SAN JOSE, Calif. – It may have been "just a friendly," but that didn’t stop the tackles from flying in the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game between Major League Soccer’s best and English powerhouse Arsenal.
The first half in particular saw a couple strong challenges from both sides, most notably a pair from Arsenal defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin on the MLS All-Stars’ Kellyn Acosta and Laurent Ciman. The challenge on Acosta, which sent the FC Dallas defender off the field for treatment, particularly drew the scorn of MLS All-Star head coach Dominic Kinnear in his postgame press conference.
“I thought the Coquelin challenge on Acosta was a bit much for the tempo and the way the game was being played,” Kinnear expressed to reporters.
Kinnear also noted his overarching concern about not wanting to send any of his players home injured, which may partially explain his reaction to the challenge, but Acosta himself took a kinder view of the challenge.
“You can call it a friendly, but we’re there to win,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “Obviously there are going to be tackles out there, I was at the end of one. That’s part of the game – everyone’s just competitive and trying to get to the ball and I just got caught right there, so it’s all part of the game.”
Those tackles aside, referee Chris Penso only had one other notable incident to deal with. As the game started to settle in the 10th minute, MLS All-Star goalkeeper Andre Blake rushed out to play a long ball towards Arsenal forward Joel Campbell, only for the Costa Rican to touch it over him. Ciman was able to chase down Campbell, but his challenge was adjudged to be too strong by Penso, who whistled for the penalty and showed the Montreal Impact man the game’s lone yellow card.
“I personally, after watching the penalty, don’t think it was a penalty,” Kinnear said after the game. “And I was a bit surprised that that call went against us in such an early part of the game. I thought it was a little bit odd to see it that way.”
MLS All-Star and Philadelphia right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was on the field for the penalty, was somewhat more ambivalent about the call.
“It’s hard to say [whether it was a penalty],” he told MLSsoccer.com. “Again, with the way they played, maybe they earned one, maybe they didn’t, but I think the big takeaway from the first half was being able to get back on the scoreboard and I feel like we played them evenly on the scoreboard as well.”