A goal from one of American soccer’s brightest youth prospects, a training-ground penalty kick routine and a late winner – the inaugural MLS NEXT All-Star Game presented by Allstate had it all Wednesday at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota.
Team East rallied for a 2-1 victory over Team West, scoring twice inside the game’s final minutes to cancel out a sixth-minute deflected strike from San Jose Earthquakes homegrown midfielder Cruz Medina that seemed destined to seal a victory.
But then a flip switched for Team East, starting with an 86th-minute penalty kick that Inter Miami CF midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi earned and converted. Cremaschi’s 1-1 equalizer involved plenty of trickery, with Toronto FC center back Adam Pearlman tapping to his onrushing teammate in a move that caught Team West off guard.
The momentum carried from there, as Team East found their winner in the 89th minute through Philadelphia Union forward Marcos Zambrano-Delgado. New England Revolution midfielder Jack Panayotou sent an inch-perfect cross from the right to his fellow US youth international, who made no mistake from close range.
Team East’s second-half surge perhaps started in the 71st minute when Orlando City SC forward Favian Loyola rifled a left-footed shot off the crossbar, just before he was subbed out following a lively day in the final third.
Beyond those involved with highlight-reel moments, East standouts ranged from Atlanta United left back Malachi Grant and CF Montréal center back Thomas Bouffard to Philadelphia goalkeeper Andrew Rick and New York City FC right back Diego Rossi.
For the West group, several second-half substitutes – including forward Marcus Lee (Cal United Strikers) and midfielder Bryan Moyado (LAFC) – were especially lively. St. Louis CITY SC defender Fritz Volmar and Houston Dynamo FC attacker Andre Gitau showed their quality, too.
Plenty more aside from the players mentioned above showcased their talents.
- 6' – West – Cruz Medina (SJ)
- 86' – East – Benjamin Cremaschi (MIA)
- 89' – East – Marcos Zambrano-Delgado (PHI)
McBride on Medina
The big name, at least in the eyes of US men’s national team general manager Brian McBride, was Medina. The US youth international, age 15, signed a homegrown deal with San Jose in early June amid European interest.
“Thankfully we’re able to watch a lot of players,” McBride said when asked by David Gass about who’s impressed him. “One that is here, Cruz Medina is certainly one of those players that we really see a pathway for him. It’s of course down to the player himself, but very motivated, talked with both himself and his father. That’s probably one, but there’s many here. You can see the talent. Everbody’s comfortable on the ball, so I’m glad I was able to get out here."
McBride was in attendance alongside US Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart, as were a host of other coaches and talent evaluators.
In total, the event brought together 45 of MLS NEXT’s top players – 19 of whom have MLS NEXT Pro experience – and split them into two squads. Twenty-eight of 29 MLS clubs were represented, while five different non-MLS academies were represented as well. Miami, Philadelphia and San Jose led the way with three selections each.