The day was finally here and the hour had finally come. The MLS All-Stars were set to take on Juventus in a sold-out All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The night boasted a record-breaking 72,317 in attendance.
The starting XI for each side was as follows:
MLS All-Stars: Brad Guzan, Aaron Long, Francisco Calvo, Michael Murillo, Laurent Ciman, Alexander Ring, Carlos Vela (c), Ignacio Piatti, Miguel Almirón, Tyler Adams, Josef Martinez.
Juventus: Wojciech Szczesny, João Cancelo, Alex Sandro, Daniele Rugani, Andrea Barzagli (c), Sami Khedira, Emre Can, Miralem Pjanic, Federico Bernadeschi, Matheus Pereira, Andrea Favilli.
In the 21′, Juventus broke the deadlock with a goal from Andrea Favilli. Matheus Pereira took a set piece just outside the box and found the head of Favilli who scored the match’s first goal. As you can imagine, there were substitutions aplenty in the match so that was his main contribution. After the match, I got his opinion on his performance. “I feel well,” he explained through a translator. “We played a very strong game with a good team and I have to keep working so I can do well for the next game.”
A crazy set of bounces and passes took place when the MLS struck back. A long ball went to the far post and found Josef Martinez. He headed the ball back to Carlos Vela who launched a monster volley that was blocked by Wojciech Szczesny. The ball bounced back to the far post where Martinez was waiting to poach the ball and drew the game 1-1.
Josef Martinez is an animal. Already on pace to set the single-season scoring record, the man scored a goal in the first 29 minutes and was subbed out with energy to spare (but Atlanta United has a home match on Saturday so better to preserve him). Martinez was replaced by Sebastian Giovinco.
Ezequiel Barco had a chance late in the first half when he launched a sweet volley that was parried by Szczesny.
Founded in 1897, Juventus is the most decorated club in Italy, has won more domestic honors than any other Italian club, and is the only club in the world to have won every possible confederation competition. Last season they won the Serie A league title for a record 34th time, their seventh consecutive Italian national title. They ended their season with 95 points from 38 matches.
This is the 15th time the MLS All-Stars have taken on international competition in the All-Star Game. The MLS holds an 8-4-2 record, having outscored their opponents 26-24. Last year, Spanish giants Real Madrid defeated the All-Stars in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.
The second half wasn’t as exciting as the first but it still had its moments. There were bright moments for Juventus’ Leandro Fernandes and MLS’ Bradley Wright-Phillips and Diego Valeri. Stefano Beltrame showed steady pace throughout the second half for the Italian side, coming close to sealing the win in the dying embers of the match. But with quality defending from MLS, the game went to penalty kicks (after 90 minutes if the match is still tied they immediately go to penalties per All-Star format).
- First up for Juve was Nicolò Fagioli, who converted the club’s first try. Graham Zusi followed up and scored for MLS.
- Stefano Beltrame launched a rocket past Zack Steffen for Juve’s second goal which was followed up by a similar conversion from Yoshimar Yotún.
- Grigoris Kastanos went right and Steffen got a piece of it but not enough to block the goal. Diego Valeri, on the other hand, sent a howler into the top-right netting.
- Leandro Fernandes, like Kastanos, came close to having his shot blocked but the ball went right below Steffen’s arms. Bradley Wright-Phillips however, looked shaky on his attempt and hit the left post.
- Mattia De Sciglio converted his attempt and won the match for Juventus
So Juventus won the match in penalty kicks and the All-Stars fell suffer the same fate as they did with Real Madrid just a year ago. MLS’ lone goal-scorer Josef Martinez won the All-Star Game MVP.
“[On Mercedes-Benz Stadium] It’s a beautiful stadium, it’s probably the most beautiful of which I’ve played,” said a happy Matheus Pereira. “All the people here was incredible. The support was incredible.”
Before the Italian winners left for their hotel I was able to get a word in with Leandro Fernandes about his performance and fitness. “I think I didn’t play bad, but I can always improve. In general, I’m happy with my performance.” Even with the number of matches they’ve played during their tour, he said he felt “great” when asked about his fitness. It was also no surprise that a certain MLS striker stood out to him. “He played 20 minutes but in 20 minutes he showed that he’s very good. Number 17? Martinez? I think?” he said with a smile. He also said recent Bayern Munich acquisition Alphonso Davies stood out to him as well.
We had a few words from the lads on the league side as well. When asked about facing another penalty shootout in this stadium, Zack Steffen was quite the sport about it. “It was… At least it was better to have the crowd behind me this time and not booing me,” said a smiling Steffen. “It’s very ironic that it came down to penalty kicks.” He also quickly noted, “The stadium and the atmosphere is unparallel in this league.”
Before he left for the night, Atlanta’s Ezequiel Barco commented on his experience playing with the best of the MLS. “It was a pleasure,” he insinuated. “I was very happy to play with the other stars.”
For Atlanta United, they’ll get back to training tomorrow and prepare for Toronto FC on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That will be the time to maximize the use of Josef Martinez.
-Jon J. & Esli Lara
Photo: Hakim Wright