LOS ANGELES – The MLS All-Stars had a point to prove. They hear the chatter around comparisons to Liga MX, and many of them had friends and rivals alike representing the Liga MX All-Stars on Wednesday night at Banc of California Stadium.
Both teams were intent on treating the exhibition as seriously as possible, as shown via focused defending and both teams high-pressing. That is not a normal action in All-Star encounters.
In the end, perhaps it fittingly went to a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in regulation. The Liga MX vs. MLS debate won't be decided based on an All-Star Game result, but it clearly mattered to both sides.
And it was the MLS All-Stars coming out on top after a penalty kick shootout, netting three to their opponent's two.
The rivalry between the leagues has ratcheted up in recent years, with more and more direct competition between MLS and Liga MX clubs. An MLS team is still yet to win the Concacaf Champions League, but those matches have taken on greater importance north of the border. Leagues Cup is off and running, ditto for Campeones Cup. Now throw in the All-Star Game, as well as the US men's national team facing Mexico in two tournament finals this summer before the Octagonal begins, and the rivalry burns bright and burns often.
“Winning a match against the best players in Mexico feels so good," Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz said through a translator. "This is proof our league is growing more and more. It was a great victory and we’re very happy.”
Ruidiaz starred in Liga MX with Morelia prior to joining the Sounders in 2018, twice winning Liga MX's Golden Boot award. He helped lead the Sounders to an MLS Cup title in 2019 and back to the final in 2020, where he lost to another former Liga MX star in Lucas Zelarayan.
Zelarayan, who was signed by Columbus Crew from Tigres UANL ahead of the 2020 season for a reported $7 million, won MLS Cup MVP as the Crew hoisted last year's trophy. He, like Ruidiaz, relished the All-Star victory.
“I believe that there is a rivalry in the last couple of years," Zelarayan said through a translator. "It was a nice match to play with so many stars, as the name of the game said. Personally speaking, it was a very tense match. Both teams wanted to win and I’m very happy to represent MLS in this victory.”
FC Dallas' dual-national eligible rising star Ricardo Pepi won it for MLS with the decisive penalty, less than an hour after Stu Holden of FOX Sports reported that Pepi's on the USMNT roster for World Cup Qualifiers next month. New England Revolution and USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner, who was named Best GK at the Gold Cup, saved two penalties and was named MLS All-Star Game MVP presented by Target.
In addition to a serious, committed nature on the field, fans for both sides cheered on their team loudly. Under a warm summer night in Los Angeles, it didn't feel much like an exhibition.
“It’s a great rivalry, it’s a good matchup between the leagues," Sporting Kansas City winger Daniel Salloi said. "You can see it’s very close but obviously winning anything against Mexican teams, the Mexican league or the national team, you have to take pride in that. I’m very happy to represent the league and win this game.”