All-Star Week is almost upon us, and now we know who will be competing in the 2022 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G on Aug. 9 at Allianz Field (7:30 pm ET | ESPN2, TUDN in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada).
Once again, my suggestion to have a normal person pulled from the crowd to compete in each event and show how good these guys are in comparison has been ignored. But trust me when I say this will still be a blast.
Because how often do we get a chance to watch the best players in the league just show off? Too much of soccer is about “winning” and “scoring goals” when it really should be about showcasing just how good you are at doing cool tricks after a lifetime of dedication to one sport. I mean, this year's 10 representatives are all studs.
Here are a few things, in particular, to keep an eye on this year.
Last year, Liga MX narrowly beat out MLS when then-Cruz Azul forward Jonathan Rodriguez hit the crossbar from 40 yards out and gave Liga MX a 26-25 Skills Challenge win. Then in the actual All-Star Game, MLS won on penalty kicks thanks to some heroics from then-New England Revolution netminder Matt Turner. So let's call it 1-1 all in the competitive series between these two rival leagues.
Now someone can take a commanding lead into the 2022 All-Star Game presented by Target on Aug. 10. One night prior, who will stake a 2-1 advantage and move toward top-dog status? These are the questions we all must debate in the constant search for regional supremacy.
We’ll have to wait and see, but would you be all that surprised to see another serious injury in this competition again? I mean, we can’t forget that Tigres UANL goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán saw his career flash in front of his eyes during last year’s cross and volley challenge as then-FC Dallas starboy Ricardo Pepi put shot after shot into the net.
Guzmán rules and I’m genuinely disappointed he doesn’t appear to be back for the competition this year. Someone else will have to carry the gamesmanship mantle for him.
LA Galaxy striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Houston Dynamo FC midfielder Héctor Herrera have more than 200 caps for the Mexico men’s national team between them. But they’ll compete against their home’s domestic league in this one.
Not only do we get to watch two of the most highly lauded players in MLS show their ability, but we also get to watch a unique dynamic play out as they compete against the league they originally made their name in. Chicharito started with Chivas, while HH started with Pachuca.
Last year, Ferreira’s then-FC Dallas teammate Ricardo Pepi owned All-Star Weekend. Pepi showed out in the Skills Challenge, delivered the game-winning penalty kick the next day and then picked the US men's national team over Mexico. It all felt like a cap to one of the fastest rocket rides to stardom we’ve seen in MLS.
This year, Ferreira has put together an objectively better season than Pepi’s entire 2021 and we’re not even at the All-Star Game yet. Ferreira has 11 goals and five primary assists this season on a solid FC Dallas team. He’s a Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate and likely member of the USMNT for the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup. But he hasn’t quite captured folks’ imagination like Pepi did. At least not yet.
He’s got a chance here on a national stage to show his skill and ability and maybe begin building toward the kind of notoriety Pepi earned last season.
This goes for every year, but as a person who loves ruining things and just generally being a bummer, I love the fact that goalkeepers are here to compete in this competition. Just imagining Dayne St. Clair saving his 10th-straight bicycle attempt in a row during the cross and volley challenge gets my heart fluttering.
The keepers are here to prevent the cool thing you wanted to see from happening. They’re essentially heroes.
I’m not even being sarcastic here. More skills competitions across sports should have obstacles actively getting in the way. I want to see Tom Brady have to hit a target while a linebacker lays him out. I want to watch a dunk competition where they’re forced to dunk over the other competitors’ starting center. I want to gawk as we give those kids in the outfield during the Home Run Derby a comically oversized net that catches baseballs before they go over the wall. How are we going to know how good these players are without a little adversity?
Few things resonate in this competition like the Crossbar Challenge presented by GilletteLabs. It’s the purest, most messing around at the end of practice with your friends, competition of the bunch. It’s the last of the night for a reason. And has decided the entire thing both years.
There’s genuine drama to watching professional soccer players attempting to hit a small target from 40+ yards away and knowing that the entire event is on the line. The Skills Challenge doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it finds a way to create genuine tension with the Crossbar Challenge. And I, for one, can’t wait to watch Minnesota United FC midfielder Emanuel "Bebelo" Reynoso stand there in front of his home fans and soak in their adoration like a true hero after he wins the whole thing for MLS.
Just a hunch anyway. What I know for certain, though, is that you can't go wrong with the Skills Competition. The sole purpose is to have a little fun before we get to the season’s most serious stretch.