MLS All-Stars 3, Chelsea 2
CHESTER, Pa. – While Chris Pontius was preparing for his first MLS All-Star Game, he recently heard from his younger brother, Tim, who works as a valet at an upscale Santa Barbara restaurant.
The other night Tim let Chris know that Juergen Klinsmann and Kobe Bryant were both out to eat.
“Tell Juergen I said, ‘Hi,’” Pontius said was his response.
On Wednesday, Pontius sent a far louder message to the U.S. head coach. Neatly combining with D.C. United teammate Dwayne De Rosario for the second goal in the MLS All-Stars’ 3-2 victory over Chelsea, Pontius put a broken leg suffered last September firmly behind him and made it clear his superior MLS form might soon deserve greater recognition.
“I didn’t think I would be here, to be honest with you, with how everything went,” said Pontius, who was named the game’s MVP just ten months after suffering a broken leg. “It’s been a long road. I had a rough start to the season just personally and was able to find a groove.”
Before a record PPL Park crowd of 19,236, the MLS All-Stars similarly were undaunted by losses the last two seasons in the league’s summer showcase to Manchester United, playing evenly with the reigning European champions – taking part in their third of four stateside preseason matches – from the opening whistle.
David Beckham, who’d flown in from England at 11 on Wednesday morning and was headed back to London immediately after the match to continue his Olympic duties, conducted the MLS offense with his usual magic, complemented by Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan.
The game’s first goal came from where more goals have come than anyone else this season in MLS, San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski. Already in possession of 17 strikes in league play, Wondolowski pounced on a cross from Henry when Chelsea center back John Terry fell down attempting a clearance in the 21st minute.
Terry got redemption in the 32nd minute, rising over Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin to nod home a corner kick. Collin probably shouldn’t have been in the game, only moments before having suffered a blow to his face as he tried to close down a tackle on Michael Essien. After being examined for concussion symptoms by MLS medical staff on the sideline, Collin reentered the game for the corner kick. He also left the game permanently shortly after it, replaced by Philadelphia Union defender Carlos Valdes, who was greeted by a roaring ovation from his hometown fans.
Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy stretched for a superb save on Frank Lampard in the second half but then got caught out of position on the ensuing corner kick in the 58th minute. Lampard was left wide open to tap in Ramires’ floater across the box to give the English side a 2-1 lead.
Pontius, who replaced Donovan at halftime, tied the game 15 minutes later. De Rosario latched onto a stunning 50-yard ball from Beckham at the left side of the box. Racing down the center of the field, Pontius got De Rosario’s attention and one-timed his teammate’s pass through Chelsea defender Gary Cahill, past goalkeeper Ross Turnbull and just inside the left post.
“It was nice to see those two connect,” said MLS All-Star coach Ben Olsen, who said his mind had been half on D.C. United’s two-game losing skid all week. “I’m happy for Chris, and I’m happy that Dwayne had a pretty good day. It looked like he had some of his punch back. But Thierry and Beckham, Landon, it’s just such a joy to be part of watching them play, and I hesitate to say coach because I didn’t coach at all this week.”
A fireworks display took place over the Delaware River next to the stadium at halftime, but the celebration started in earnest in second-half stoppage time. That’s when Seattle forward Eddie Johnson, who is back in MLS this season after four inconsistent years abroad, stole the victory.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman found Johnson behind the Chelsea defense, giving him enough time to hit a shot off recovering defender David Luiz. Turnbull could only watch as the ball deflected over his head and rolled into the net.
“The league is getting better,” Johnson said. “Coming back after my three and a half years away, the league has gotten a lot better players, and Benny’s a winner.”