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Everton Defeats MLS All-Stars On Penalties

SANDY, Utah --Everton managed a dramatic 4-3 shootout win over the host Major League Soccer All-Star squad in a match that wasn’t a fluid one, but created much interest among the sellout crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

First Half

The play on both sides was initially sloppy. Everton clearly came to play, as they put in solid effort across the pitch, but their ability to connect with each other was choppy, an obvious result of their pre-season status.  On the MLS side, it was clear that the players were not entirely comfortable working together with their new teammates after just a couple of practices together. They lacked the precision and cohesiveness that you’d expect from players in mid-season form. 

Everton made the host team pay for their lack of quality in the 12th minute.  Stuart Holden had the ball out on the right side of the pitch and made the strangely incomprehensible play of attempting a pass into the center of the area, which was easily intercepted by striker Louis Saha.  He easily slotted it past the helpless MLS keeper, Kasey Keller, giving the English visitors a 1-0 lead. 

The MLS All-Stars seemed determined to get that one back, and make up for the gaffe.  In the 21st minute, Freddie Ljungberg made a pass inside the box to Blanco who played the ball to Kyle Beckerman, who took a low, hard shot from 25-yards plus.  The shot was easily deflected, but the MLS attack seemed to step up over the next seven minutes as Everton absorbed a mini-barrage from their rivals.

The payoff for the home team came in the 26th minute, with a goal by Brad Davis.  The buildup came on the right side of the area as Casey fought for a loose ball, and won it in the box.  He attempted to hit an oncoming Holden who attempted a shot, but was stumbling on the play.  The ball squirted to the left off of his foot, and found Davis wide open.  Davis easily put the ball away.  Holden would chalk up with his second unintended assist for the match.

The rest of the half played out without another score, but the MLS side had the bulk of the opportunities, finishing with eleven shots, to the visiting team’s five.

Second Half

The second half saw liberal substitutions as the MLS All-Stars brought all of their substitutes into the match.

Oddly enough, Kasey Keller subbed out and then back in as Thornton appeared to pick up an injury.  However, the game seemed to lack the sizzle expected from these high-caliber players. 

In the 67th minute it appeared that the All-Stars may break the deadlock, when Donovan hit what appeared to be a half-shot, half-cross.  It nearly went in, but Howard was able to push it up over the bar.

In the 75th minute Saha nearly gave back the gift that he received in the first half as he got the ball caught in his feet, and lost it to Casey, who passed it to Ljungberg.  His delivery to Donovan in front of the goal was perfect, but Donovan’s shot hit the upright.

Everton then had two consecutive chances in the area with the striker Jo getting good looks, but unable to connect.

Yet the final chances came for the All-Stars during the last two minutes of stoppage.  On one attempt Brad Davis swung in a nice ball to Arnaud who got a solid, driving header on target, but Howard was able to punch the ball away.  Casey was able to bring a ball down in the box, but his second touch got away from him, ruining an easy shot on the keeper.

With the format of the All-Star game, the game went directly to penalty kicks.  The All-Stars jumped out to an early lead as Donovan snuck his attempt in past his national teammate after James Vaughan missed his first attempt for Everton badly.  Jo also missed. Howard then saved Davis' attempt by blocking the shot with his knee. Leighton Baines then stepped up and made an easy one for the Everton side.  Davey Arnaud was next, but denied by a stunning Howard save.  Then Will Johnson and Phil Neville each made their attempts, setting up the final drama.

Joleon Lescott stepped up and made the fifth penalty for Everton, putting the pressure on Conor Casey.  However, Casey calmly took his shot, and just managed to sneak it under the arm of the diving Howard, who had guessed correctly on the play.

The additional round was high drama.  Jack Rodwell went first and hit a low shot to the left that froze Keller.  Ljungberg stepped up for the tie, to force another round.  He hesitated on his approach and then chipped the ball down the center.  The shot appeared at first to beat Howard, who dove to his right, but he managed to get back just enough to stop it. 

The final result was thus a 1-1 draw in regulation with a 4-3 win for Everton on penalties. 

Randy Davis,

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