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Messi shines as Argentina cruises to convincing victory over Guatemala

The Argentina national team, which claimed victory at the 2022 World Cup and 2021 Copa America, is as stacked and star-studded as any squad in the sport. They’ve got Emi Martinez in net. Enzo Fernandez and Alexis Mac Allister controlling and patrolling the midfield. Angel Di Maria, Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez providing more than enough offensive prowess and firepower. Oh, and they’re still captained by the immortal Lionel Messi.

Messi and Martinez each scored twice in a comfortable 4-1 victory over Guatemala at Commanders Field. With his 108th international goal, Messi tied Iran’s Ali Daei for second-place all-time on the men’s international goal-scorers list.

Guatemala jumped out to an early lead, thanks to a Lisandro Martinez own goal in the fourth minute. But Messi evened the score just eight minutes later when he intercepted an errant pass by Guatemala goalie Nicholas Hagen and walked it into an empty net for one of the easiest goals of his illustrious career.

After 19-year-old forward Valentin Carboni was taken down in Guatemala’s box, Martinez converted the penalty kick to give Argentina a 2-1 lead. Martinez struck again in the 66th minute, slotting home from close-range after a deft pass from Messi. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner closed out the scoring 11 minutes later, with an assist from Di Maria.

As Messi and friends aim to claim a second consecutive Copa America, this tune-up went about as smoothly as possible. And although Messi turns 37 this month, the superstar is showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, Messi has scored 50 of his 108 international goals since turning 30, which should serve as notice to the rest of the field.


Colombia dominates U.S. Men’s National Team

In preparation for the upcoming Copa America tournament, the U.S. men’s national team hosted Colombia at Commanders Field.

Roughly two weeks before the 16-team, South American tournament kicks off, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and friends visited our nation’s capital for a friendly match. It did not go as planned for the gentlemen in red, white and blue. Colombia scored early and often, soundly drubbing the hosts 5-1 in the pre-tournament tune-up. Prior to this “friendly” thrashing, the last time the USMNT conceded five goals in a match was 2009.

At times during the beatdown, the enthusiastic crowd of more than 55,000 was heard chanting: “USA, Colombia es tu papá.” Yes. That translates to: “Colombia is your daddy.”

“We’re actually framing it as a wake-up call,” Berhalter said, when asked for his thought after the team’s worst defeat since 2016. “Really poor performance against a top team, and if you give a team like that the opportunities we gave them, you’re going to have no chance to win. It’s never going to happen.”

Colombia wasted no time taking the lead, as midfielder Jhon Arias scored in the sixth minute and forward Rafael Santos Borré converted an acrobatic overhead attempt in the 19th minute. Even after U.S. forward Tim Weah scored 12 minutes into the second half, it never really felt like Colombia’s lead was in doubt. Goals by Richard Ríos, Jorge Carrascal and Luis Sinisterra in the final 15 minutes turned the game into a rout.

For the first time in USMNT history, all 11 starters play for clubs in the top five — England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France — European leagues. Unfortunately that did not translate against Colombia.

“Unacceptable, disappointing,” said goalie Matt Turner. “It’s frustrating because we knew what we were getting into and then we didn’t take care of our business. There’s a way to lose, and that is definitely not the way.”

The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for Team USA, who next face a powerhouse Brazil squad in a final exhibition match to conclude preparation for Copa America.


No Messi no problem for Luis Suarez and Inter Miami

The moment Lionel Messi joined Major League Soccer, he became the most sought-after ticket in American sports. With the global icon closer to the end of his storybook career than the beginning, ticket prices for Inter Miami matches continue to skyrocket on the secondary market.

Season-ticket holders in every MLS market suddenly find themselves in a position where they can potentially witness greatness from one of the most decorated and celebrated athletes on the planet or sell their tickets for enough extra cash to potentially cover the cost of the entire season. It’s safe to say a wave of hype bordering on hysteria follows Inter Miami each and every time they hit the road.

Sadly, a midweek hamstring strain prevented Messi from participating in the highly anticipated matchup against DC United. Fortunately for those who paid exorbitant sums of money to attend the game, a trio of Messi’s former Barcelona teammates — Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez — featured in the match at Audi Field, although Busquets was the only one who started.

During roughly 30 minutes of game time, Suarez scored two second-half goals in a 3-1 win over previously unbeaten DC United at Audi Field. Suarez’s first goal was not without controversy as a handball in the box by Inter Miami defender Tomas Aviles wasn’t given and, while DC United players protested, Inter Miami countered and scored the eventual game-winner. The 37-year-old striker then chipped the goalie seven minutes later to seal the win for the visiting team.

DC United forward Christian Benteke returned to action after missing the last two games due to a groin injury, and midfielder Jared Stroud scored his first goal of the season — and first for the club — with a beautiful strike from the edge of the box at the 15-minute mark and an otherwise forgettable afternoon for the black and red.


Benteke hat trick lifts DC United over Revolution in season opener

DC United’s 29th season opener was easily the most unique in the storied franchise’s history. In his debut, manager Troy Lesesne was banned from the sidelines due to a red card in his final match as interim coach of the New York Red Bulls. An ongoing labor dispute meant that replacement referees were utilized in all Major League Soccer matches during opening weekend. And DC United’s supporters groups sat quietly — refusing to play the drums and/or participate in organized songs or chants — in protest of the team’s preseason trip to Saudi Arabia.

