MLS All-Stars unfazed by shootout loss to Real Madrid on memorable night

CHICAGO – Stefan Frei had already turned around to wave to the 61,428 fans at Soldier Field and say thank you, thinking he had helped the MLS All-Stars to a 1-1 draw against the champions of Europe, when he was all of a sudden informed that “no, no we’re going to PKs” and there had to be a winner in the 2017 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target.

“Honestly I didn’t even know that it would go straight to PKs,” Frei said the All-Star Game, which Real Madrid won on penalty kicks. “I thought the game was over, and we’d end in a tie so I’m going to call FIFA rules on that and we’ll stick with a tie.” 

When asked if that meant that MLS Cup 2016 – which Frei helped Seattle win on penalties – should have been a tie, he went the other way.

“Well, no on that particular one there needs to be a winner,” he said. “And I’m thankful that [in] that PK one I was on the right end of.” 

Even if penalties did help him win a title last year, Frei said he’s never been much of a fan of ending matches with a shootout, even if he did understand the reason for them on Tuesday.

“I think it’s one of the most horrible ways to end a team sport,” he said. “I said that even when I was at the other end against Toronto. Somebody is going to have to be the one that misses and then that’s not what football for me is really about, but the spectacle for the fans I guess.”

The All-Star Game got to penalties thanks to Dom Dwyer’s late goal. The second-half attacking group of Dwyer, Nemanja Nikolic, Diego Valeri, Miguel Almiron and Giovani dos Santos, seemed to combine well even before creating the goal, with Nikolic coming close to scoring a couple times before Dwyer finally got the equalizer.

“It was fun. [We tried] to keep it simple, to be honest, keep it simple, try to find the passes, movements,” Valeri said. “I think we did some good movements overall in the second half. It wasn’t easy because they got the goal and they put on the field some fresh guys and some very – you know Bale, Marcelo, Benzema – it wasn’t easy, but I think it was fun and we created some chances.”

While a club team might have a set pecking order of penalty takers, head coach Veljko Paunovic picked the shooters for the All-Stars.

“Blame me, of course,” Paunovic said. “It’s unfortunate. PKs you never know. I think emotions – we had a drain of energy in the second half because given the circumstances of this kind of game, some guys had to run more and some guys less. But what was good for me was the reaction. We showed character and I think that the effort was appropriate and I think overall the image was good. And at the end when you came to the point where you have to go to PKs it’s not easy for the guys after they had to spend a lot of energy. And that’s it. They tried the best, for sure, for sure.”

With the friendly nature of the match, the two All-Stars who made their penalties – Valeri and Almiron – said they didn’t feel much pressure.

“No I wasn’t nervous, I was very secure that I wanted to go down the middle,” Valeri said. “It’s to enjoy to be honest, it’s very friendly.”

It was just the second time the MLS All-Star Game had been decided by a penalty shootout. The only other was in 2009, when Frei’s current All-Star teammate Tim Howard helped Everton beat that year’s MLS side. Despite being on the losing side – or not, in his mind – Frei left Soldier Field happy with the experience. 

“It’s an honor when you get to play against – I mean, I’ve played against legends before, I’ve played with legends before, but tonight I was able to play with legends against legends,” Frei said. “It’s a huge, huge honor. Really cool crowd in a really awesome stadium and something I think a lot of these guys here will cherish for the rest of our lives.”