The MLS All-Star team suffered defeat to visiting side Arsenal 2-1 Thursday night, as a late game-winner cancelled out an otherwise even match.
The All-Stars put on a solid show, and at times actually looked the side more likely to grab a game-winner. But the English Premier League giants proved too much.
The first half ended in a draw, and the deciding strike didn’t come until the 87th minute, a painful time to concede for the MLS side.
Chuba Akpom was the man to grab the glory as a clinical attacking move from Arsenal in the box led to his simple tap in. Akpom is only 20 years old and yet to fully break into Arsenal’s senior squad.
MLS All-Stars keeper David Bingham, from the hometown Quakes said of conceding the goal:
“Obviously when someone breaks in the flank like that, it’s a [dangerous] situation, and he was able to cut it back into the box.”
The play itself, which started by a cheeky pass that led Nacho Montreal to the byline for a cross, resulted in such a clean chance that saving it would have been difficult. Had the goal not been scored, the game would have skipped over extra time and gone straight to a penalty shoot-out.
Bingham addressed concerns that the thought of penalty kicks pressured him into conceding:
“I didn’t even know we would’ve gone to pks. That would’ve been kinda cool, but i just thought it would’ve ended 1-1 and we would’ve gone home.”
The first goal of the game came early in the 12th minute. Montreal Impact defender Laurent Ciman surrendered a penalty kick for the MLS side, bringing down Joel Campbell on a long ball over the top. Campbell stepped up and, after an outrageously slow teasing run-up, finished with power to the right of the diving keeper Andre Blake.
Coach Dom Kinnear said of the penalty call:
“I personally after watching the penalty, don’t think it was a penalty. I was a bit surprised that call when against us because it’s generally part of the game. It was a bit odd to see it that way.”
The goal came in the run of play, and despite similar stat lines in shots, and possession hovering around 50 percent, Arsenal’s passes and touches seemed a class above the MLS side.
Mere seconds before the halftime whistle, one of the game’s promised storylines came to fruition. Didier Drogba found the ball in front of goal and — after his first two shots were sent back by the Arsenal defense — his third shot finessed it’s way into the corner of the net to equalize the scoreline.
Drogba said he was more concentrated on the result than the individual effort:
“I like to score goals, but I like my team to win games. I always say the goals I score when we lose don’t count. “
Drogba even suggested Cech was okay with trading the goal for the win:
“I will have fun with Petr because I scored, but he already killed me. He said ‘this time I’ll give you the goal.'”
The MLS side were very apparently trying to get Drogba the goal against his former teammate, Petr Cech who had declared his desire not to concede to the Ivorian striker. Countless crosses and balls were played in to Drogba in the first half; most were unsuccessful, but it only took one to send the game into halftime with an equal scoreline.
At halftime, San Jose Earthquakes All-Stars Chris Wondolowski and David Bingham came on in front of their home fans. Bingham was making his first All-Star appearance, while Wondolowski, his second. Wondolowski was honored by wearing the captain’s armband.
Chances remained evenly spread in the second half, and Wondolowski nearly grabbed the go-ahead goal for the All-Stars in the 82nd minute, only five minutes before Arsenal’s strike. It would have been a great moment for San Jose to see the local kid put away the game winner, but it was not to be.
Wondo was disappointed with the strike but made clear it wasn’t the pressure of the moment that caused the miss:
“It wasn’t too much pressure. I just got it wrong. I wish I could’ve gotten it on frame, but it’s unfortunate […] I took the angle but I got a little too steep on it and tried coming across my body to get the goalkeeper.”
Orlando City striker and former rookie of the year Cyle Larin pulled back a ground cross in the box that the veteran Wondolowski just got under and skied over the goal.
Toronto FC star and former MVP Sebastian Giovinco showed well in his own right. For a series of plays early in the second half before being subbed off, he was dictating the run of play including a hard strike on goal saved. His ability to dribble around Arsenal’s air tight defense delighted the supporters.
United States national team hopeful Gedion Zelalem appeared in at the 67th minute, but was largely ineffective.
The MLS All-Stars are now 7-5 against visiting clubs, ending their winning streak of two consecutive seasons over the visitors.