The MLS All-Star Skills Challenge will expand from three events to five in 2020, giving even more league stars a chance to show their stuff when the Liga MX All-Stars head to Banc of California Stadium on July 28 (Tickets available here).
It's never too early to begin plotting a Major League Soccer victory, and that's exactly what we're here to do. We'll run through each of the challenges on tap, complete with official skill competition descriptions and a wishlist of who could best represent the home team against Liga MX's best technicians.
Many of the players tabbed below will be obvious picks, but just for fun, we've also thrown some sneaky underdog surprises into the mix.
The pressure is on and accuracy is key as each team takes shots on goal, attempting to hit targets with varying point values based on degree of difficulty.
Honestly, there's no shortage of MLS players that would fare well in this dead ball shooting accuracy event, but Carlos Vela has to be the first guy on the challenge sheet. While we're at it, we may as well include his LAFC teammate Eduard Atuesta. There are plenty of other names who would be well worthy of a spot in this challenge, namely Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Alejandro Pozuelo and Diego Valeri. But I'd also love to see FC Dallas defender Reto Ziegler in the dark horse role.
A player’s touch is tested as the ball is launched at varying levels of distance and trajectory to see who has the ability to showcase ultimate control.
For my money, few players in MLS can gently pull down a long ball like Orlando City wing ace Nani and LA Galaxy counterpart Cristian Pavón. They should both be involved, as should some central midfield types that excel at settling hard passes under duress. Give me Jonathan dos Santos, Nicolas Lodeiro and Alexander Ring to fit that bill.
Cross & Volley
Technique and creativity will be on display as each player showcases his ability to score dynamic goals. Players will receive a series of crosses served in by their teammates, attempting to finish their chances while the opposing team’s goalkeepers attempt to defend the goal. Additional style points will be awarded based on the creativity in the player’s finishing ability.
The crossing half of this event should be quite easy to fill out. Few would argue that Julian Gressel is the top crosser in the league these days; his serves aren't just pinpoint, they're easy to hit. Roman Métanire and his frozen rope deliveries aren't too far behind. There are several guys worthy of "bronze medal" status in this skill category, but we're going to go with Valeri. In fact, if there's any way he could somehow serve crosses for himself to volley, that would be great.
When it comes to the volley half of this challenge, previous no-brainer picks Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney are no longer around. Basically, it's time to turn to some fresh blood. Our first choice is Real Salt Lake playmaker Albert Rusnak, whose cracking volley days started well before he arrived in MLS. Since landing at Rio Tinto, he's bagged four goals on either a full or half volley, including the absolute doozy shown below.
Finally, we go with a selection out of left field (or more factually, right back): New York City FC's Anton Tinnerholm. Although such things are not in his list of primary duties, he has thrilled the locals at each of his career stops with some show-stopping volleys.
Each team is on the clock to score as many points as possible in two minutes, showing off a range of passing as they hit targets varying in difficulty.
The obvious picks would be Ozzie Alonso and Darlington Nagbe, as one or the other has led the league in completion percentage in six of the last seven seasons. Throw in Dos Santos, and they'd all represent the gold MLS standard for passing success. Still, so many of their deliveries are of the short or mid-range varieties, passes that will score lower in this type of challenge. We're looking for maximum fun here, so how about a long diagonal battle royale between Jan Gregus, Haris Medunjanin and Jackson Yueill?
The finale from Skills Challenge 2019 returns in a standalone challenge to help crown the winner of this year’s event. You can guarantee another epic ending as players accuracy is tested to hit the crossbar before their time runs out.
I think we can all agree that Vela has to be in this event. And after his clutch winning effort in last year's Skills Challenge, Nani definitely gets a spot. Finally, we'll recruit a Jedi of the artfully accurate chip shot, Toronto FC wizard Pozuelo.