Sporting Kansas City is becoming very familiar with PPL Park.
Just two weeks after securing a spot in the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by disposing the Philadelphia Union on the Delaware Riverfront, three members of Sporting KC returned as All-Stars. They helped the league’s best hang with English Premier League heavyweight Chelsea FC in the 2012 All-Star Game on Wednesday.
Seattle’s Eddie Johnson scored the game-winner during stoppage time as the MLS All-Stars rallied for a 3-2 win.
San Jose scoring machine Chris Wondolowski and Chris Pontius of D.C. United, who was named the game’s MVP, also scored for MLS, with the final two goals coming in the final 20 minutes. Chelsea had led on goals from John Terry and Frank Lampard on either side of halftime.
“It was just one of those plays,” Johnson said of his decisive goal. “It was a good possession, and things went our way.
“The league is getting better. We are just trying to put on a better show.”
The Kansas City contingent on hand performed well. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and defender Aurelien Collin were part of the starting XI for head coach Ben Olsen of D.C. United, while midfielder Graham Zusi came in as a substitution in the 57th minute.
Nielsen, the Danish goalkeeper of the year in 1998 and 2004, outplayed his counterpart from the reigning European champions and FA Cup winners, Henrique Hilario. Nielsen faced nine shots and made one save before giving way to Chivas USA goalie Dan Kennedy after the half.
Nielsen proved to be a calming influence as the last line of defense for the MLS stars, as well as an impressive traffic cop. He had no chance in the 32nd minute, however, when Chelsea’s Lampard lifted a perfectly placed corner kick which found the head of Terry, who knocked it in.
“I tried not to put too much focus or pressure on (the game) but it was really fun,” Nielsen said. “Any time you get to play against some of the best players in the world, it’s an honor. Winning just makes it a little bit better.”
Collin, the tenacious central defender who is a major reason Sporting KC is just a point behind New York for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, proved stout on the back end.
Collin, however, left in the 36th minute for local favorite Carlos Valdes, a member of the Union. An MLS source described the substitution as a precautionary measure after Collin took a bump to the head a few minutes earlier.
Zusi, a rising playmaker who entered the All-Star break tied for third in MLS with eight assists, provided some juice after subbing in and was a key cog in the comeback.
“We threw together a group of guys after two practices,” Zusi said. “It’s just a lot of fun when you are out here with players like this, and I thought our guys did a heck of a job .”
MLS started the tradition of bringing in a European club in preseason training for the All-Star Game in 2005 and won the first five all-star contests, including a 2006 win over Chelsea. Lately things have been more difficult, however, and Manchester United routed the MLS side over the past two seasons, including a 4-0 win in Harrison, NJ a year ago.
Earlier Wednesday, Sporting K.C. midfielder Roger Espinoza and forward Kei Kamara were among 13 additional players named MLS All-Stars as part of the "inactive roster" voted on by their peers.
Kamara nearly joined the active roster before Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham decided to play in the game rather than leave early for the London Olympics. Espinoza, meanwhile, is already in the United Kingdom getting ready to play for his native Honduras.