ST. PAUL, Minn. – The MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G sure has a penchant for drama.
In 2019, it came down to the final kick when then-Orlando City SC star Nani powered his team past Atletico Madrid. And then in 2021, Liga MX finished on top when then-Cruz Azul forward Jonathan Rodriguez hit the buzzer-beater to down MLS.
With 2022’s edition, it was Nashville SC star Hany Muktar’s turn to be the hero. The German playmaker answered the call, dinging the woodwork from 40 yards out to give MLS the Crossbar Challenge presented by GilletteLabs victory over Liga MX.
Just like that, MLS had a 3-2 victory in the Skills Challenge to start the competitive portion of MLS All-Star Week festivities at Allianz Field with a bang.
“Finally, man,” Mukhtar said in the mixed zone afterward. “I'm so happy to win that. It was amazing.”
Both MLS and Liga MX hit the padding above the goal several times, but not the actual target that’d break the 2-2 tie entering the final event. Then Mukhtar stepped up, applying the perfect amount of backspin and drive to smack his shot off the green stripe layered over the crossbar.
“From that distance, it's definitely difficult,” St. Clair said. “It's not something that you work on often but I thought I hit it a couple times. I don't know, maybe we need a little [Video Review] next time. Happy that Hany was able to hit it though and we were able to come out victorious.”
With each shot, the crowd willed MLS players – and even those from Liga MX – to settle the competition. It produced some déjà vu surrounding last year’s matchup at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium, only this time it went to the hosts.
“It was intense, the crowd was into it,” Johnson said. “I think we kept getting a couple good shots there, then Hany brought it home. It was good in the end. We needed that.”
The pressure was positive, Mukhtar said. Somebody had to get it done.
“Honestly, I'm not usually doing crossbar challenge,” Mukhtar said. “I'm usually doing more shooting, finishing. That's more my thing, but it's cool to join here.”
Now, the MLS All-Stars will turn their focus to Wednesday night’s match (8:30 pm ET | ESPN, UniMas in United States; TSN4, TVA Sports in Canada). The players put on a show in a lighthearted fashion, though the intensity will soon ratchet up a couple of notches.
“You're playing for something,” Johnson said. “We're competitive, we want to win and it's everything we play for when it comes down to that. Super excited for us, for the fans and it's a great experience all around.”