The MLS All-Stars and English Premiership club Everton played an entertaining 90 minutes at Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday.
It was a game that featured some of the best offensive threats in both leagues and a slew of scoring opportunities on both sides, providing a lot of entertainment for the Rio Tinto record 20,124 in attendance. In the end, it came down to two longtime friends and US National teammates dueling in the net in a penalty kick shootout.
Sounders FC keeper Kasey Keller and his onetime understudy on the USMNT Tim Howard took center stage after a 1-1 draw in regulation and Howard made the decisive save on a Freddie Ljungberg shot to preserve the shootout win and MVP honors.
“It was a fun game. I thought in the first 10-15 minutes, you could see that we were a little bit nervous. And then we got into it a little bit and I thought for the majority of the game we were the better team,” Keller said. “We had our chances and they had a few chances, but for the most part we had plenty of chances to win the game. And then penalties … we had some fun.”
It was an interesting night for Keller, who started the game along with Fredy Montero and the MLS captain Ljungberg, who was unavailable after the game because he was suffering migraine headaches. Keller subbed out at half, but his replacement, Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton suffered a thigh injury in the 61st minute and both coaches and the referee agreed to bring Keller back on.
In the shootout, things were looking up for the MLS when Chelsea midfielder James Vaughan missed wildly on the first attempt. Landon Donovan connected on his attempt, then Keller saved a shot from Jo to give the MLS a 2-0 edge. But Howard made saves on Brad Davis and Davy Arnaud and they were tied up after five attempts each.
Midfielder Jack Rodwell slammed his shot to the left to beat Keller and give Everton the one-goal edge before Ljungberg stepped over the ball. It looked like he had Howard beat, as the former Metrostars (now New York Red Bulls) and Manchester United keeper dove to his right and Ljungberg shot straight down the middle. But Howard raised his knee and got just enough to knock the ball out and get the win for Everton.
“Tim made a couple key saves and then made a couple of good penalty saves. Tim was solid - nothing more than can be expected,” Keller said.
Louis Saha got things started for Everton in the 13th minute, picking off an errant ball from Houston midfielder Stuart Holden and taking it to Keller for a one-on-one. From ten yards out, Saha dropped the ball past Keller for the 1-0 lead.
Ljungberg got the MLS All-Stars their first opportunity on offense, leading a break through the middle of the field. He led Davis up the left side, but Davis’ attempt toward the middle missed high for a goal kick.
But Davis made up for it by hammering in a pass from Holden at the left post to even the tally at 1-1 in the 26th minute and it stayed that way until halftime. At that point, Montero and Keller both subbed out, only to have Keller return in the 61st minute, as Keller shrugged and laughed as he walked past the Everton bench to get to his goal.
In the 63rd minute, the fourth Seattle All-Star, defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, entered the game.
The MLS looked to have the go-ahead goal in the 67th minute when Ljungberg slid a ball to Landon Donovan on the left side, but Howard parried his shot over the bar for one of his six saves.
Donovan would have another opportunity in the 75th minute, when Ljungberg, who was the catalyst to several MLS runs, sliced in a beautiful ball to Donovan for a one-on-one opportunity with Howard, but his shot clanged off the far post and Everton cleared it.
The MLS side outshot Everton 21-6, with Davis leading the way with four shots and Montero managing three.
Howard made two more great saves in stoppage time to preserve the tie and send the game to penalties, tipping up a header by Arnaud and skying to grab the ball before it reaches the head of Conor Casey. Howard made the final stop on Casey just before the final whistle as Casey snuck through the defense before Howard sprung his attack just outside the six-yard box.
It was the first loss the MLS All-Stars had suffered to an international opponent in six matches.
The Sounders players return to training Thursday before heading to San Jose to face the Earthquakes for the third time this season on Sunday.