Days of seeking validation now over, it’s just a “big event” for MLS All-Stars

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KANSAS CITY – Thierry Henry says he never watched MLS All-Star matches previously in the old East-West format. He said it two or three times, in fact, even getting a bit of French attitude about it when the question was put to him again.

But … he certainly did watch when the MLS All-Stars faced European competition.

“It’s about exposure,” he said, perhaps a bit curt, but making a good point.

None of the All-Stars seemed too beat up by Wednesday’s 3-1 loss. If their pride was dented, they didn’t show it – although all 22 MLS All-Stars probably wished they could have put on a little better show for the typically boisterous, sold-out crowd at Sporting Park.

“It’s hard to bring a group of guys together with just one practice,” All-Star manager Peter Vermes said with a bit of a shrug.

But Vermes, also the manager of Sporting Kansas City, warned everyone not to be overly caught up in a result of a friendly, even a high-profile one like Wednesday’s. He emphasized the buzz around town, the wonderful facility, another night where a passionate and knowledgeable crowd made the ground a special place as metaphors for the game’s progress locally and nationally.

“Every time you step inside the white lines you want to win,” Vermes said. “But the result was not necessarily the key focus for the last three days here. It was really about the vision becoming a reality. It’s amazing, because the owners here made a commitment, to take a franchise that unfortunately was underperforming in so many ways, and they have been able to follow through on every single commitment or goal they have set out for this organization. And this week was just another example.”

(MORE: MLS All-Stars fall to AS Roma, 3-1)

Would the words have sounded differently had Roma not made such relatively easy work of the All-Stars, had the game generally been a little more attractive? Maybe.

But in all honesty, the players and managers treat these games differently now. Talking to them over the last three days, it really is different.

A few years ago, they wanted to beat Fulham, or wanted to beat West Ham or maybe hold their own against Chelsea or Celtic. There was some feeling of needing validation in these opportunities.

Now … not so much.

As Vermes said, it’s just an event for them now — certainly a big and important one. The days of seeking validation seem behind them.

MLS validation is in Sporting Park, where SKC officials spent liberally and truly got it all right. The validation is in the buzz. It’s in the potential owners here who are jostling for position in the ongoing expansion sweepstakes.

Validation is in the air being breathed around All-Star week. It would be nice to pair all that with a better result (and a more attractive game than last night’s). But if MLS wins, say, half these games … isn’t that about right from a competitive standpoint?

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga