All-Star exhibition not-so-friendly for Bayern Munich, Major League Soccer

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Major League Soccer’s success was the story after the league’s All-Stars earned a 2-1 win over German champions Bayern Munich at Providence Park, but in a match that was supposed to be an exhibition, two yellow card-worthy fouls nearly stole the show. With Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola twice yelling at the MLS bench during Wednesday’s second half, it was clear the league’s guests were not on the same page as its All-Stars.

In the 64th minute, Osvaldo Alonso’s challenge at the edge of the MLS stars’ penalty area earned a booking from Jair Marrufo, with Guardiola left pleading to the fourth official after trying to have words with Caleb Porter. In the 89th minute, a second sliding challenge gave German international Bastian Schweinsteiger an injured right ankle, with Timbers midfielder Will Johnson drawing the game’s second yellow card.

For a game that usually carries an exhibition’s intensity, the All-Star Game’s fouls were an unexpected show of force. After Johnson’s booking, Guardiola and his assistant again appealed for help, showing the fourth official the various points on the field where they felt had been too rough.

After the game, the Bayern coach, who Porter called “an idol,” declined to shake his counterpart’s hand, later claiming, “I didn’t see him.”

“I’m upset because Bastian’s injured,” Guardiola explained, often alluding to the “respect” his team tried to bring to the occasion:

“I’m not talking here about my colleague. I’m here to talk about the game, our performance.

“We came here to play the best way as possible. We came here to respect the people, the fans, respect our opponents … to respect this game, to respect Portland, to respect MLS. And we did it.

“And the other players, I don’t know. [I don’t know] about my colleague.”

It was as if MLS’s All-Stars had broken an unwritten rule about exhibitions, forgetting why they’re called “friendlies.” Though players take their chances with injuries in competitive games, there are no stakes in games that don’t count. Unspoken but typically observed, players are expected to pull up.

But foor MLS, this isn’t just an exhibition. This was a proving ground. The team wanted to win.

“The guys care. The guys are proud …,” All-Star Game MVP Landon Donovan explained. “We wanted to win the game. It says a lot about guys’ character. What happens this coming weekend is more important for guys in the long run, but this was an important night for us.”

It’s an attitude that defines the divide on Wednesday’s tackles. For Bayern, the game was part of its preseason, with seven players flying in five hours before the game to make obligatory cameos. From that point of view, it’s easy to see the dogged play of Alonso and Johnson as excessive. Had those plays happened in a Bundesliga match, there wouldn’t be any complaints.

It’s a point of view Porter understood, having been in Guardiola’s shoes before:

I understand the frustration completely, because they’re in preseason. I’ve been in games in preeason with my teams, and you do, you get a little bit wound up when that happens, because they’re getting ready to start the season.

These guys are world class players and, as coaches, your job’s on the line. You need the best guys in this game.

I understand completely why there was some emotion there, but we certainly didn’t mean to do anything negatively in the game.

Others weren’t as sympathetic. For the 23 players Porter had in his squad, this was a showcase event, one that’s only been won twice before. Against a team with Bayern’s talent and pedigree, MLS’s best had the attention of many who’d never otherwise watch them play. It’s one of the few chances they get to impress the world.

“We had to play our game. No matter who’s in front of me, I have to play my game,” Alonso said. “We come to play to hard, to play simple, like we did in the second half. We showed we can play with any team.”

And ultimately, that’s the point; at least, that’s the point for MLS. All-Star Week has become a success from a marketing perspective, but competitively, the league still needs to put its best foot forward. Though results haven’t been favorable in the past, one of the points of this format is to see MLS’s elite compete against some of the world’s best. If that competition amounts to a walk through, the exercise loses its value.

“Listen, we want to win the game,” Donovan explained. “You don’t want to hurt anybody, you don’t want to be foolish, but those guys play hard. That’s what they do.

“I saw both plays. Ossie Alonso’s play was probably a little worse than Will’s. Will’s was sort of innocuous …When you play a real game, those things happened, and I’m gald that we played with that kind of intensity.”

Now whomever agrees to play next year’s All-Stars knows: There are no unwritten rules. If you come to North America, you’re coming to play. Don’t expect the Will Johnsons of the world to pull up on their challenges. There’s nothing friendly about Ossie Alonso.

With that lesson learned, Guardiola wants another shot. Though his disappointment saw him shun Porter at the final whistle, the Bayern boss hopes to get a rematch in 2015.

“I expect [MLS is] going to invite us next year, Guardiola predicted, “and I’m going to prepare a little bit better. We will be sure what’s going on. We’ll prepare much better … and I hope our invitation is coming.”

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

FA Cup semifinal preview: Can Mourinho win Man United another title?

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It’s been a season of highs and lows for Jose Mourinho, but he could put Manchester United on the precipice of another title this Saturday.

The FA Cup semifinals resume this weekend at Wembley Stadium, with Manchester United facing off against Tottenham and Chelsea battling Swansea. It’s a pair of great matchups with plenty of enticing storylines to watch ahead of and during the games.

[MORE: All our coverage of Arsene Wenger’s decision to step down]

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Jose Mourinho lost a lot of the good-will earned after Man United’s win over Manchester City as his side capitulated in a 1-0 defeat to last-place West Bromwich Albion.

Now, with a week to stew on that result, Mourinho is just two games away from raising another piece of silverware for Man United, though it won’t exactly be the trophy the fans were hoping for. At the same time, Tottenham, a team on the up and up, would love to win the FA Cup and take control fully of North London from rivals Arsenal. A trip to the final for Tottenham would be the next step in the club’s climb to greatness.

Chelsea vs. Southampton— 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

It’s been a disappointing season for both clubs, but on different levels. Chelsea, the defending league champions, has struggled most of the season to consistently score goals and will likely finish outside of Europe – unless they make the final of the FA Cup. So there’s a lot riding on the line for Chelsea heading into Sunday’s match.

For Southampton, with Mark Hughes now in charge, it’s almost a throw-away game. If they win, they could be the first team since Wigan to be relegated and qualify for European football the next season, but it could also be a game in which the beleaguered squad could gain some confidence, beating one of the big clubs in England.