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?

UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

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With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”

Klopp talks politics: “Brexit makes no sense”

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Jurgen Klopp isn’t a fan of Brexit and he doesn’t care who knows it.

Liverpool’s German manager has spoken in the past about his disdain towards the vote by British citizens to leave the European Union, with Brexit officially planned for March 2019.

Klopp sat down with the Guardian to chat about a whole host of topics but it was his political views which will get the headlines ahead of Liverpool’s huge UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against AS Roma at Anfield on Tuesday.

The man who has Liverpool on the cusp of reaching a major European final and comfortably in the top four of the Premier League also admitted that he has a “helping syndrome” and wants to help out everyone and he cares about them greatly.

It is worth letting the words speak for themselves when it comes to Klopp’s comments on Brexit as it is clearly something else he cares a lot about.

Take it away, Jurgen…

“When Mr [David] Cameron had the idea [of a referendum] you thought: ‘This is not something people should decide in a moment.’ We are all influenced by the way only some of the argument is given, and once the decision is taken nobody gives you a real opportunity to change it again. The choice was either you stay in Europe, which is not perfect, or you go out into something nobody has any idea how it will work.

“So you give people the chance to make this big decision. And then it’s a 51-49 [51.9%-48.1%] vote and you’re thinking: ‘Wow, 49% are not happy with the decision that’s going to change the country.’ For the 51%, I’m sure they realized pretty early after the vote: ‘What have we done?’ The two leaders of the leave campaign then stepped aside. It was a pure sign they were surprised themselves by the vote. OK, that can happen. But then, come on, let’s sit together again. Let’s think about it again and let’s vote again with the right information – not with the information you’ve got around the Brexit campaign. They were obviously not right, not all of them. It makes no sense at all.”

“The EU is not perfect but it was the best idea we had. History has always shown that when we stay together we can sort out problems. When we split then we start fighting. There was not one time in history where division creates success. So, for me, Brexit still makes no sense.”

VIDEO: Napoli fans celebrate Juventus win

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It is safe to say Napoli’s fans were pretty happy with the 1-0 win their team secured at Juventus on Sunday.

Kalidou Koulibaly powered home a header in stoppage as Napoli moved just one point behind Juventus, who sit top of the Serie A table, with four games to go. The title race is well and truly on in Italy.

The scenes across Naples after the game were incredible and when the players arrived back at the airport at around 3 a.m. local time they were greeted by thousands of adoring fans.

Take a look at the video below. Wow.