Right out of the gate, the announcement of Atletico de Madrid as the 2019 opponent for the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target provides some fun narratives to ponder.
If most of La Liga can’t score on Jan Oblak, how will the All-Stars manage it? Which world-class striker is more endearingly villainous, Diego Costa or Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
Will hard-as-nails Atleti boss Diego Simeone demand the same high levels of … testicular fortitude, shall we say, out of his team for a preseason exhibition match that he does during La Liga and UEFA competitions? (“El Cholo” hardly seems like the type to take offense at a hard tackle like Pep Guardiola did during Bayern Munich’s ASG visit to Portland five years ago.) And that’s before we even get to his summer sartorial choices…
Biggest #MLSAllStar storyline: Will Diego Simeone go all-black suit/shirt combo in the Orlando heat and humidity?— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) May 2, 2019
But all this runs a distant second compared to the real All-Star subplot: Antoine Griezmann’s love affair with MLS and the United States in general.
“They have a different mindset. I love the NBA and the show business aspect of it,” the Frenchman said in an interview last year. “I want to play in MLS. I'd like to finish my career there.”
How enamored is the 2018 World Cup winner with the States? A quick “MLS Griezmann” internet search turns up about 2.8 million hits, containing his many expressions of fascination and endearment with this side of the pond.
Where to begin? He loves Fortnite and used the game’s “Take the L” dance to celebrate goals. Canadians can take heart, because although he seems to prefer warm, sunny North American climates, he’s also taken inspiration from Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video in other celebrations. He also seems like a very online sort, and we know he follows MLS’s Insta account because he’s dropped a comment or two – with Mexican slang, no less! – hailing the exploits of his former Real Sociedad teammate "Carlitos" Vela…
He cites the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Derrick Rose as a sporting idol, going so far as to customize a pair of his cleats with the injury-prone NBA baller’s face. He’s said he plans to be an NBA season-ticket holder wherever he winds up plying his trade here, and even held his own, Spanish-language version of LeBron James’ “The Decision” broadcast to announce, on live television that he was staying at Atletico and not taking his talents to Barcelona, to sign a hefty new contract. (Alas, the man dubbed “El Gringuito” by France teammate Paul Pogba dropped a clanger of a hoops costume two years ago which, well, the less said, the better. At least he apologized afterwards.)
And July’s showcase won’t be his first visit to an MLS venue; he took in an LA Galaxy match two years ago during a vacation in Southern California, sipping on some fine American domestic macrobrew in a suite at Dignity Health Sports Park while supporting his friend Romain Alessandrini. (He also hit up a Dodgers game on the same trip.)
He’s also very publicly stated a desire to join another pal, Vela, across town at LAFC. The duo tore it up in three seasons together at Real Sociedad, helping the Basque club qualify for the Champions League and clearly enjoying themselves in the process.
“Carlitos, a big hug,” Griezmann told the Mexican star in a postgame interview after winning the 2018 UEFA SuperCup. “Wait for me there in Los Angeles, in MLS. I'll be there soon.”
Oh, and did I mention his public flirtation with David Beckham’s Inter Miami project?
“If he [Beckham] wants me in his club, then I'll go. I want to finish my career in the US,” said Griezmann in a September interview with L’Equipe. “I don't know yet if it's going to be in Miami or LA. They are two great cities. I like the mentality and the show culture of the United States.”
The bad news for Inter, LAFC and any other would-be MLS suitors for the 2016 La Liga Player of the Year is that after the aforementioned “La Decision” show, he signed a contract extension with Atleti through the 2022-23 season that contains a whopping $223 million release clause. But given his many contributions to the club and clear desire to someday live his own personal American Dream, there’s probably space for a bold and well-timed swoop at some point.
That’s what the Galaxy pulled off with Beckham back when he was at Real Madrid, and the rest is history for player, club and league alike. Come July, we might just get a glimpse of how much Griezmann fancies his future home.