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.”

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.