By Caleb Adams
The two North American giants, MLS and Liga MX, will clash this Wednesday, August 25th at Banc of California Stadium, the home of LAFC, in the 2021 MLS All-Star Game. The best players from each league will go toe-to-toe for bragging rights on winning the first-ever installment of MLS All-Stars versus Liga MX All-Stars.
In the latest edition of MLS 101 presented by Ally, Ryan Bailey gives the rundown of everything you need to know about the annual MLS All-Star spectacle. Read on to dive deeper into the rosters for each side, what you can expect from the Skills Challenge, and how the All-Star Game could play out.
Join Charlotte FC on Wednesday as they host two MLS All-Star Game Watch Parties held at The Music Yard and Costa Del Sol. The game will be televised at 9 pm ET on FS1 and TUDN.
The MLS All-Stars are coached by renowned American coach Bob Bradley, currently of LAFC.
His first head coaching job in MLS was with the Chicago Fire, steering them to MLS Cup and U.S. Open wins in their inaugural 1998 season. In 2009, Bradley led the United States Men’s National Team to an unexpected second place finish in the Confederations Cup, beating 35-game undefeated and European champion Spain in the process. Bradley has been at the helm of LAFC since they entered the league in 2018.
As a coach who likes his team to attack, Bradley will have a plethora of attacking talent at his disposal in the All-Star game. This talent includes MLS’s leading goal scorer and 2021 MVP Candidate, Raúl Ruidíaz, who arrives oozing with confidence amid the best season of his career.
Another in-form striker and MLS Golden Boot contender, Gustavo Bou, has been crucial to New England’s league-leading season. 18-year-old Ricardo Pepi is having a breakout season with FC Dallas as he shares the lead of highest American goal scorer in MLS.
To lock it down on defense, Bradley can rely on 2021 Gold Cup winners Miles Robinson from Atlanta United and Matt Turner from the New England Revolution. Both played key roles for the USMNT in their Gold Cup-winning saga this summer. Turner made heroic saves throughout the tournament and Robinson could be in line for another game winner against a Mexican side.
The MLS All-Stars will be captained by the Seattle Sounder’s Homegrown Christian Roldan. However, they will be without Revolution’s talisman, Carles Gil and Mexican stars Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Carlos Vela due to injury.
Liga MX All-Stars
New Cruz Azul head coach, Juan Reynoso, will be organizing the star-studded Liga MX All-Stars.
Before being hired by Cruz Azul, Reynoso led Puebla to an impressive third place finish in the Clausura, the second annual season of Liga MX.
With Tigres star André-Pierre Gignac out due to injury, Reynoso will be counting on Cruz Azul’s very own 2020-2021 Golden Boot winning striker, Jonathan “Cabecita” Rodríguez, for the goals. He will also have Monterrey’s Rogelio Funes Mori, who played a key role for Mexico in the 2021 Gold Cup, at his disposal.
19-year-old Santiago Muñoz is one of Mexico’s most exciting, young, attacking prospects and will be looking to make his mark in the All-Star game. León’s tricky winger, Angel Mena, will also be a menace to deal with for the MLS All-Stars.
The Liga MX All-Stars will have a solid defensive foundation with center back Matheus Dória from Santos Laguna who won best defender of Liga LX last season. The Brazilian is only 26 years old, but he brings a plethora of European experience ranging from France to Spain. Legendary Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa will be as reliable as ever in between the sticks
Due to injury, the Liga MX All-Stars will be without some of their best midfielders in León’s Luis Montes and Tigres’ Guido Pizarro. Reynoso has brought in Cruz Azul and El Tri star Orbelin Pineda as one of the reinforcements for the Liga MX midfield.
MLS All-Star Skills Challenge
The All-Star Skills Challenge is one of the most exciting and anticipated events of the week. It is a two-hour event where selected MLS and Liga MX All-Stars go head-to-head in five unique challenges: Shooting, Touch, Cross & Volley, Passing, and Crossbar challenges.
The last All-Star Skills Challenge, held in 2019, was a nail-biter to the very end. Orlando City’s Nani hit the challenge-winning crossbar right at the buzzer for the home team to win the entire event. Nani will have another chance to play a crucial part in helping lead the MLS All-Stars to a win over the Liga MX All-Stars in this thrilling skills showdown.
Some of the others competing alongside Nani on the MLS side are Carlos Vela, Lucas Zelarayan, and Ricardo Pepi. On the other side, Rogelio Funes Mori, Orbelín Pineda, Jonathan Rodríguez, and Diego Valdés are headlining the Liga MX challengers.
The skills challenge is not only a test of skill and technique but also a test of endurance.
“It can turn into a little bit of an endurance challenge because you’re throwing side-volleys, you’re kicking balls out of there.” Extratime co-host Calen Carr said, “It’s not just chill crossbar challenges…”
The MLS All-Star Skill Challenge presented by AT&T 5G will be held and televised on Tuesday, August 24th at 9 pm ET on FS1 and TUDN in the U.S.
MLS All-Star Game
The game itself is unpredictable and chaotic, but that is what can make it so entertaining to watch. The coaches on both sides have very limited practice time with their players. However, this will be one of the most talented groups of individuals either coach has ever worked with.
The coaches cannot implement their playing style or system, so their main role is player and lineup selection. Fans can expect a lot of substitutions on both sides which allows everyone to see their favorite player on the pitch and keep the game tempo high with lots of fresh legs.
The MLS All-Star Game and Skills Challenge can be a refreshing change of scenery to both fans and players alike as they look forward to two nights of excitement and fun with the biggest stars on the continent.