All of which combined for a quieter-than-usual atmosphere and a disjointed match that lacked any real flow. Fortunately for the black and red though, forward Christian Benteke is still the face of the franchise. The bruising Belgian provided the necessary firepower — netting a hat trick to lead his team to a 3-1 victory over the New England Revolution in the season opener at Audi Field.

Revolution forward Giacomo Vrioni received a second yellow card in just the 25th minute, forcing New England to play a man down for the bulk of the game. From there, Benteke took over, scoring a series of goals from around and within the six-yard box — utilizing his head and his feet to provide the necessary offense on a cold and rainy evening. Benteke has now scored 17 goals since the start of last season, second most in MLS.


Chelsea wins Premier League Summer Series with victory over Fulham

It’s safe to say the biggest name participating in the Premier League Summer Series has the most to prove this season. That’s because just two years after winning the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea Football Club has become a punchline.

The five-time Premier League champion spent more than $700 million last season adding flashy new players such as midfielder Enzo Fernández and speedy winger Mykhaylo Mudryk to the mix. The problem was, owner Todd Boehly embraced a fantasy football mindset — attempting to acquire any and all players even remotely available.

With ownership struggling to comprehend the phrase “impulse control,” the roster became so completely bloated that there weren’t enough spaces in the locker room for all of the Chelsea players. As difficult as it is to believe, some Chelsea players actually had to change into their uniforms in the hallway.

Established veterans Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Mateo Kovacic, Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy and several other name players have all moved on this summer, illustrating just how much of a revolving door Chelsea has become. Additionally, former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino was hired to restore order, which is easier said than done when the Blues have bought and sold almost two dozen players.

On the other side of this matchup was Fulham, led by manager Marco Silva, who finished in 10th place — two spots higher than Chelsea last season.

An emphatic header by defender Thiago Silva and a tap-in by Christopher Nkunku enabled Chelsea to coast to a 2-0 victory in front of a sellout crowd at FedEx Field.


Goals aplenty as Aston Villa, Brentford settle for entertaining draw

For the first time ever, the English Premier League brought its hugely-popular brand to the United States for a preseason tournament. Dubbed the Summer Series, the event featured six clubs — Aston Villa, Brentford, Brighton, Chelsea, Fulham and Newcastle — participating in a series of friendly exhibitions up and down the east coast prior to the start of the Premier League’s 2023-24 campaign.

The final showcase of this inaugural event was a doubleheader at FedEx Field, with Aston Villa against Brentford and Chelsea against Fulham. The most exciting club in this competition was arguably Aston Villa, led by manager Unai Emery. While he’s been at the helm for less than a year, his impact has been significant.

Last October, Steven Gerrard was relieved of his managerial duties after just 11 underwhelming matches as Aston Villa hovered near the relegation zone in 17th place. Moving on from Gerrard was a massive success, as Villa picked up 49 points in Emery’s 25 games as manager. Amazingly, Villa finished in seventh place last season and will return to European competition for the first time in 13 years after earning a spot in the Europa Conference League.

Emery has won the Europa League four times during his distinguished career, but that’s a challenge for another day. Before then, the Villains needed to navigate a tricky fixture with an always feisty Bees squad. During his time with Brentford, manager Thomas Frank has consistently found ways to get results against clubs with bigger budgets and more talent. So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Brentford jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Villa, courtesy of Bryan Mbeumo’s early penalty kick and a long-range strike from Josh Dasilva.

Those two quick goals clearly sparked something in Aston Villa, who woke up from their slumber and immediately showed an offensive firepower that should worry opposing clubs. When Villa are on the front foot, attacking and counter attacking with pace, they are a sight to behold. Ezri Konsa, Moussa Diaby and Matty Cash scored within a 10-minute span to give Villa a 3-2 lead at halftime. Brentford’s Shandon Baptiste scored the only goal of the second half as a wildly-entertaining affair ended in a 3-3 draw.


Jesus and friends shine as Arsenal routs MLS All-Stars

Rather than pitting the Eastern Conference against the Western Conference, Major League Soccer forgoes the more traditional all-star game setup in favor of inviting a marquee club to take on the best and brightest the league has to offer. For this year’s spectacle, the MLS All-Stars hosted Arsenal Football Club at Audi Field, in Washington, D.C., July 19.

Gabriel Jesus and Leandro Trossard scored first-half goals during the competitive portion of the evening and Jorginho, Gabriel Martinelli and Kai Havertz added as the Premier League powerhouse cruised to an emphatic 5-0 victory over DC United manager Wayne Rooney’s side.

Illustrating just how one-sided this affair was: Arsenal outshot the hosts 16-7 on the night, while the MLS squad set an all-star game record with six yellow cards. In short, as the Gunners raced up and down the pitch creating numerous scoring chances, the All-Stars had little choice but to commit a foul rather than allow yet another easy goal.

Bukayo Saka, in particular, posed a problem the MLS players were ill-equipped to handle. His pace and speed of play were clearly problematic for the home team, which isn’t all that surprising given that he’s one of the best and brightest young talents on the planet. 

Declan Rice, Arsenal’s splashiest summer signing at £105 million, didn’t cause nearly the amount of headaches that Saka did during the match, but simply seeing him in an Arsenal kit was exciting enough for those in attendance. 

The all-star game was especially noteworthy for the nation’s capital because it marked the event’s return to Washington for the first time in 19 years. And while it wasn’t a very competitive match, it was still highly entertaining and an absolute blast for everyone involved.

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