By: Steven Seib
Before the kickoff of Wednesday’s much anticipated MLS All-Star Game, the 21,175-strong crowd at Sporting Park turned their attention to the pre-game video on the stadium’s video boards. As music blared throughout the stadium, the video proclaimed, “Rome wasn’t built in a day…But it can fall in 90 minutes.” A clever quip, but it was the visitors from Rome who would have the last laugh, defeating the MLS All-Stars by full-time a score of 3-1.
Roma, no doubt fueled by the hype surrounding the match, looked ready to play and controlled the ball from the opening whistle. Just four minutes into the match the Italian side took advantage of the poor organization of the All-Stars’ back line. With Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler and Aurelian Collin keeping a high line for the MLS, Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi was able to slip a lovely through ball past Besler, finding Kevin Strootman who, despite a last-ditch effort from Collin, was able to slot his shot into the bottom right corner of the net to give Roma a 1-0 lead.
The All-Stars’ woes continued as the half progressed, struggling to keep up with the organized, methodical build up from the Romans. Just three minutes on from the opening score, Roma’s Francesco Totti collected the ball on the left side of his own half before making a delightful pass across the field, finding Florenzi who had made a run behind MLS’ out of position left back Corey Ashe. Florenzi was able to dribble into the right side of the All-Star’s penalty area, one-on-one with goalkeeper Raul Fernandez before squandering the chance, pulling a shot left across the face of goal as it rolled across the endline for a goal kick.
With just 24 minutes elapsed, MLS manager Peter Vermes made a precautionary substitution, taking off Sporting’s Graham Zusi who suffered cramps early on in the match, and bringing on Vancouver Whitecaps forward Camilo Sanvesso.
Without the midfield presence of Zusi, the All-Stars continued to struggle against the composed Roma midfield and defense. By the end of the first period, the MLS had failed to put a shot on target, with the away side creating two opportunities on goal, and controlling 54 percent of possession.
Manager Peter Vermes made four substitutions at the break, hoping to reverse the first half trends, but as the second half started, it would be more of the same for the home side.
Just two minutes into the final half, Roma’s wide, organized attack continued to give the All-Star defense fits. Federico Balzaretti got the ball along the left touchline in the attacking third before looking up and firing a low, left-footed cross to a wide-open Florenzi who had again slipped past the out of position Ashe before tucking his shot low and hard into the left of the goal past a helpless Nick Rimando to give the Italians a 2-0 lead.
In the 48th minute, the record-breaking crowd looking on at Sporting Park thought the MLS had found a response. Thierry Henry found himself on the left side of the attacking third, dribbling past two Roma defenders before managing to hit a left-footed cross towards Chris Wondolowski, who narrowly missed getting his head to the ball under intense pressure from Roma’s Balzaretti.
MLS continued to press the issue, and in the 52nd minute, the first-half substitution Sanvesso was able to get past Roma centerback Mehdi Benatia, dribbling to the byline before sending in a dangerous near-post cross. Roma’s defense was able to handle the effort, however, clearing the cross out for a corner, which amounted to nothing for the All-Stars.
The next opportunity would occur in the 67th minute as Landon Donovan, playing in his 13th consecutive All-Star game, took advantage of Roma’s Daniele De Rossi, dispossessing the midfielder just outside of the 18 yard box. Cutting past the attempted tackle of Benatia, Donovan had an opportunity one-on-one with Morgan DeSanctis, but fired the shot right at the goalkeeper’s chest for an easy save.
Just moments later, a failed cross from Aurelian Collin fell to the feet of Mike McGee inside the penalty area, but McGee’s left footed full-volley was again right at DeSanctis.
Sensing that the MLS were on the verge of breaking through, Roma immediately pushed forward, and in the 68th minute, a string of beautiful one-touch passes between Strootman and American Michael Bradley found Junior Tallo in front of the six-yard box where he was able to finish the chance despite a hard, sliding challenge from MLS’ Tony Beltran to extend the lead to 3-0.
The MLS’ confidence a shambles by this point, they struggled to find opportunities as the Roman side continued to hold an edge on possession. The All-Stars would finally find some consolation in the 90th minute, however. A free kick surrendered in Roma’s defensive third allowed Camilo to hit a perfect ball in, finding the head of the 6-foot-5 Omar Gonzalez who snapped the ball into the bottom right corner to make the score 3-1. It would be the last touch of the ball for the MLS, as referee Hilario Grajeda blew his whistle moments later to signal full time.
Check out the post-game press conference of Manager Peter Vermes and All-Star Matt Besler here: http://www.mediafire.com/listen/tu92bdkkco63t6c/VermesBesler_All-Star.mp3
Check out the post-game press conference of AS Roma Manager Rudi Garcia and AS Roma Midfielder Michael Bradley here: http://www.mediafire.com/listen/0n716gsi4be8t8d/GarciaBradley_All-Star.mp3