When MLS's All-Stars take on a group of counterparts from Liga MX later this month, they'll be equipped with two of Mexico's finest veteran attacking talents, a slew of summer heroes, a number of rising stars and a crew of league stalwarts.
The MLS All-Star Game that was supposed to take place in Los Angeles last summer but was called off due to the pandemic is on track for 2021, and it's only fitting that Javier "Chicharito" Hernández and Carlos Vela, the two L.A. teams' shining stars, lead MLS against the best from their native Mexico. They'll do so on Aug. 25 at LAFC's Banc of California Stadium.
But MLS's squad goes well beyond the veteran El Tri duo. U.S. Gold Cup champions Matt Turner, Miles Robinson, James Sands, Walker Zimmerman and Cristian Roldan all have been selected to take part in the summer showcase, as has Canada's Tajon Buchanan, who won best young player honors at the Concacaf championship. Rising talents like 17-year-old San Jose Earthquakes forward Cade Cowell and FC Dallas's 18-year-old Mexican American striker Ricardo Pepi—the youngest player with a hat trick in league history—join them, along with numerous players from the two teams currently topping the respective conferences, the New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders.
As for the game itself, it plays into the larger theme of MLS and Liga MX cooperation. Between the Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup competitions that have been created to foster more matches between clubs from both leagues and (the one-sided nature of) the Concacaf Champions League showdowns over the years, there's been more overlap between the two entities than ever before. A merger at some point down the line could well come to fruition, but for the time being, it's all about scratching each other's backs in order for both to enjoy some positive outcomes while they remain separate, competing organizations.
“The benefit of what everybody talks about is that our teams will be playing against each other,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in June when addressing the question of a potential merger. “That we’d be able to work together and create valuable content. That we’d be able to monetize that content. That we’d be able to have governance that would allow us all to make good decisions together. You can do that in a variety of different ways without a formal merger.”
The All-Star Game fits right into that, and it rewards a group of players that has stood out over the first portion of the MLS season. The 28-player team was selected through a fan/media/player vote that anointed 13 picks, and 13 more selections from coach Bob Bradley (the coach of the host club has been tabbed to lead the MLS All-Stars for a number of years now) along with the traditional two that go to Garber. Cowell and Buchanan were his selections, as a nod to two of the league's top young talents. Overall, 24 of the 28 players are first-time All-Stars, and there's even a brother combination, with Cristian and Alex Roldan being among six Sounders selected. The Revolution and LAFC (four players apiece) are the next best-represented clubs, with 15 of the league's 27 teams having at least one player involved.
This match marks a departure from the MLS vs. European club format that had been in place dating back to 2005. MLS enjoyed mixed results in that time, though it fell short in the last four to Arsenal, Real Madrid, Juventus and Atletico Madrid, respectively. Overall, MLS went 7-5-3, with all three draws resulting in penalty shootout defeats (vs. Tim Howard's Everton in '09 and vs. Real Madrid and Juventus in '17 and '18).
Here's the MLS roster in full:
Pedro Gallese (Orlando City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Yeimar Gómez Andrade (Seattle Sounders), Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Jesus David Murillo (LAFC), Nouhou Tolo (Seattle Sounders), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Alex Roldan (Seattle Sounders), James Sands (NYCFC), Kai Wagner (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
Eduard Atuesta (LAFC), Carles Gil (New England Revolution), Damir Kreilach (Real Salt Lake), João Paulo (Seattle Sounders), Emanuel Reynoso (Minnesota United), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Lucas Zelarayán (Columbus Crew)
Gustavo Bou (New England Revolution), Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes), Javier Hernández (LA Galaxy), Nani (Orlando City), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Diego Rossi (LAFC), Raúl Ruidíaz (Seattle Sounders), Dániel Sallói (Sporting Kansas City), Carlos Vela (LAFC)
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