bit interested in tracking or any other defensive toil.

With a disrupted team shape, there wasn’t much going on offensively for the All-Stars. A little traffic in front of Roma’s goal created by a Brad Davis cross in the 30th minute was about a third of a chance, and yet the best for MLS to that point. About a minute later, a little defensive inattention allowed Camilo some room near Roma goal, but his cross from the end line could not make its way into Henry.

By halftime, when the MLS side made eight changes, the All-Stars had been credited with three shots, none on goal. And even that may have been a bit generous.

Two minutes after the break, Collin lost a skirmish for the ball near midfield. Strootman was the playmaker, advancing possession quickly up the left side to Federico Balzaretti. Omar Gonzalez was way too deep along the MLS back line; again, the typical product of defender who don’t play together day-to-day.

Balzaretti was free along the touchline to play a ball into Alessandro Florenzi, who had gone dashing past left back Corey Ashe for a rather easy one-time ball past Nick RImando.

Best MLS chances to score after the break: Landon Donovan helped create a turnover along Roma’s back line in the 67th minute, then got in alone on Roma ‘keeper Morgan De Sanctis. About a minute later, Mike Magee lashed a decent drive toward Roma goal, although one that didn’t bother De Sanctis.

The game was mostly played with the spirit of a friendly, the first foul not even whistled until the 15th minute, when Henry was tripped about 45 yards from goal. It was always so, however. Roma’s Pjanic chopped down Landon Donovan in the 54th minute, earning the game’s first of two yellow cards from referee Hilario Grajeda.

Money from Wembley replay will “support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years”

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone