MLS All-Stars fall to Italy’s AS Roma, 3-1

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KANSAS CITY – For the third time in four years Major League Soccer’s All-Stars landed on the wrong side of a lopsided result in their own showcase event, never really establishing themselves in a 3-1 loss to Italy’s AS Roma on Wednesday’s inside Kansas City’s Sporting Park.

Omar Gonzalez’s 91st minute goal off a Camilo free kick prevented the MLS All-Stars from being shut out for only the second time. Still, these results are falling with some frequency now, following 5-2 and 4-0 losses to Manchester United in 2010 and 2011.

The MLS All-Stars are now 7-3-1 in this format, where teams from abroad face the league’s top men.

Not appearing stung from the loss, several MLS All-Stars players and officials, including prominent striker Thierry Henry, said exposure is more important than the outcome.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” All-Stars manager Peter Vermes said. “In the end, it’s a great game, a great environment. If all we wanted to do was win a game, we could easily set something up. These are real games. These are real teams that come in here to play. Sometimes the results don’t go your way. But at the end, I go back to, it’s more than just winning the game. It’s the experience of everything that goes on around it.” 

Still, it would have been nice to see Major League Soccer’s best be just a little more competitive. They did enjoy more possession in the second half, as Roma’s tiring starters remained on the field longer than the “home” team’s first 11. Still, the Italian team never looked stretched.

“We did take the game seriously,” MLS center back Matt Besler said. “But there are a lot of challenges coming into this game tonight, and you also have to give Roma a lot of credit.”

(MORE: For MLS, the validation is  in the event  itself)

Important U.S. national team midfielder Michael Bradley played all 90 minutes for Roma, lined up as a right central midfielder in his club’s 4-3-3. Playing just ahead of holding man Kevin Strootman, who figured into two of the Italian team’s goals, the U.S. international’s night was quintessential Bradley, all full of tidy possession and smart movement with and without the ball. In the 68th minute, Bradley’s perfectly placed, clever little ball through heavy defensive traffic for striker Junior Tallo cut apart the MLS defense for a 3-0 lead.

Roma’s quality was apparent early, although the men of MLS did enjoy a nice spell of early possession. As soon as Roma put its first real string of passes together, some quick interplay between Miralem Pjanic and Alessandro Florenzi put Strootman through in the 4th minute. MLS center back Aurelien Collin gave valiant chase, but his desperate slide as the Roma man closed in on goalkeeper Raul Fernandez could not prevent the early Roma goal.

Most of the first half looked something similar, with last year’s sixth-place finishers in Italy’s Serie A coming close here and there and getting one goal disallowed for a close offside decision.

The Italians, so quick to organize after losing possession, already surprisingly well put-together even though just into the third week of their preseason, was a stark contrast to the MLS bunch. As you expect from these matches, MLS in possession was frequently an exercise in duplicated runs and lots of standing around, wondering what their less-familiar teammates would do.

Things went further downhill for Major League Soccer’s All-Stars – and the substitutions and management of minutes that were already a headache for MLS coach Peter Vermes became even more of one – when local man Graham Zusi went off injured in the 24th minute.

Vancouver’s Camilo came on, giving the United States three forwards, Camilo, Thierry Henry and Marco Di Viao, who were not a bit interested in tracking or any other defensive toil.

With a disrupted team shape, there wasn’t much going on offensively for the All-Stars. A little traffic in front of Roma’s goal created by a Brad Davis cross in the 30th minute was about a third of a chance, and yet the best for MLS to that point. About a minute later, a little defensive inattention allowed Camilo some room near Roma goal, but his cross from the end line could not make its way into Henry.

By halftime, when the MLS side made eight changes, the All-Stars had been credited with three shots, none on goal. And even that may have been a bit generous.

Two minutes after the break, Collin lost a skirmish for the ball near midfield. Strootman was the playmaker, advancing possession quickly up the left side to Federico Balzaretti. Omar Gonzalez was way too deep along the MLS back line; again, the typical product of defender who don’t play together day-to-day.

Balzaretti was free along the touchline to play a ball into Alessandro Florenzi, who had gone dashing past left back Corey Ashe for a rather easy one-time ball past Nick RImando.

Best MLS chances to score after the break: Landon Donovan helped create a turnover along Roma’s back line in the 67th minute, then got in alone on Roma ‘keeper Morgan De Sanctis. About a minute later, Mike Magee lashed a decent drive toward Roma goal, although one that didn’t bother De Sanctis.

The game was mostly played with the spirit of a friendly, the first foul not even whistled until the 15th minute, when Henry was tripped about 45 yards from goal. It was always so, however. Roma’s Pjanic chopped down Landon Donovan in the 54th minute, earning the game’s first of two yellow cards from referee Hilario Grajeda.

Report: Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

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It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.

VAR, Granqvist penalty lead Sweden over South Korea

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On Day 5 of the World Cup, VAR took center stage once again.

Referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador made the trek over to the video monitor in the 63rd minute after a no-call on a South Korea challenge in its own box, eventually reversing his decision and giving Sweden a penalty kick. Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist stepped up and sent his side in front before holding on for a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Monday morning in Nizhny Novgorod.

With the win, Sweden is joint top of Group F with Mexico on three points.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The key moment in the match took place in the 62nd minute, as Sweden’s Viktor Claesson got his foot on a loose ball first before South Korea’s Kim Min-woo went through Claesson to clear the ball away.

Aguilar initially waved the penalty claim away, but after about 20 seconds and a word from his assistant referees in his ear, Aguilar made the sign for VAR and ran over to take a second look. Around 20-30 seconds later, Aguilar reversed his decision, awarding the Swedes a penalty.

Granqvist, who plays his club football for FC Krasnodar in Russia, stepped up to the spot and with veteran poise, sent Cho Hyun-woo the wrong way for the 1-0 lead.

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Sweden had chances in the first half to get on the board. Marcus Berg was alone on goal in the 20th minute but Hyun-woo stuck out a leg and deflected it away. Another chance from Berg led to another save from Hyun-woo as he kept South Korea in the match.

Following Sweden’s goal, Sweden sat deep and allowed Heung-Min Son to find space on the wings, where South Korea set up numerous half-chances. But the final pass was just missing, and Sweden was able to clear the ball out of the box on numerous occasions, holding on to victory.

It’s a big win for Sweden, which will face an angry and pumped up Germany side coming off a loss in its first match. Meanwhile, South Korea looks to rebound against Mexico, with its spirits higher than the clouds.

It’s confirmed: Club Leon parts ways with Landon Donovan

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Landon Donovan’s four-month adventure in Mexico appears to be over.

Club Leon announced on Sunday that it had parted ways with Donovan, despite the 36-year-old having a contract through the end of the calendar year. Donovan made just eight appearances for Leon, with just one start, and failed to score or assist on a goal as Leon slumped to 13th place in the Clausura season.

[READ: England squad reconnects with fans]

“…both parties have decided not to (keep the contract) for the Clausura that united us,” Leon said in a statement. “The departure of Landon from our team has been exemplary in all aspects. The club loses a legendary professional from the world of sports that leaves an indelible institutional imprint.”

It’s unclear what’s next for Donovan, but he stated in an interview with PST’s Matt Reed that he intends to continue playing in Mexico.

Donovan recently drew the ire of U.S. Men’s National Team fans and Donovan’s former teammates when he revealed he was rooting for Mexico at the World Cup this summer as part of a Well’s Fargo campaign.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.