Skills Challenge

Dream team: Fantasy booking the MLS All-Stars Skills Challenge

It was delayed a whole year, but Major League Soccer players will finally get to test their skills against their Liga MX counterparts prior to the 2021 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, which is being held August 25 in Los Angeles.

Before then, we've sorted through each skill challenge, dropped the official competition description and offered fantasy team selections for each category. Some of the names on last year's hypothetical team sheet were picked and some are new picks, but all have it in them to bring home the victory.

Here's what could await at the 2021 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G on August 24 at Banc of California Stadium.

Shooting Challenge presented by AT&T 5G

Players will be shooting at targets from distance with varying values as they look to rack up points for their team.

Shooting Challenge presented by AT&T 5G
Gonzalo Higuaín
Shooting Challenge · Inter Miami CF

For this competition, I'd love to see a perfectly balanced blend of youthful exuberance and reliable experience. My veteran pick would be Gonzalo Higuain, who has continually demonstrated ace marksmanship throughout his career. The Inter Miami striker has put nearly one of every five shot attempts in the back of the net over his 15 years as a pro. There aren't many worldwide who can match that accuracy.

Caden Clark
Shooting Challenge · New York Red Bulls

To represent the fresh blood, I'll go with New York Red Bulls rising star Caden Clark. Thus far this season, the 18-year-old (who is no stranger to long-range blasts) has put eight of his 10 shots on frame, and half of those in the net. Besides, he'll head off to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig at season's end, so we may as well utilize the kid's top-notch targeting system while we still can.

Rubio Rubín
Shooting Challenge · Real Salt Lake

Finally, let's bridge the gap between the first two choices by enlisting Real Salt Lake head-turner Rubio Rubin. In transforming from an attack handyman to a regular striker, the 25-year-old has quickly become quite the efficient striker. It's only a shame there are no artistic merit points for this category.

Touch Challenge presented by Old Spice

Players will have to collect and control balls as they streak in low to the ground or are launched hundreds of feet into the sky.

Touch Challenge · Orlando City SC

I honestly can't say that I've seen many wingers bring down a 50-yard long ball with the cushioning touch of a down pillow stack like Orlando City skipper Nani. He has to be involved in this one.

Alexander Ring
Touch Challenge · Austin FC

I also can't think of many central midfielders who cleanly collect hard passes under duress like Austin FC skipper Alex Ring. Let's welcome him into the fold.

Finally, I'll tab Vancouver's Michael Baldisimo to represent the young'uns. The 21-year-old has impressively received 98% of the passes hit toward him without any fuss this season, good for third in the league among midfielders.

Cross & Volley Challenge presented by AT&T 5G

Player’s creativity and skill will be on display, as they connect with a teammate to finish with style. The more style, the more points.

Carles Gil
Cross & Volley Challenge · New England Revolution

The crosser always comes first in this exchange, so it makes sense to begin with them. New England playmaker Carles Gil is having such a strong season, it would be foolish to look past him when plotting for this challenge. My mama didn't raise no fool, so he's in.

Daniel Lovitz
Cross & Volley Challenge · Nashville SC

Just in case someone wants to strike off service from the left, let's bring Daniel Lovitz along. The Nashville SC defender is enjoying a career year with regards to crossing, and it would be a shame to waste that form.

Brooks Lennon
Cross & Volley Challenge · Atlanta United

We will also call on Atlanta United right back Brooks Lennon because, well, anything less would also be uncivilized. The wide service specialist currently stands second in MLS in total crosses, and tops in crosses completed in the area.

Julian Gressel
Cross & Volley Challenge · D.C. United

Last but certainly not least, we'll sign up the guy that Brooks Lennon effectively replaced at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nobody in the league delivers easy-to-hit crosses to the wheelhouse like D.C. United utility man Julian Gressel.

Cross & Volley Challenge · LA Galaxy

Now that we have the service crew hired, it's time to find some guys to lash those crosses home. Golden Boot presented by Audi frontrunner Javier Hernandez has used all sorts of body contortions to net passes struck straight out of the air during his career. Theoretically, allowing the LA Galaxy striker to set his feet and strike volleys without defenders hanging all over him should bring good results in this challenge.

POR_Valeri, Diego
Diego Valeri
Cross & Volley Challenge · Portland Timbers

My next pick is Portland talisman Diego Valeri, who has scored several goals of the full and half-volley varieties during his Timbers' career. The veteran is a technician of the highest order and overlooking him would be criminal.

Albert Rusnák
Cross & Volley Challenge · Real Salt Lake

We'll stay in the Western Conference for the next selection, Real Salt Lake volley specialist Albert Rusnak. Combining his time with FC Groningen and the Rio Tinto bunch, he's bagged no less than five goals on the full volley.

Anton Tinnerholm
Cross & Volley Challenge · New York City FC

Since he didn't get to the chance last season, it only seems proper to again nominate New York City FC right back Anton Tinnerholm. He has bagged stunning volleys with both feet since coming to MLS and deserves this shot (pun intended).

Passing Challenge presented by Crest

With a variety of targets spread across the pitch, players must place their passes with pinpoint accuracy to earn big points.

The ideal names for the MLS side practically pick themselves (at least they did for me). Early Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate Carles Gil is an obvious choice among set-up men, and Minnesota United's Emanuel Reynoso is in that same passing league.

Any passing discussion would be incomplete without mention of Columbus traffic director Darlington Nagbe and his absurd 96.2 completion rate. Incredibly, he's misplaced just three of 215 medium-range passes and two of 68 long-range efforts thus far in 2021. So yeah, he's definitely in.

Since everyone loves a pinpoint long diagonal (a pass type that scores big points in this challenge), we simply must draft San Jose's Jackson Yueill into action. Consider all bases covered here.

Crossbar Challenge presented by Gillette

As the final chance for players to earn points for their teams, this skill will test players' ability to deliver as the final seconds tick down.

Crossbar Challenge · Orlando City SC

Some will call it cheating to plump for the same three guys that I picked last year. But with his skills competition legend status already confirmed when he lifted Orlando City over both Team MLS and Atletico Madrid with a crossbar buzzer-beater back in 2019, Nani is a no-brainer.

Joining him for double duty is Carlos Vela, whose ability to place touch shots with mechanical precision makes him another obvious selection.

Alejandro Pozuelo
Crossbar Challenge · Toronto FC

I'll round out the crew with Toronto FC wizard Alejandro Pozuelo, who I'm thinking could probably punch an elevator button with the ball from midfield.