CHESTER, Pa -- In the 91st minute and with the 2012 MLS All-Star game headed to dreaded penalty kicks, Seattle Sounders striker Eddie Johnson stepped forward and continued the MLS’ mastery over Chelsea FC.
“We know MLS is on a stage and whenever we play, people are interested in how the MLS is doing,” said All-Star and DC United coach Ben Olsen. “I think these guys did the MLS proud tonight.”
Following a late equalizer from the All-Stars' Chris Pontius, Johnson broke free at the top of the box thanks to a quick pass from Kyle Beckerman. With little room, Johnson fired a shot that was chipped down by the collapsing Chelsea defense, forcing the ball to take a hard bounce up and over goalkeeper Ross Turnbull to give the MLS All-Stars the dramatic 3-2 win over Chelsea, Wednesday night at PPL Park.
“Coach told me to try to run that back line and try to get behind," said Johnson. "That’s what coach brought me here for tonight and I’m just trying to pay him back for selecting me to the team.”
Waiting until the 60th minute to bring Johnson in the game was all part of Olsen’s plan.
“We knew Eddie would come in late and cause them trouble,” said the coach. “It's their pre-season and they were gonna be tired. The ball bounced our way.”
The win was the second for the MLS over FA Cup and UEFA Champions league titleholders Chelsea in the last six years. It was also redemption following lopsided losses to Manchester United in 2010 and 2011.
“It feels good to get on the winning side of things again,” said Real Salt Lake captain Beckerman. “We realize the score line goes around the world and we’re trying to build Major League Soccer as a product. So it’s definitely good to be on the winning side of things like this.”
Trailing 2-1 late in the contest, the All-Stars showed the type of life absent in the team’s previous two losses. Collecting a ball played forward by David Beckham into Chelsea territory, All-Star captain Dwayne De Rosario smoothly played a pass back into space for trailing DC United teammate Pontius. With one touch, the striker fired it through Turnbull to tie the game at two in front of a PPL Park record crowd of 19,236.
“I’ve been playing with [De Rosario] for a year now,” said Pontius. “He draws the attention, the two defenders and I’m wide open. I just tried to put it on frame, I opened up my foot.”
Although the All-Stars needed a comeback, they held the lead early. After working to find their legs and synergy for a relatively dull opening 20 minutes, the All-Stars struck on the counter-attack. Finding space in the Chelsea zone, Landon Donovan gathered the ball in space before dishing to Thierry Henry on the left side of the box.
The New York Red Bulls striker bent a quick left-footed cross that deflected off unsuspecting John Terry and into the legs of MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski, who found the ball in his feet and placed it to the right of Henrique Hilario and in for the 1-0 All-Stars' lead.
“We did a great job getting the ball out to Thierry,” said San Jose Earthquakes’ striker Wondolowski. “He served in a great ball, it fell right to me and I was able to punch it.”
But Chelsea would not be pushed around by the All-Stars.
In the 32nd minute off a corner from Frank Lampard, the ball sailed toward the center of the box into a pack of players. With a timely leap, Terry headed the ball high and to the left of the goal, locking the game at one at the half.
The contest received some Union flavor in the 35th minute, when defender Carlos Valdes entered the match to a tingling ovation from his hometown crowd. He replaced Aurelien Collin, who was injured after a collision with Michael Essien. Union midfielder Michael Farfan got his first taste of action in the 74th minute, coming in for Beckham.
“Valdes, you could make the case for him to start,” said Olsen. “He’s as good as any center back in this league. And Michael, he’s a real talent and he’s fun to watch. He’s doing a great job here for Philly.”
Lampard gave Chelsea the lead in the 59th minute off a scramble in the All-Stars' box. Failing to clear a corner from Lampard, the ball was possessed on the opposite side, and in catching the MLS defense scrambling, Chelsea’s Ramires played the ball back across the box through traffic, where Lampard pounced to make it 2-1, visitors.
But it wouldn’t last.
“They’re the best team from Europe,” said Valdes. “We did a great thing tonight and it’s amazing for us.”