MLS All-Star Preview: Game vs. Bayern the culmination of league’s marquee event

3 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. — Wednesday night is part of a progression for Major League Soccer, though one of the virtues of this journey is not knowing where you are. The league may have reached the pinnacle of its current format, with German champions Bayern Munich presenting a standard few other teams could eclipse. More likely, however, we’re seeing the maturation of an idea, one which, when first tried over a decade ago, represented the last, long reach for relevance. On Wednesday (9:30 p.m. Eastern), MLS will present a distinct, marquee event. The All-Star Game has become the biggest showcase in Major League Soccer.

Increasingly, however, the game itself is being dwarfed by the buildup, with an onslaught of events that began monopolizing Portland’s Pioneer Square and Waterfront Park creating an experience that would make the NBA proud. From the interactivity of the events in the downtown plaza to the popularity of The Flaming Lips’ set on the shore of the Willamette, the All-Star Game has hit its stride, with MLS having figured out how to invade a city, dominate a small part, and depart having left a lasting impression in one of its markets.

Strangely, because of that dynamic, the opponent almost becomes secondary. Whereas teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, or this year’s adversary, Bayern Munich, should add to the uniqueness of the event, now they’re part of the scenery – a differentiating factor for only that team’s hardcore fans. The streets of Portland aren’t overrun with Bayern fans. Instead it’s Timbers’ gear, All-Star game apparel, or the various branding MLS has pushed out during what’s become a high leverage event for sponsors.

Since the league went away from a neutral site MLS Cup final three years ago, this has become the league’s standout event, one that’s able to leverage its place between European seasons to generate worldwide appeal. It’s the party they have a year to plan, one that sees foreign media who’d otherwise never come to the States get a chance to experience the league’s culture in the beautiful American summer. Pull it off, and MLS gets the type of marketing value it can’t generate through any other source – a message that can attest to the league’s prolonged growth.

Unfortunately, little of that will matter on the field, where a league that’s been able to bring back likely All-Star starters Micheal Bradley and Clint Dempsey will be outclassed by the German champions, whose squad features six players who lifted the World Cup last month (Jérome Bôateng, Mario Götze, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer). With world-class attackers like Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, and Franck Ribéry augmenting that core, Bayern’s team may be better than the national team it helps support, leaving an MLS squad assembled on the fly hard-pressed to keep things close.

On the FieldTurf of Providence Park, München will be able to best the Nationalmannschaft’s tempo. A style of play that averaged 755 passes per game (and 71% possession) in last year’s Bundesliga will be going against MLS’s attack-heavy group with no established system, one that’s missing two of its best center backs (Omar Gonzalez and Chad Marshall). Unaccustomed to facing Bayern’s this style or talent, MLS’s best should struggle to keep up. Imagine the United States versus Germany with more talented Germans and fewer U.S. national team stars.

Bradley, Dempsey, Matt Besler, and DeAndre Yedlin will be there, as will Landon Donovan, who didn’t get a chance to face his former team in Brazil. Thierry Henry, potentially in his final All-Star Game, will also be in the squad, as will his Red Bulls teammate, Tim Cahill. Add in stars like Graham Zusi, Diego Valeri, and Obafemi Martins, and MLS has one of the more talented teams it’s ever put on the field, albeit one that’s unlikely to notch the league’s third win in 11 games against foreign opposition.

Then again, Wednesday isn’t about the result. These All-Star Games never are. They’re about the spectacle. They’re about the event, from buildup to final whistle. They’re about MLS’s part in a broader, global game. They’re about putting on a show.

If anything, the actual game is just the culmination of a much broader performance. By the time MLS and Bayern kick-off on Wednesday, most of the show will already be done.

MLS’s All-Star week has already been a success. Now, it’s time to see if Caleb Porter can engineer a result.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Reds clobbered Swans on Boxing Day
  • Swans six points adrift
  • Reds go third with three-goal win
  • Liverpool leads all-time 23W-8D-11L

Liverpool looks to avoid a letdown when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Swansea City has managed a win over the Reds in each of the previous two seasons, but was simply crushed by Jurgen Klopp‘s men in a 5-0 defeat at Anfield last month.

WATCH ON NBCSN AND ONLINE HERE AT 3 P.M. ET

The hosts badly need to pick up points, though few expect them to do so on Monday. Skeptics, however, will note that Liverpool under Klopp has been giants against the top teams and often lackluster against the other sides.

