2013 MLS All-Star Game

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


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.

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.

Puksas Award finalists: Somehow absent is USWNT’s Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd, USWNT

FIFA announced on Monday its three-man list of finalists for the 2015 Puskas Award, handed out each year to the player who scored the “most beautiful” goal of the past calendar year.

[ MORE: 2015 Ballon d’Or finalists ]

The three men up for this year’s honor are Alessandro Florenzi (WATCH HERE), Lionel Messi (WATCH HERE) and Wendell Lira (WATCH HERE) — all scorers of fantastically beautiful goals this year.

That means Carli Lloyd, who made the original list of nominees before being whittled down to just three, is shockingly tragically scandalously criminally not a finalist for this year’s award. Reminder: This is the goal we’re talking about.

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

So, here’s the case for Lloyd:

  • She scored from midfield
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick in the 16th minute

How in the world is Carli Lloyd’s midfield goal to complete a 16-minute hat trick and win a World Cup final not a top-three goal of the year? You got some (more) explaining to do, FIFA.