I come to the MLS All-Star game each year because it is a unique event. It’s unique in the American context because it goes out of its own league for competition, and it’s unique in the global context because other soccer leagues don’t do it at all. At least, that was the way it was until this year, when another league, the neighboring league against whom MLS always measures itself, entered the fray with an All-Star team of its own, turning what was previously a mid-summer exhibition where the reserve squad of some European team came in and played disinterested soccer against a squad of good MLS players primarily trying not to get injured for the final stretch of the season.
This game was not like that. This game was exciting and interesting, and I liked watching it the whole way through. THAT WAS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR!
Prior to 2021, the MLS All-Star Game produced two great moments. The first was when Caleb Porter made Pep Guardiola very peeved and Pep gave Porter a little finger wag in lieu of a handshake after the match because the MLS team had tried too hard to win the game (and did end up winning the game)
The second was Piotr Nowak’s bicycle kick in the 43rd minute of the 2000 All-Star game
Other than those, it’s been primarily a filler for an hour or so on Fox Sports 1 or ESPN on a weeknight in July and a match whose tickets can be gifted to league shareholders and fans of whichever European team they bring in that year, plus they’ll interview Don Garber at halftime.
But this year… Not this year. This year, perhaps because it mattered to the players of both teams to defeat the other, perhaps because the crowd was really into it, perhaps because of the four helicopters that flew over the stadium (Which is really too many helicopters). My biggest takeaways were:
- We cannot ignore that it was both Nouhou and Alex Roldan who whiffed on the Rodriguez goal for Liga MX. This proves my hypothesis that Seattle is overrated. Also I should point out that when all the Seattle players were out there at once, MLS went down 1-0, and when there were no Seattle players out there, MLS went up 1-0. I think that the Seattle Sounders come away the biggest losers from this one
- I had to like double and triple-take when Kai Wagner came in because players like him don’t normally get All-Star bids. Guys who are from Europe weren’t like huge money designated player transfers don’t normally get the benefit of the votes like he did. Make no mistake, I think he (and Kreilach, and Salloi, etc) deserved to be there, but normally a player like Wagner would get left out in favor of like Blaise Matuidi or somehow Frank Lampard again.
- I also noticed that the makeup of the team when Jesus Murillo scored (and danced) was eight Western conference players and only three Eastern conference players. What does that say about the balance of the league at the moment? Probably nothing, in fact, almost definitely nothing. But you could potentially prove that it means the West is superior to the East, if you want.
- The best moment of the match came in the 75th minute when Fox Sports was interviewing Alex Roldan and Luis Nani started doing some sort of warm-up wherein his head would pop in and out of frame in the foreground and it went on for a minute straight. I tried so hard to record it but apparently because they “don’t want people pirating their shows,” I can’t screen record anything from Sling TV on this computer and I don’t know any other workaround, and I’m in a highly volatile emotional state due to outside circumstances and I’m just gonna power through it and hope I get to the other side writing this post in one piece and I’m not going to edit this sentence out of the post once I get to the end and feel embarrassed about it. But it’s really funny, Nani’s head just keeps popping up and down during the interview, what a silly moment
- While Matt Turner won the game MVP trophy, I would give Ricardo Pepi this blog’s MVP award had I a trophy to give him. It may just be the teenage drive, the knowledge that he’s getting his first call-up to a senior national team, it may well have been the aforementioned helicopters, but he was giving so much effort, particularly late in the game when he was diving in for chances to put the game home for MLS. I am so glad that he ended up putting in the winning penalty at the end, the kid deserved it.
- Also the match ended with penalties. I really think they should’ve ended with the old ’90s run-up shootout format tiebreaker, just in the spirit of appreciating Major League Soccer for what it is and what it was. The biggest takeaway I had from the penalties was the FORCE of Damir Kreilach’s fist pump
And the other was Daniel Salloi’s penalty, which was taken forcefully, with confidence, and I think that it guarantees that Sporting KC will win the MLS Cup this year, in my eyes.
So, ultimately, the MLS All-Star Game was an entertaining, exciting event, with good, exciting soccer that maintained the air of levity befitting an exhibition event. It never got too serious but it wasn’t a slog and I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching it. While this change does disrespect the set tradition of the MLS All-Star games that preceded it, I will personally take it if offered again.
And here’s the Nowak clip again, for good measure