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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.”

Kelechi Iheanacho’s incredible rise to stardom

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Kelechi Iheanacho of Manchester City (R) celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates Nolito of Manchester City (C) and Raheem Sterling of Manchester City (L)  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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What a story.

Kelechi Iheanacho is one of the top young forwards on the planet — he has the best minutes per goal ratio in Premier League history, by the way — but we don’t know much about how the soft-spoken youngster ended up at Manchester City.

Now we do.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

In the latest superb first-person piece from the Players’ Tribune, Iheanacho, still just 20 years old, recalled his journey from Nigeria to England as he continues to make a big impact at one of the biggest clubs on the planet.

Ahead of Man City’s big Premier League clash with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), below is an excerpt from the piece where Iheanacho talks about the impact of his mother’s death and that in-turn explains his goal celebration.

You can read the piece in full here via the Players’ Tribune, as he recalls how he watched Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal in 2012 in a games arcade in southern Nigeria.

Later that year, I was invited to play for the under-17 Nigerian national team, and it was a big opportunity for me. We went away to training camp on the other side of the country. But then at the start of camp, I received news from home that my mother was sick. I didn’t know how bad it was — I just knew she was sick. And it was a very long and hard camp, so I could not go home to see her. This was my chance to go for my dream. The next news I got from home, a few weeks later, was that my mother had died.

It is very hard for me to talk about this.

I felt so sad, and it was a very, very hard time, but I had to stay at the camp to keep training. My mother loved her children, and she had always pushed me to keep working hard, even when it was football and not books. So I just kept working hard. The next year, our Nigerian national team won the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup. I scored five goals in the tournament. Every time I scored, I would point my fingers to the sky.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 22

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Premier League action is here and things are tense at both ends of the table.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game, Week 22 ]  

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 2-0 Hull City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 1-3 Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-0 Burnley – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 1-3 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Middlesbrough 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

West Brom 1-1 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 2-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Liverpool 1-1 Swansea – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Manchester City 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Steven Gerrard returns to Liverpool in coaching role

Gerrard's arrival in MLS is eagerly anticipated.
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Steven Gerrard is back where he belongs.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium ]

Gerrard, 36, will take up his first coaching role since retiring as a player in November.

Liverpool have described Gerrard’s new job, which he will start in February, as “a wide-ranging role in the professional development phase of the young players” and he will work under academy director Alex Inglethorpe.

The former Liverpool captain and legend hung up his boots after the 2016 Major League Soccer season ended with LA Galaxy and now he will begin life as a coach.

Speaking about his full-time role with Liverpool, which will see him work at the youth complex in Kirkby, Gerrard is excited to get going.

“It feels like completing the circle; returning to the place where professionally it all began. However, this isn’t a decision based on emotion – it’s about what I can offer and contribute to Liverpool. I don’t think I need to explain to people what this football club means to me, but when I knew coming back was a serious option I wanted to make sure it was a substantive role and a role in which I could really help the organisation.

“Meeting with Alex Inglethorpe, seeing the work they are currently doing and want to do in the future at Kirkby, it just felt right. The right option at the right time, for all parties involved. This gives me a great opportunity to learn and develop as a coach, while at the same time offering my knowledge, ideas and experience to the young players at an important period of their development.”

Gerrard grew up in Liverpool as a fan of the club and came through their academy system himself, making his professional debut as a 18-year-old and spending 17 years at the club as a first team player before moving to the LA Galaxy in 2015.

There is perhaps nobody better for this role as the former midfielder made 710 appearances for the Reds, scoring 186 goals and won 10 trophies in his time at Anfield, including captaining the side to a historic UEFA Champions League title in 2005.

He is Mr. Liverpool.

In this new role Gerrard will have a strong influence on the next crop of youngsters to come through at Liverpool and many will see this as the first step towards him having a big role in Jurgen Klopp‘s coaching staff and maybe one day taking over from the German head coach.

WATCH, STREAM: Premier League schedule, Week 22

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Week 22 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Liverpool host Swansea City (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) at Anfield looking to grab a win which would close the gap on leaders Chelsea, while Swansea are scrapping for their lives at the other end of the table.

Stoke City host Manchester United (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s men aiming to extend their unbeaten run to 13 games in the Premier League. At the same time Crystal Palace host Everton (10 a.m. ET live CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as Sam Allardyce looks to grab his first win as Palace boss in the PL against the in-form Toffees.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ]

Rounding off Saturday is a big game at the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City host Tottenham Hotspur (12:30 p.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com). Pep Guardiola has already conceded the title but Spurs have a real chance of Chelsea as Maurico Pochettino’s side are chasing a seventh-straight PL win.

On Sunday, Leicester visit Southampton (7 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with both the Foxes and Saints in real danger of being sucked into the relegation battle. Then Arsenal welcome Burnley to the Emirates Stadium (9:15 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with the Gunners hoping to stay in the title hunt, while the Clarets seek a first away win of the season.

Rounding off Week 22, leaders Chelsea welcome Hull City to Stamford Bridge (11:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Antonio Conte had Diego Costa back fit and available but the Blues will be wary of new Hull boss Marco Silva after a positive start to his spell at the KCOM Stadium.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Swansea City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Everton – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:15 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Burnley – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Hull City – NBCSN [STREAM