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.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —