The MLS All-Stars and Liga MX faced off in the first ever international soccer match between the two leagues. Fans from both sides were excited to see how the game would play out, but what they got was a close contest with a lot of goals.
The MLS All-Stars game vs. Liga MX brought leagues closer together and showcased the best of their rivalry.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The 2021 MLS All-Star Game was intended to be a showdown between the top players in Major League Soccer and Liga MX, as well as a celebration of the two leagues’ growing ties. In many ways, the match – and the whole week – were just that. But, as is so frequently the case when the US and Mexico meet, whether at the club or international level, circumstances may intervene in unexpected ways.
On Wednesday, it was demonstrated at the Banc of California Stadium. The MLS All-Stars defeated their Liga MX rivals in a penalty shootout, prevailing 3-2 following a 1-1 tie in regulation. While New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner made two saves in the shootout, FC Dallas striker Ricardo Pepi was the star of the show. At halftime, Fox Sports announced that Pepi has accepted a call-up to the US men’s national team for the next trio of World Cup qualifiers, putting an end to the current dual national tug-of-war between the US and Mexico, at least for the time being.
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Pepi, of course, was on hand to finish off the MLS shootout, as he blasted his shot in off the underside of the crossbar and past Tigres goalie Nahuel Guzman. While Pepi refused to address his apparent choice to play for the United States, stating that he would wait until Thursday’s roster release, he was more than ready to soak in the night’s events, particularly his winning penalty. “I was confident, I felt like everything was set up for me to win the game for the squad, and I did,” he stated afterward.
Pepi and Guzman had competed in the MLS Skills Challenge earlier in the week. Pepi was outrunning Guzman in the crossing and finishing contests, to the point that Guzman pretended to cramp up in order to disrupt Pepi’s rhythm. Guzman attempted once again on Wednesday to get into the 18-year-mind, old’s but to no effect.
“It was amusing. He brought up something that occurred the day before yesterday “Pepi remarked. “I was just giggling. But it was fantastic. It seemed competitive to me, and I came out on top.”
And it validated MLS All-Star manager Bob Bradley’s decision to put the fifth and final try in the hands of an 18-year-old. And Pepi’s self-assurance is inspiring, both at his club and on this night.
“Look, he’s a gifted young goal scorer,” Bradley said. “He has excellent intuition. He has a variety of options for finishing. He puts himself in excellent situations and has a pleasant demeanor. He’s a lively child who enjoys being near the goal and attempting to score. So when we discussed consequences, he was prepared.”
Pepi’s call-up adds to the United States’ string of victories against Mexico this summer, which includes victories in two CONCACAF tournament finals: the Nations League and the Gold Cup. But Wednesday’s event was also about the long run. The bus transporting the Liga MX All-Stars drove up to the training field at Dignity Health Sports Park earlier this week and came to a halt. It was hard to overlook the words “Grita Mexico” painted on the side. The phrase means “yell Mexico,” and it serves as a reminder to supporters to utilize this shout instead of the anti-gay slogan that can still be heard at certain club and national team games, including Wednesday’s All-Star game, which was temporarily stopped in the 11th minute when the chant was heard. The term “grita” is also linked to the current Liga MX Apertura competition.
The encounter between the MLS All-Stars and the Liga MX All-Stars was an exhibition, but there was ‘a little bit of bite,’ as one player put it. Getty Images/Ronald Martinez
In another sense, the term is a metaphor for what MLS is attempting to achieve. For the last several years, the league has been collectively screaming “Mexico!” and the All-Star game was just the latest example of the two leagues attempting to become more linked. This is in addition to tournaments like as the Campeones Cup, which matches the two most recent champions from each league against each other, and the Leagues Cup, a Liga MX and MLS-only version of the Europa League. There has even been discussion of the two leagues merging in the future, but MLS commissioner Don Garber told Fox Sports at halftime that he doesn’t believe the two leagues would ever fully combine.
On Wednesday, at the very least, the game fulfilled its goal. Despite MLS’ best efforts to make the All-Star Game larger and more important in previous years, the concept of pitting a domestic team against a foreign club has become old. The greatest names from across the world tended to stay away, particularly in years when a major tournament had recently finished. The fact that Real Madrid and Bayern Munich were in preseason further detracted from the spectacle. Using the long-standing rivalry between the two neighboring countries provided some spice. Despite the fact that it was an exhibition, neither side was willing to give in to the other.
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“There’s a lot of pride on the line, since clearly you’re playing against another league,” Club America defender Jorge Sanchez told a translator before the game. “And that’s why we’ve come here: to give it our all.”
The fact that the US men’s national team defeated Mexico twice this summer with a title on the line added to the competitiveness. Walker Zimmerman, a defender for Nashville SC, put it thus way: “Guys that are in form and in season, rather than coming over for preseason, will be a bit of a bite. There will be pride on the line, and it will be amplified by the events of the past several months.”
When the whistle sounded, it proved to be true. That’s not to say there were no tackles flying about, but it wasn’t a Sunday kickabout either. In the ninth minute, Sanchez was ecstatic when he cleared Diego Rossi’s goal-bound attempt off the line.
Fans made a significant contribution. When Jonathan Rodriguez chested down Sanchez’s cross, took advantage of some loose marking, and shot past Pedro Gallese in the MLS goal, the fans erupted.
The Banc of California Stadium crowd participated to an MLS and Liga MX celebration. Ashley Landis/AP Photo
Later, in response to the chorus of “Mex-i-co!” shouts ringing throughout the stadium, the 3252 section, home to LAFC’s most vocal fans, decided they weren’t going to be shouted down in their own house, replying with chants of “We can’t hear you!” When LAFC defender Jesus David Murillo equalized eight minutes after halftime, heading home a corner from club teammate Eduard Atuesta, the home supporters had even more to shout about. When Pepi scored his penalty, the home supporters and MLS had a sliver of pride.
Given that Wednesday’s encounter was just an exhibition, any sweeping generalizations regarding the leagues’ relative quality should be avoided. Regardless matter whether it was the Skills Competition or the match itself, the Liga MX players maintained a good attitude throughout the week.
With the assistance of a translator, Cruz Azul defender Pablo Aguilar stated, “Sincerely, I hope that we continue to do this because others, the fans, love it as well.” “And in this instance, the players are the same, so it’s a win-win.”
Guzman complimented the occasion as well, stating via a translator: “Personally, I was hoping to win the game and the penalty shootout. In terms of the experience and what it symbolizes, I believe it’s excellent. It feels great to be a part of [this], both individually and collectively.”
There’s still a feeling that Liga MX needs MLS more than the other way around. Despite all of the hype about MLS’s improvements, market access, and infrastructure, Liga MX remains the regional big brother. The fact that MLS has yet to win in the CONCACAF Champions League since switching to a home-and-away format in 2002 attests to this. However, the last week has shown that switching to the present structure benefits both leagues and is worth repeating in the near future.
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