There are moments in soccer where players, drowning in glory, celebrate their achievements in front of tens of thousands of fans all clamoring to praise their heroes for delivering moments that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. And I bet that feels pretty good or whatever. But have you ever hit the crossbar on the first try?
On Aug. 24, eight players from MLS and eight players from Liga MX will attempt to do just that, among other things, at the 2021 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G. And, believe it or not, it may just become as or more competitive than the All-Star Game itself.
“These players aren't great without reason. And part of that reason is the incredible confidence and ego that they have,” five-time MLS All-Star Alexi Lalas said. “They don't like to be shown up in any type of capacity. And the competitive juices will start flowing very quickly to represent yourself, represent your team, represent your league, represent your country and all those different things. I have no doubt that they would manifest in any type of competition. If they were playing cards, the same thing would happen.”
It’s likely that Lalas spoke from experiences past and very recent. Yesterday, Lalas and Liga MX legend Pavel Pardo took part in a crossbar challenge of their own at LAFC’s Nectar Performance Center to promote the upcoming All-Star Game and Skills Challenge that will see two leagues eager to prove — or reaffirm depending on who you ask — superiority over the other. Even if it’s just winning at something as simple as one of the sport’s most time-honored ways to mess around in practice.
“I think that there is a recognition on the players' part that these two leagues are, for lack of a better word, competing for hearts and minds,” Lalas said. “And yes, Liga MX has had a hell of a head start, but, you know, I think that there is a real recognition that this connection that we are talking about is only going to get bigger and more robust as we go on. I think that cannot be lost on the players.
“I mean, a lot of the questions today were “Where does this end up?” And a lot of people obviously are talking about a potential merging and big league type of stuff. I don't think that that's out of the realm of possibility. But I do think that these types of things certainly can be looked at as a harbinger for more growth and more potential involvement between the two.”
Long-term there will be plenty of conversation around what that connection coming to tangible fruition over All-Star Week will mean for the future of both leagues. No one really and truly knows what that will look like years down the line though. Or how something as simple as a crossbar challenge will play into whatever this … let’s call it a competitive partnership, becomes.
But short-term there’s one simple goal here for all involved in this league-versus-league rivalry: Put on a show.
“It’s huge. We know that we have a lot of fans in the United States that follow Liga MX and MLS as well,” Pardo said. “Having Liga MX against MLS it's fantastic. It's a good idea. We are connected. I think it's going to be incredible to have these kinds of games because as a fan you can see the best players from both leagues up close.”
Hitting the crossbar on the first try seems like it feels pretty good or whatever. But have you ever done it in front of thousands of fans in a competition that could be a small piece in pushing a partnership forward that eventually changes the entire landscape of North American soccer?