MLS All-Stars Fall in Penalties to Real Madrid

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From Last Word On Soccer, by John Bava

Just a week after reemerging in the land of Disney, Dom Dwyer conjured up some late magic.

In front of 61,428 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL, the newly minted Orlando City striker netted an 87th minute goal to help the MLS All-Stars draw defending European champions Real Madrid 1-1 through regulation. It wasn’t enough, though, as Los Galacticos ultimately prevailed in penalty kicks, 4-2.

MLS All-Stars Fall in Penalties to Real Madrid

The MLS All-Star team’s starting XI consisted of five players with USMNT experience and three World Cup winners. Chicago Fire manager Veljko Paunovic opted for a 4-3-3 shape with American goalkeeping legend Tim Howard in goal. The previous two league MVPs, Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa, functioned as wide players up front, while Giovinco’s Toronto FC teammate, Jozy Altidore played his familiar center forward role.

The two-time defending European champions made eight changes from the starting lineup that fell 3-2 to La Liga archrival FC Barcelona in Miami on Saturday. Only goalkeeper Keylor Navas, defender Sergio Ramos and forward Marco Asensio started both games. But Madrid’s lineup remained star-studded, with Toni Kroos and Isco among the starters.

Wednesday’s encounter marked the 13th straight between the MLS All-Stars and a major European side. But it was the first against Spanish opposition. In the previous 12 matchups, the MLSers boast a 7-5 record. Last year, they fell 2-1 to English titans Arsenal at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA.

One of the biggest concerns MLS teams have about this game is in regard to their players staying healthy throughout it. Two minutes in, those concerns came to the forefront for Atlanta United FC when Greg Garza fell awkwardly on his right arm. The left back immediately began clasping his shoulder in pain and came off in place of DaMarcus Beasley.

Reports from the sideline later on indicated that Garza suffered a separated shoulder on the play.

Madrid controlled the tempo for much of the first half, with the ball in the All-Stars end of the field for a good portion. It showed in the shot stats during the first 45 with Madrid finishing with 19 compared to the All-Stars’ five. But only two of those forced a save from Howard.

Still, the All-Stars had their own opportunities. The one with the most promise came in the 36th minute when Villa collected a Kaka square ball from the left hand side. He settled and fired it at Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas who parried it away. The half ended with Giovinco teeing up a shot from outside the box that went just wide left.

The biggest story out of the opening stanza, other than Garza’s injury, arguably concerned Madrid’s finishing. They unloaded a barrage of shots at Howard’s net, yet few of them required a save out of the 38-year-old Rapids net-minder. But credit his defense in front of him who blocked seven of them.

The MLS All-Stars made a hockey-style line change to start the second half. Only Ignacio Piatti remained from the opening 45, with him having come on in the 31st minute in place of Altidore. Madrid made three halftime switches, with Rubén Yáñez, Jesús Vallejo and Dani Ceballos replacing Navas, Ramos and Kroos respectively.

Ceballos made himself useful just over 13 minutes after coming on. The 20-year-old midfielder, who has a combined 30 appearances at youth level for Spain, made a pass to Borja Mayoral who found a seam in the MLS defense at the top of the box. Mayoral, who spent last season on loan in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg, put it past second half sub Stefan Frei to put Madrid up 1-0.

A few minutes later, the stars came out for Los Galacticos. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Dani Carvajal, Casemiro, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo all entered the game just after the 60th minute. Benzema ended up replacing the goal-scorer Mayoral.

The All-Stars nearly equalized in the 70th minute. It began with Dax McCarty laying the ball off for Giovani Dos Santos whose perfectly floated long pass found Dwyer. The recent acquisition of Orlando City flicked it to Nemanja Nikolic who had a chance to send the Fire fans in attendance into raptures. His shot slightly missed the mark and hit the side netting.

But even though he missed out on a potential assist then, Dwyer ultimately made his mark on the game. With three minutes left in regulation, McCarty unleashed a powerful header off a Diego Valeri corner at goal. The resulting carom off the left post came off Dos Santos, with Dwyer heading in the rebound.

It enabled the All-Stars to take Real Madrid to a penalty kicks. In the resulting shootout, the luster of Dwyer’s goal a few minutes earlier wore off just a tad. Zidane’s son, Luca, who came in for Yáñez in the 72nd minute, stoned Dwyer’s attempt, the first for the All-Stars. It served as a precursor of what was to come as Real emerged victorious in penalties.

Mayoral took home game MVP honors for his efforts on the lone Real Madrid tally in regulation.

With the result, the MLS All-Stars fall are now 1-1 all-time against defending European champions. The amalgamation of the league’s top talent faced Chelsea in 2012, fresh off the Blues most recent continental cup triumph. Buoyed by a second half stoppage time game-winner from Eddie Johnson, MLS won the game, 3-2.

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