WASHINGTON – It was never going to be easy against Arsenal FC, last season’s Premier League runner-ups who are looking to start their campaign with a bang against Manchester City in the FA Community Shield on August 6.
With the Gunners' facing a tight window to prepare for their first non-friendly match of the season, they wasted no time taking the 2023 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target straight to their North American opponents, brilliantly executing countless well-oiled patterns of play to earn the 5-0 win Wednesday evening at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.
For the MLS All-Stars, the lopsided defeat may not have been what they had envisioned, but it did at least yield fruitful individual lessons – even if tactically they were behind the eight-ball with only two practices to prepare.
“They are well coached and we saw that tonight,” said Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar of Mikel Arteta's side. “They are one of the best teams in the Prem. And I think we were a mixed team from a lot of different clubs, and it's always difficult. We didn't train for a long time together, but I think in general it was a cool event."
Added Mukhtar: "To see how important it is to be tactically disciplined, to have your identity or your way of playing and not get caught up in transition and all that, that's important to see as a player.”
And for younger All-Stars still striving to achieve their lofty career ambitions, the matchup provided a chance to take real-time mental notes on what’s needed to reach the next level.
“Just the speed that they play, the speed that everyone's turning and running, the speed of the ball movement, I think that I can learn that a little bit there,” said FC Dallas forward Jesús Ferreira, who recently recorded back-to-back hat tricks for the US men’s national team in the Gold Cup. “Being able to be that player that obviously comes down in the pockets and turns and accelerates the game and runs at players, I think that [Martin] Ødegaard did that very well today.”
“Just playing against a level like that, it's awesome. Something you can kind of take away and build off of,” said the burgeoning USMNT prospect. “They made it look simple, man. It's never too complicated. They keep the ball moving.”
Perhaps Austin FC defender Jon Gallagher put it most succinctly: “There's levels to this game and these guys are at the top for a reason. This isn't just any Premier League team. This is a team that took Man City, the best team in the world, all the way to the end. They're special players and a special team.”
All in all, the chance to pit MLS’s best against a world-class side provided an unforgettable experience for fans and players alike – even Thiago Almada, who already reached arguably the pinnacle of professional soccer less than a year ago by winning the World Cup with Argentina.
“It was really lovely to play against them,” said Atlanta United's star No. 10. “They have a really high caliber of players. They have a really high caliber of coach. So they came out and they did their thing, and they left a good feeling for their fans. And for us, too, we leave here with really good memories from a lovely night.”