Cunningham Leads M.L.S. All-tars Over Fulham
Filed at 6:47 p.m. ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Jeff Cunningham scored twice in the final five minutes as the Major League Soccer All-Stars' beat England's Fulham FC 4-1 on Saturday.
Cunningham came on as a substitute in the 68th minute and struck from eight yards out off a header to his foot from D.C. United midfielder Christian Gomez with five minutes left. Four minutes later, New England's Shalrie Joseph sprang Cunningham, who dribbled in and beat goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobny.
The crowd of 23,309 roared at the late goals from Cunningham, a longtime Columbus Crew standout who went to Colorado in the offseason.
The MLS struck 23 minutes in when Landon Donovan wound up with the ball following a Fulham turnover. Donovan slipped a pass into the box past U.S. national team teammate Carlos Bocanegra to New England forward Taylor Twellman, who beat goalkeeper Mark Crossley.
Drobny replaced Crossley when he was injured a few minutes later.
Donovan and Twellman nearly connected again four minutes after the goal, but Twellman's shot from the right side flew wide left.
Fulham leveled in the 36th minute when Chris Albright was whistled for knocking down Luis Boa Morte in the penalty box as Boa Morte dribbled toward goal. Claus Jensen's ensuing penalty kick caught keeper Matt Reis moving the wrong way.
That was Fulham's lone good chance of the first half, however, as the MLS side owned the midfield with Donovan and New England teammates Clint Dempsey and Joseph controlling possession.
MLS took back the lead in the 56th minute when Dallas' Ronnie O'Brien deflected a shot from Dempsey just inside the left post for the score.
Dempsey nearly put the MLS on the board in the 3rd minute, controlling a high ball with his back to the goal, then turning and firing from about eight yards out. Bocanegra stepped into an open goal mouth and cleared it for Fulham.
The MLS All-Stars blew mid-table Fulham away. If they didn't have that penalty kick in the first half, they wouldn't have scored at all.
On any given day, any team can beat any other team, but despite two former MLS players on their side, they never seemed to get their act together. No real pressure on the MLS at all, and by the end of the game, they just collapsed.
But the reason I'm posting this is that it comes a couple of days after a tight DC United-Chelsea match.
This is a good thing for US Soccer. Because I think the National team's experience is finally filtering down to MLS. That Columbus stadium was as packed as Anfield on Derby Day. But the US side, in both games, seem to play with a lot more confidence than in past years. The skill level is still pretty wide between a mid-table team like Fulham and most US sides.
I remember how the US team just collapsed in the 1998 World Cup, then came back and played harder than any American side had ever done internationally in 2002. They stunned Portugal and played the Germans hard.
What is clear from this match is two things: the US has a growing talent pool, both in league play and with the internationals. And there is an audience for soccer in the US.
It you've noticed, soccer's best teams are going to Asia and the US for their summer exhibitions. I saw Barca play Yokahama, Real Madrid play the Taiwanese national team, as well as the US matches. This is no accident. The exhibition matches get good attendence and good press. What is clear is that there is a growing audience for soccer in the US, because they understand the game. A mother who played soccer is far more likely to take her soccer playing children to these matches. The WNBA is far more family friendly than the NBA, with it's insane ticket prices and night games.
This reenforces soccer as a global sport. And appeals to many, many Americans as well. And the media is coming around as well. Soccer is no longer a footnore in SI, and Jim Rome's rantings are increasingly silly and irrelevant. The only single sport cable channel is Fox's Soccer Channel, which means there is an audience for the sport in the US.
After years of rank US soccer incompetence, it's nice to see the US building on their 2002 performance at the World Cup with solid players and a growing fan base.