Everything surrounding the 2013 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, which included several days of revelry before the MLS All-Stars battled AS Roma on Wednesday night at Sporting Park, drew rave reviews.
Fans, players and even MLS commissioner Don Garber lauded Kansas City and the soccer celebration it hosted.
It’s a good thing too, because the game turned into a dud after Roma grabbed the lead in the fourth minute en route to a thoroughly lopsided 3-1 victory against the MLS All-Stars.
“The game didn’t go our way, but if you look at the week as a whole — the experience — Kansas City was unbelievable,” Sporting Kansas City centerback and two-time all-star Matt Besler said.
Roma became only the second international club in MLS All-Star Game history to defeat the “home side,” which had been 7-2-1 in All-Star action since adopting the MLS vs. The World format in 2003.
Manchester United pounded the MLS squad in 2010 and again in 2011.
Another English Premier League side, Everton, managed a draw in 2009 (and prevailed on penalty kicks), but the MLS had topped Chivas Guadalajara, Fulham, Celtic, West Ham and Chelsea twice during the other meetings with elite international clubs.
Before a record crowd of 21,175, the largest in Sporting Park history for a soccer match, Roma zapped the energy from the building practically off the opening whistle when Kevin Strootman won a footrace with Sporting KC’s other All-Star centerback, Aurelien Collin, to a through ball from Alessandro Florenzi.
Collin got a toe on the ball with a sliding challenge in the penalty box before Strootman could strike it, but the ball still ricocheted off the Roma central midfielder’s shin and inside the right post.
Midfielder Miralem Pjanic was credited with a secondary assist on the goal.
“No excuses,” New York Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry said. “Roma played well and was better than us today. They played us off the park. They did whatever they wanted to do.”
Two minutes later, Roma nearly pulled ahead 2-0 when Junior Tallo rocked a shot at FC Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, who prevented a goal initially with a diving save but gave up a rebound at the far post.
Florenzi ran onto the loose ball and buried a shot, but the goal was waved off by an offside penalty.
With the MLS All-Stars generating precious few chances going forward, Roma’s quick-passing, possession-oriented style continued to produce chances.
“They were very organized in both aspects of the game,” said Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes, who managed the MLS All-Stars. “When they were defending, they were organizing, but there was great balance and discipline in the way they went forward and excellent movement off the ball.”
Still 1-0 at halftime, Roma needed less than two minutes into the second half to pad its lead.
Off a cross from the left flank by Balzaretti, Florenzi, who was named the game’s MVP, ran onto the ball uncontested in the middle of the MLS All-Stars’ box and hammered Roma’s second goal inside the left post and past Nick Rimando, who took over in goal at halftime.
The lead grew to 3-0 in the 69th minute when Tallo finished a brilliant passing sequence from Balzaretti to U.S. men’s national team star Michael Bradley atop the MLS penalty box. Bradley immediately sent the ball toward the left edge of the box for Strootman, who centered the ball for Tallo.
“You give these guys a half-second or half-step, and when you’re not all on the same page with one training session, it really does make it tough,” Besler said. “These guys are world-class players. You saw some of the passes they were making.”
LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez pulled back a goal for the MLS All-Stars in the 91st minute to prevent a shutout.
“I was happy to get the goal for the fans and get one back for us,” Gonzalez said.