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Chelsea stunned by hungrier, fitter All-Stars
August 6th, 2006 1:38AM
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Jimmy Conrad doesn't think beating Chelsea will escalate the image of American soccer one iota outside America.

And careth he doesn't. He'd like to impress a certain segment of fans at home.

"More than anything, it's about winning over the American fan who's the World Cup fan," said Conrad, who mixed it up a few times with striker Didier Drogba in a spirited first-half battle and incurred a few wounds on the back of his leg.

"I think games like this show that the perceived gap between MLS or American soccer and European soccer is closing. We have players that can compete."

On two days of training and with clearcut directives from D.C. coach Peter Nowak, the MLS All-Stars exploited their superior fitness and ferocity to knock off the two-time defending English Premier League champion Chelsea, 1-0, on a spectacular goal by the master of the memorable, Dwayne DeRosario.

His rocket into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area in the 70th minute came somewhat unexpectedly, yet encapsulated a shift in momentum as the underdogs took the measure of their glamorous foes and eventually surpassed them. At the final whistle, the All-Stars embraced, shook their fists at the crowd, and celebrated like the game actually meant something.

To them, it did. Nowak had made it clear from the MLS perspective, at least, this game mattered.

"When we first got into Chicago, he just asked us to treat this like business and not a vacation," said defender Bobby Boswell, one of eight D.C. United players named to the team, six of whom started. "I think you saw the result tonight that we took it pretty seriously. We wanted a result and that's what we got. We realized at the end of the game we beat one of the better teams in the world and we were happy about that."

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had hoped he could get a strong 45 minutes out of most of his players, but several of them fell far short of attaining that level. Andriy Shevchenko, with just seven training sessions with the club since the World Cup, labored futilely; Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack were scarcely better, and the halftime inclusion of Joe Cole netted only a few minutes before he hobbled off with a knee injury.

"They were sharp, they were fit," said Mourinho, whose team trained for a week in Los Angeles before coming to Chicago. "The difference in quality, because we have more quality, was compensated by their condition. Their condition is much better than us. "But they play well. They played with a lot of motivation. They were playing not for the show, they were playing not to help Chelsea in preparation, they were playing for a result."

Defender John Terry went the full 90 and bailed out his team several times with critical clearances inside his own goal area. Chelsea protested a disallowed goal by the crunching Drogba, and was denied on a Lampard free kick when Troy Perkins snagged the shot a foot in front of the post.

Aside from a late flurry that produced two dramatic saves by Joe Cannon, the nearest Chelsea came to scoring in the second half was when defender Facundo Erpen put the ball through Cannon's legs and nearly over the goal line early in the second half.

Houston defender Eddie Robinson, who had replaced Conrad at halftime, raced back to sweep the ball off the goalline with a desperate slide.

"In that situation I'm always trying to make sure I'm behind him, just in case something like that does happen," said Robinson, who once backed up Cannon in San Jose. "I didn't think I was going to get to it, I was sure I was just going to pound it into the side netting. But I just got to it. Whew! Then we got on with the second half and I think we made a good transition with as many subs as we made at halftime."

Two teams on vastly different talent levels and conditioning curves generated an even first half of sometimes crisp, more often listless, sequences that gave away to a edgier, livelier second half despite, or perhaps because of, extensive substitutions by both teams at halftime.

The combination play of D.C. United's Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez seldom carved clearcut openings, and Houston teammates Brian Ching and DeRosario rarely clicked as well. But there were openings in the Chelsea defense. Chris Albright, playing right mid in a 3-5-2 formation, delivered a few dangerous crosses, and knifed inside to spin a low shot just past the post. the ball Nowak made seven changes at halftime, Chelsea six, and within a few minutes, Cole had hobbled off with a knee injury, Robinson had cleared off the line, and Freddy Adu had burst past fellow Ghanaian Michael Essien to force a corner kick.

"It was a huge help for us guys who came in the second half to watch the first half and see, you know what?, the guys are doing all right out there," said Robinson. "So that gave us a little confidence and also a little extra push, as if we needed some, to not let those guys down. Let's continue this. :Let's not give anything up."

Uupon entering the game after halftime, Alecko Eskandarian, Nate Jaqua and Ronnie O'Brien charged into the attacking third every chance they got, and shots began to buzz the Chelsea goal.

"We compete against each other, but you could see this was a team on the field," said Nowak. "My props to these boys because of the game they play. We had a couple chances, they had a couple chances but Dwayne scored a great goal and we got the win."

DeRosario struck after taking a throw-in from O'Brien on the right side and turning at the edge of the box to blast his shot past keeper Hilario, a summer signing making his first appearance for Chelsea. DeRosario's jinking runs and mazy dribbles had already alarmed the English club on a few occasions but it didn't heed the warnings and let the man who moves like a marionette steal the show.

"People probably thought we were going to go out there and get spanked," said DeRosario, a Canadian international who said this game was his World Cup. "We showed them the caliber of soccer we have in America for those who really don't know the MLS. Maybe they watch it on TV and realize what kind of great stars we have, all of us."

The All-Stars defense buckled a few times in the second half, but Cannon stood his ground to block a point-blank. shot from Terry, of all people, on a long ball that had eluded Boswell, and snuffed Ricardo Carvalho from a tight angle on a corner kick that reached him at the far post in stoppage time.

At the final whistle, Cannon hugged United colleague Perkins mightily. A shutout of Chelsea, albeit in its preseason, is still worth relishing.

"I'm excited for Troy, for MLS, for the coaching staff, for everybody involved in this game," said Cannon "You'll never forget it for the rest of your life."

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