MLS’s All-Star Game Man of the Match: Thierry Henry

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CHESTER, PA – JULY 25: Chris Wondolowski #8 of MLS All-Stars celebrates with Thierry Henry #14 after Wondolowski’s goal in the first half against Chelsea during the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at PPL Park on July 25, 2012 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

CHESTER, Pa. – Substitute Chris Pontius’s game-tying goal won the D.C. United attacker Wednesday’s Most Valuable Player award, but in the opening moments of a match MLS Soccer hoped would turn the page on two lopsided losses to Manchester United, it was the All-Star Game starters who set the tone. Osvaldo Alonso broke up play at the base of midfield midfield. David Beckham fired the darts that got his team into attack. Chris Wondolowski pinned Chelsea’s defenders, while Landon Donovan picked his spots coming in from the left, providing a crucial link on the first goal.

(MORE: The nuts and bolts from Wednesday’s win at PPL Park)

Thierry Henry, however, delivered the goal’s final ball, with Wondolowski beating a stumbling John Terry to give MLS the first goal of a 3-2 victory, their first in All-Star competition since defeating West Ham United in 2008. It was Henry’s biggest contribution of the night – a bullet cross from the left that gave the league’s leading soccer time to settle before beating Henrique Hilario – but it wasn’t his only play of note. Persistently turning Chelsea’s defense with through balls that tested Terry and Gary Cahill, the Red Bulls’ star the match’s most influential player.

Henry spent his 57 minutes operating in the space between Chelsea’s center backs and their deep midfielders (often coming from his defensive position in midfield to occupy the space). Regularly able to feed balls through the Blues’ defense, the only thing keeping Henry from generating multiple chances was a lack of familiarity with Wondolowski. A few offsides whistles, a couple passes that Hilario was able to swallow up – Henry just couldn’t make that one, perfect connection with his attack partner. For his part, though, Henry was the most dangerous man on the field when he had the ball, always one inch away from breaking the match open. Had MLS been able to feed him more in the first half, they may have gone into half with a lead.

But on Wednesday, there was something more to Henry’s game than the typical technical superiority we’ve come to expect from a man who’s played a Juventus, Arsenal, and Barcelona. Early in the match, he was as diligent as defending in midfield as partner Dwayne De Rosario, the duo marking Frank Lampard and Michael Essien as Chelsea tried to build from the back. The work rate coupled a certain whimsy – a mischievous joy he showed through that week – to capture the occasion.

“I thought Thierry had the joke of the night,” head coach Ben Olsen said post-match, prompted to recall some highlights from the teams’ on-field interaction. ” [Henry] trying to get that free kick from Beckham. Did you see that?”

The league’s two highest profile players? Embraced in a laugh at the edge of the penalty area? Yeah. We saw it.

Chelsea had given away a foul 26 yards from goal. No doubt: Beckham’s going to take that kick, but Henry immediately ran to the ball. For a second Beckham was frozen, seemingly unclear on how to start negotiating the issue. Before he could begin to make his case, Henry turned and hugged him, laughing at the joke he’d played on his old Manchester United rival. Of course Beckham was going to take the kick. That was Henry’s point.

His name only barely made the scoresheet, but this game constantly reminds us how little can be captured by recording goals and assists. On Wednesday, Henry was the night’s danger man. Every time he got the ball and turned toward goal, he brought PPL’s record crowd to the edge of their seats. He may not have taken home the hardware, but Henry was the game’s best player.

Peru’s World Cup foes lobby to overturn Guerrero’s ban

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Following last week’s decision handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Peru captain and talisman Paolo Guerrero has been banned from the 2018 World Cup — at the age of 34, almost certainly his last opportunity to star on the world’s biggest stage.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

However, in the days since that decision, a number of Guerrero’s fellow professionals and World Cup stars — France and Denmark captains Hugo Lloris and Simon Kjaer, and Australia’s Mile Jedinak — have written to FIFA, on behalf of FIFPro, the world player union, in hopes of rendering Guerrero eligible to pay at next month’s tournament in Russia.

“We respectfully ask the Fifa Council to show compassion,” the trio wrote. “In our view it would be plainly wrong to exclude him from what should be a pinnacle of his career.”

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

That Lloris, Kjaer and Jedinak are the players lobbying in favor of Guerrero is particularly notable given the fact that Peru will face France, Denmark and Australia in Group C.

Guerrero tested positive for cocaine late last year, after a tea he drank was tainted and triggered a fail drug test.

SKC, Crew SC play to 0-0 draw; VAR steals the show (again)

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — The game in 100 words (or less): Nothing ruins a good game of soccer more than controversies involving the referee — and now that VAR is active within MLS, yet another failure of the video-review system to correct the most “clear and obvious” of wrong decisions. There is no longer any rhyme or reason in deciding whether or not to utilize what could be a very helpful tool. Check the third video further down this page to comprehend the absurdity of VAR in Sporting Kansas City’s 0-0 draw with Columbus Crew SC on Sunday. As for the actual soccer which was played, Tim Melia made one save to deny Gyasi Zardes with a point-blank header early in the first half, and a second to deny Zardes rom the penalty spot just before halftime. Despite being a back-and-forth affair between the league’s second- and third-place teams with a chance to take the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, there were just six shots on target in total and genuine scoring chances were few and far between.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype ]

Three moments that mattered

43′ — Zardes wins a PK, but Melia makes the save — Melia was responsible for giving away the penalty kick, and he more than made up for it by denying Zardes moments later.

45+6′ — Higuain puts studs into Espinoza, sees red — Originally not called a foul, changed to a red card following video review. On the softer side of red cards (just an opinion).

59′ — Martinez takes a swing at Sinovic, but no video review — At this point, it’s just time to disband the entire VAR experiment. It’s turned MLS into a clown show and an embarrassment. Signed, someone who was initially in favor of VAR, assuming MLS would utilize it properly.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: None

Rayo Vallecano win promotion back to La Liga

Photo credit: Rayo Vallecano / @RayoVallecano
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MADRID (AP) Rayo Vallecano earned promotion to Spain’s top division after beating Lugo 1-0 in a second-tier league game on Sunday.

Alex Moreno’s goal for the hosts in the 40th minute sealed Rayo’s return to La Liga after two seasons away.

Huesca had already secured promotion last weekend with a 2-0 victory at Lugo.

The third team to move up will be the winner of a two-round playoff between the four teams that finish the season from third to sixth.

Malaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna were all relegated from the top flight this season.

FOLLOW LIVE: West leaders SKC host East’s 2nd-best Crew SC

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City host Columbus Crew SC, the Eastern Conference’s second-place side, at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday with both sides capable of overtaking Atlanta United for top spot in the Supporters’ Shield race.

[ FOLLOW: SKC vs. Crew SC in top-of-the-table clash ]

Sporting KC, who are unbeaten in three straight and have lost just once since opening day (11 games), lead expansion side Los Angeles FC in the West. Meanwhile, Crew SC enter Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash unbeaten in their last six games (four wins) and trail the league leaders from Atlanta by a single point.

Hit the link above to follow along throughout the afternoon, and check back with PST for coverage after the final whistle.