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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.