ALL_STAR_ROLDAN

LOS ANGELES – It was a new era for the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, but is it here to stay? A number of prominent figures from the 2021 MLS All-Star team sure hope so.

The MLS All-Stars faced the Liga MX All-Stars at Banc of California Stadium on Wednesday night, a format that was postponed from 2020 to this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with MLS winning via penalties after a 1-1 deadlock.

Nothing has been announced on whether this will be the new norm or if it was just a one-off, but the sentiment is readily apparent.

“This match was highly anticipated by both sides and the fans,” Seattle Sounders midfielder and MLS All-Star captain Cristian Roldan said. “The atmosphere was great, the quality of soccer was really good – there could have been more goals – but it was a great overall All-Star Game. I look forward to this becoming a yearly thing.”

The crowd made their rooting interests known for 90 minutes, with ample support for both MLS and Liga MX ringing around the SoCal stadium. The penalty shootout was at the goal directly in front of the 3252, LAFC’s supporters’ section. The predominantly MLS-heavy stand proved a happy backdrop for shootout heroics from New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner, who earned MLS All-Star Game MVP presented by Target honors. FC Dallas rising talent Ricardo Pepi fired home the winning spot-kick.

There have been different versions of the MLS All-Star Game, though the iteration used longest was the MLS All-Stars facing a club team in an exhibition match. European powerhouses like Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Juventus and others have been the opponents.

As the rivalry and competition between MLS and Liga MX heightens through the Concacaf Champions League, Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup, the All-Star Game didn’t feel entirely like a friendly.

“I think this was a beautiful match,” Columbus Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayan said through a translator. “It’s been proven that people enjoy it, we offered a great spectacle. It was fun. We enjoyed it, it was a great time. I hope this continues throughout the years.”

Zelarayan was among a handful of former Liga MX stars on the MLS All-Star roster. He previously featured for Tigres UANL, Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz won multiple Golden Boots in Mexico with Morelia and Orlando City SC goalkeeper Pedro Gallese used to compete for Veracruz. There were more than a few United States and Mexico internationals on both sides, too, increasing the on-pitch familiarity and fire.

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MLS All-Star head coach Bob Bradley was a D.C. United assistant coach in 1996 when MLS started, creating his share of All-Star memories in different formats. In the lead-up to Wednesday's match, Bradley intimated his excitement around this new iteration of playing stars from Mexico's top flight. After the game, his opinion didn’t change.

“There are a lot of good players on both teams,” the LAFC boss said. “I think both teams came with the idea that they wanted to play football and turn it into a good game. … For me, it was what you would hope. A really good game, competitive, with a lot of good players who are fun to watch.”

All-Star exhibitions across professional sports are meant to be fun – for fans and players alike – though when those on the field take it seriously and clearly strive to win, the product is elevated.

“The game that was out there, the competition was really spirited,” Turner said. “It was high intensity, the fans were into it. I think it was a great event for both leagues. Do I think it should be the norm? It’s not my call. Potentially, maybe. But all I can speak to is that I had a ton of fun this week. … People really wanted to win, you don’t always get that with All-Star Games in America. It was really unique and really special. It’s something to build off in the future.”

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