There are several different ways to assess who could perform best at the upcoming 2021 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G, which is set for August 24 at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles (9 pm ET/6 pm PT | FS1, TUDN, TSN, TVA Sports).
On one hand, veteran savviness could prove valuable with older competitors perhaps less inclined to be star-struck by the moment. On the other hand, youthful exuberance could also pay dividends.
Enter FC Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi, the 18-year-old homegrown star who's set to feature in the Skills Challenge and the 2021 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target. Discussing his thoughts on who Skills Challenge standouts could be, Extratime co-host Calen Carr said Pepi is the perfect dark-horse pick.
"The Skills Challenge was one of the highlights for me in the last All-Star Game, a really cool new thing," Carr said. "You get really close to the players, you can get close to the experience, it's an All-Star event. And when I saw the list released for the Skills Challenge, even the Liga MX team [is strong]. It can turn into a little bit of an endurance challenge because you're throwing side-volleys, you're kicking balls out of there. It's not just chill crossbar challenges, so I think youth could be a smart pick here. I like the Pepi sleeper pick to steal the show."
"This is a studded group of players that's going to be a part of this Skills Challenge, some added events as well," said Gass. "We've got the young stud Ricardo Pepi, who's going to be a part of this, going up against a bunch of Liga MX All-Stars.
"Pepi, when he was asked about it was like, 'It's just cool to be around everyone and to be a part of it.' And it's like, 'Dude, don't be humble!' I feel like you know that some of the veterans are going to be taking easy, Pepi's going bike kicks. MLS Skills Challenge MVP of 2021."
Co-host Matt Doyle said he's simply looking forward to the week, which sees the MLS All-Stars face the very best from Liga MX. It may be an exhibition match, but bragging rights are always on the line when the leagues compete.
"This has a little more juice because it is the best of MLS against the best of Liga MX. It's still a hill that the league has gotta climb," Doyle said. "And granted, it's still an All-Star game – it's not the same as Concacaf Champions League or Campeones Cup or Leagues Cup – but it still feels like it's going to matter a little bit. So yeah, I'm jacked for it, and I'm usually not one who is particularly excited about the All-Star game. I'm going to be dialed in for this one."
For more on the Skills Challenge and other MLS happenings, check out the entire Extratime episode here.