Europe’s elite, whether it be Atleti, Juventus or even Arsenal, have in recent years, gone to play MLS’ finest. This time around though, it will be an MLS All-Star XI against that of Liga MX. The rivalry between the US and Mexico has always been intense and with the divide closing between the pair in recent years, it is peaking. Mexico were often the dominant force but the Nations League and Gold Cup glory for Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT this summer is evidence of the shift. Who will prevail on Wednesday night?
Rather than being just one game of football, All-Star week is exactly that; a week, an event. There are various skills challenges to come later today but the jewel in the crown is the game itself. Some of the highlight players for MLS won’t feature though. Carles Gil and Chicharito were both at the fore of the MVP race prior to their respective injuries and both have been announced as absent. The same goes for Chicharito’s fellow countryman Carlos Vela, a huge blow for the spectacle given the opponent. The final man to drop out is Gil’s clubmate Tajon Buchanan, the reasons for the young Canadian dropping out are unbeknownst to most but the rumours of a move to Europe are intensifying by the day.
No need to focus on the negatives though and sticking with the Shield leaders New England. Four has become two, leaving USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner and La Pantera, a.k.a. Gustavo Bou. From a general perspective and there will still be flair players on show that Liga MX fans are all too familiar with. In Gil’s absence, it seems plausible that Columbus’ Lucas Zelarayan will start in the All-Star game and the Argentine joined the Crew from Tigres. With the Mexican giants, Zelarayan was twice a Liga MX Apertura winner and lifted a Clausara too. Not to mention he won the inaugural Campeones Cup in 2018!
Talking of the Campeones Cup and the only other team to win it, Atlanta United, are represented too. The bulk of the Five Stripes’ attacking talent hail from South American and haven’t made the cut, instead a duo of USMNT defenders fly the flag. George Bello and Miles Robinson, both who are very young and played a role in the Gold Cup success are in Bob Bradley’s squad. The former was in fact a late pick following Gil and co pulling out. On the topic of Atlanta United and one big omission is star striker Josef Martinez, even though he missed most of last season with injury, his character alone should have earned him a slot. Other names to be added at a later date include Inter Miami’s Rodolfo Pizarro, formerly of Pachuca, Guadalajara and Monterrey plus Vela’s LAFC teammate Diego Rossi is an All-Star too.
Liga MX themselves have seen a few changes to their All-Star roster. Cruz Azul’s Juan Reynoso is the head coach for the Mexicans and his opposite number is, as previously mentioned, Bob Bradley of LAFC. Chaquito who is one of Reynoso’s club men is a late addition, along with Pachuca fullback Kevin Alvarez. A few names will ring a bell to those who watched Tata Martino’s El Tri side at the Gold Cup. Rogelio Funes Mori, whose brother previously played for Everton, is the main man up front although he failed to impress at the aforementioned international tournament. Alfredo Talavera of Pumas played in goal for the national team but Club America’s Guillermo Ochoa, another name known to watchers of European football, will likely don the gloves at the All-Star game. Shoutout to Orbelin Pineda in midfield too, he scored from the penalty spot against Canada in the semi-finals before Hache Hache, a.k.a. Hector Herrera struck gold at the death.
Back to the MLS squad for this historic, inaugural All-Star game vs the best that Liga MX has to offer and the midfield is a section worth noting. Bob Bradley has selected Seattle’s Cristian Roldan as his captain and one can’t argue with this decision, he is a true leader. Alongside him there are his Sounders teammate Joao Paulo as well as Eduard Atuesta (LAFC) and another Gold Cup victor James Sands (NYCFC).
Some of the shine has been removed from the All-Star game following the withdrawal of Chicharito and Carlos Vela who appeal to both sides of the match. Gil who, in my eyes, is currently the MLS MVP, also missing out is again a blow for the spectacle but Sporting Kansas City’s Daniel Salloi and Raul Ruidiaz, and Bou have all been a joy to watch in front of goal this season. Hungarian Salloi is in the running for MVP along with Gil having been the lifeline for Peter Vermes time and time again this season.
Regardless of the losses, the first ever MLS vs Liga MX All-Star game in California promises to be something special. LAFC’s Banc of California will play host to the game, a stadium very familiar to Bob Bradley and the likes of Diego Rossi too. Wednesday night, or Thursday morning GMT for some can’t come soon enough!