2013 MLS All-Star Game

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?

Pep Guardiola: “Maybe I’m not good enough”

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Pep Guardiola has admitted he “may not be good enough” for his players at Manchester City.

Ahead of City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Guardiola has been defended his squad after severe criticism from the media.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

City were hammered 4-0 at Everton last weekend, their worst league defeat since 2008 and Guardiola’s worst-ever league defeat as a manager.

With plenty pointing the finger of blame at goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and City’s defense, their manager put himself in the firing line.

“They are good players. I have respect for the guys, so why would I say the guys are not good? So I don’t understand the lack of respect for the professionals when they have been amazing players, and [people saying] they are not good enough for me. Maybe I am not good enough for them,” Guardiola said. “They are Manchester City players, top players. They have a lot of quality. They have shown that many times in the past and this season.”

Mind games.

Guardiola, 46, is no doubt facing the biggest challenge of his season as City look to at least seal a top four spot in this his debut season in England. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has already “said goodbye to the title” and if they lose against red-hot Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium then more questions will be asked of his tactics and if they can work in the Premier League.

So far the possession-based slow build up style has been hot and cold for City, with plenty of counter-attacking teams in the PL (Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Leicester etc.) having a field day against a shaky defense.

Despite being 10 points off the pace, Guardiola is sticking by his philosophy. One thing really sticks out to me from his first few press conferences in England: “We will see if my style of play can work in the Premier League.”

So far, it’s not.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Liverpool host Swansea City to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Reds aiming to stretch their unbeaten run at home in the Premier League to 18 games.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Jurgen Klopp is a little concerned with the number of games his team have had to play over the past few weeks, but a victory against the struggling Swans would momentarily move his side just four points behind leaders Chelsea who play on Sunday.

As for Swansea, new manager Paul Clement knows a win would take his team out of the relegation zone and with new signings arriving that would be a massive boost. It would also be a massive ask for the Welsh side to get anything at Anfield but this may be a good time to play Liveprool after their midweek trip to Plymouth in the FA Cup and the EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton coming up on Wednesday.

In team news Liverpool start with Philippe Coutinho once again, while Joel Matip is on the bench after the Reds finally settled the dispute with Cameroon. Swansea hand debuts to new signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Sturridge, Moreno, Lucas, Origi, Matip, Woodburn

Swansea City: Fabianski; Olsson, Mawson, Fernandez, Naughton; Cork, Carroll, Fer; Sigurdsson, Llorente, Routledge. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Amat, Fulton, Dyer, Borja, McBurnie

Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.