It’s that time of year again, as with only two months remaining before this year’s Major League Soccer regular season ends, the league, and its players, take a pause before the playoff races heat up for this year’s MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday night.
For a number of years, the annual soccer exhibition was an all-star game in name only, but this changed in 2019 when MLS announced that the match would be reformatted from a contest pitting the league’s all-stars against a European club to one between the MLS All-Stars and the Liga MX All-Stars beginning the next summer.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the 2020 MLS All-Star Game was cancelled, with the MLS/ Liga MX pairing for the match postponed by a year.
MLS All-Star Game: A Rivalry Delayed, But Not Deferred
Despite the cancellation of the 2020 playing of the MLS All-Star Game, which marked the first time that such a match had not taken place for any reason since MLS launched in the spring of 1996, the rivalry between Major League Soccer and Liga MX could not be stopped entirely.
50 weeks ago, Banc of California Stadium played host to the 2021 MLS All-Star Game between the MLS All-Stars and their Liga MX counterparts.
While the television ratings for the English-language United States broadcast were at an all-time low for the contest, with only 175,000 viewers tuning in on FS1, compared to an audience of 1.4 million viewers for its Spanish-language simulcast on Univision and TUDN, the excitement and drama of the game itself that August night was high.
Flashback to 2021’s Match
On Aug. 25, 2021, the MLS All-Star Game was held for the first time in two years due to pandemic-induced restrictions and the four-month delay to the resumption of the 2020 MLS season in response to the pandemic’s early days.
Liga MX opened the scoring in the 20th minute of the first half with then-Cruz Azul forward Jonathan Rodriguez converting on a cross from right back Jorge Sanchez, then of Club America, to give the team a 1-0 lead heading into the second half of play.
10 minutes into the second half of the match, MLS roared back with a header from LAFC defender Jesus David Murillo to level the MLS All-Star Game at 1-1, with the score staying even for the rest of regular time.
Under MLS All-Star Game rules, if the match is tied after 90 minutes of action, plus stoppage time, penalty kicks break the deadlock, won by MLS thanks to a fifth-round goal converted by Ricardo Pepi, then of FC Dallas, 1-1 after full time, 3-2 on penalties.
MLS/ Liga MX Rivalry Here To Stay
In the intervening time between last year’s and this year’s MLS All-Star Game, steps have been taken to ensure that the on-field rivalry and the off-field business relationship between Major League Soccer and Liga MX are strengthened.
First and foremost, back in April of this year, MLS announced that the pairing of its all-stars versus Liga MX’s best would be played for the second consecutive season on the night of Aug. 10, with the Campeones Cup returning on Sept. 14, when Yankee Stadium plays host to the match between 2021 MLS Cup winners, New York City FC and 2022 Campeone de Campeones winners, Atlas FC
Secondly, effective with the 2023 season, MLS and Liga MX will each suspend their respective campaigns annually in July so that their teams can compete in the expanded Leagues Cup.
The winner of the competition will secure an automatic berth in, as well as a bye to the round of 16 during, the next season’s CONCACAF Champions League, which will itself be expanded with its 2024 tournament.
In lieu of a proper tournament in 2022 because of the World Cup, a Leagues Cup Showcase was held earlier this month in Los Angeles and another such showcase will be held in September, with matches being held in Cincinnati, Nashville, and Salt Lake City over Sept. 21 and 22.
What Makes The MLS All-Star Game Entertaining?
By and large, all-star games in American sports are designed to be an entertaining respite from the challenges and rigours of regular season play, with the best playing the best.
With the MLS All-Star Game, you seldom, if ever, get any kind of controversy, and it’s simply due to how the match is constructed.
MLS All-Star Game rules dictate that there won’t be a cap placed on the number of substitutions made by either team during Wednesday night’s match.
Simply put, every player who is selected to appear in the contest and is healthy enough to play in the match will get some minutes on the pitch later on in the week.
Players who are selected for the match and are not sidelined by injury are required to join the MLS All-Stars or run the risk of being banned for a subsequent match upon the resumption of league play, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then of the LA Galaxy, found out the hard way in 2018.
Ibrahimovic refused to play in the MLS All-Star Game that year as a means of reducing cross-country travel from Los Angeles to Atlanta ahead of a match the following weekend in Denver against the Colorado Rapids.
No Extra Time
As previously mentioned, there will not be extra time in the MLS All-Star Game after full time on Wednesday should the score be level, with the match instead progressing to penalty kicks to determine which league’s all-stars take the bragging rights for the next year.
Any fan of the beautiful game will say that a penalty kick provides for the most critical moment in a match, and sometimes a penalty kick could be the determinant between victory and defeat.
Having the MLS All-Star Game end by way of penalty kicks is a fitting way to close the league’s summer celebration, though both sides probably want to have the outcome settled within 90 minutes this year.
It’s Just Plain Fun!
Lastly, the MLS All-Star Game is a tentpole event for the league and the match and its associated itinerary for the week takes on a party atmosphere.
For one night during the stretch run of the MLS season every year, key statistics accumulated during the regular season don’t matter.
It’s a match for the fans, and the players selected to appear in the game are there to put on a show for the fans, and they have a great time playing in the game.
The fans have a great time watching the game, so let the fun begin on Wednesday night.
At the core, out of all of the all-star games, the MLS All-Star Game is among the best of the class in American sports.
Who will emerge victorious in the latest staging of this summer classic?
Tune in and find out.
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