What they’re saying

Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal on springing an upset“I would prefer to be Goliath, I would rather be in his position. But during my career most of the time has been spent in the position of David, and we have been able to do some surprises as David. We have done it often, we are working to make more of them. I was kind of the Goliath when I was with Besiktas and Sporting Lisbon, but during those moments Goliath was a little ill.”

Liverpool’s Klopp on goalkeeper Loris KariusMy favourite solution, always, is that we do it with our boys. They step up, they deliver, they improve. The problem they have is that everyone is watching them (through a magnifying glass) and saying ‘still not good enough!’ I will only mention one name. Everyone talks about him with us and that is Butland. I only saw the game (against Manchester United). Fantastic goalkeeper but was he perfect? No. He wasn’t in that game. But everyone says ‘still better than our boys!'”

Prediction

It’s hard to see this going in Swans favor at all, though we’ll peg them to keep it close on the score board: 2-0 to Liverpool.

Transfer rumor roundup: Schurrle to Newcastle, Spurs

Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A new name has emerged on the loan market, as Borussia Dortmund forward Andre Schurrle is reportedly being made available for the second half of the Premier League season.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Newcastle United reportedly leads the pack for the former Chelsea scorer, who is struggling to get time at BVB thanks to a glut of fantastic wingers including Christian Pulisic.

Magpies boss Rafa Benitez has a good relationship with the Westfalenstadion set, having taken Mikel Merino off their hands in August. Newcastle currently uses Christian Atsu on the left wing and Matt Ritchie on the right, but Schurrle can play center forward and Benitez may prefer to use the 27-year-old in the middle of his trident.

But they’ll face competition, and HITC says BVB is willing to pay half of his wages on an 18-month deal to keep him reasonable for some clubs. This could be a boon for Spurs.

Newcastle and Stoke City have also been linked with Galatasaray midfielder Papa “Badou” Ndiaye, with the Magpies said to have bid just a bit higher than the Potters but still under Gala’s buyout clause.

And here’s a wild one, according to ESPN: Chelsea’s rumored pursuit of current Premier League scorers now includes Marko Arnautovic. The audacious Austrian attacker cost West Ham around $35 million when his head was turned from Stoke City in the summer.

He didn’t perform well but Slaven Bilic, but David Moyes has been able to get some fine performances from the powerful Arnautovic. Chelsea has previously been linked with West Ham teammate Andy Carroll, Burnley’s Ashley Barnes, and Stoke’s Peter Crouch as it attempts to find a center forward to ease the burden placed on Alvaro Morata in his first Premier League season.

World Cup winner, England legend Armfield passes away at 82

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

1966 World Cup champion Jimmy Armfield has died at the age of 82.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Voted “the best right back” in Europe between 1962-64, the former England and Blackpool captain also had a successful management and broadcasting career.

Armfield was a member of the 1962 and 1966 World Cup squads, though a toe injury kept him from his place in the starting lineup when England won the tournament.

He spent his entire playing career with Blackpool before managing Bolton Wanderers to promotion and Leeds United to the European Cup Final, righting the ship after Brian Clough’s infamous spell in charge of the club.

There’s a statue outside Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road, and the club legend has a stand named after him inside the venue.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Julie Ertz scores in USWNT win, discovers good Eagles news after

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Leave a comment

Whoever scheduled the U.S. Women’s National Team’s friendly against Denmark at the same time as the NFC Championship Game on Sunday night should really consider the Ertz family in the future.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup — Auba to Arsenal, Man City tracking Evans, Fred ]

While noted USWNT defender Julie Ertz and her team cruised past the Danes in a 5-1 victory, her husband, Zach, was playing a hand in the Philadelphia Eagles’ progression to the NFL’s Super Bowl.

With Julie not knowing what to expect following her team’s match, find out how she took the news of her husband’s triumph in the video below.

While Zach’s night was certainly a memorable one for many reasons, it was Julie that arguably had the better performance — which included a goal in the 19th minute off of a close-range volley.

The USWNT had trailed through 14 minutes, but a combination of goals from Alex Morgan and Ertz in a span of two minutes quickly erased the deficit.

For Morgan, it was her 80th goal for the Stars and Stripes.

Meanwhile, a second-half brace from teenage sensation Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn’s finish with nine minutes to play proved to be the icing on the cake for Jill Ellis’ side, who kicked off 2018 with a bang.