Welcome to MLS All-Star Week! With the league’s best players gathered in one place, it can often be hard to keep track of all the stars. To alleviate your stress, we’ve broken down both teams, highlighted the most in-form players, and teed up the match. All you have to do after reading this is sit and watch with glee. Before we get to the game, though, here’s a quick history lesson.
Roots of Rivalry:
With the MLS All-Star game on the horizon, it’s important to understand the history that exists between Liga MX and MLS. This is just one chapter in the epic rivalry story between CONCACAF’s greatest soccer powers. It all began in 1934, when the USMNT took on Mexico for a spot at the 1934 World Cup in Italy. A 4-2 scoreline sent the Stars and Stripes through, while El Tri were sent packing.
Needless to say, Mexico didn’t appreciate missing the party. Following that game, the USMNT didn’t manage to beat their southern neighbors again until 1980; yeah, that’s almost 50 years without a dub.
Since then, the two national teams have built up one of international soccer’s most intense rivalries. In 74 matches against one another, Mexico leads the series by a record of 36-22-16. As two of CONCACAF’s largest and most successful countries, this rivalry has seen trophies on the line, World Cup points up for grabs, and countless contentious moments of drama and soccer folklore.
But the rivalry on the pitch hasn’t stopped there. Although Liga MX has been around 48 years longer than MLS, the younger league has made waves since its inception. Star signings and a relatively untapped soccer market in America and Canada seemed to indicate that Liga MX will no longer enjoy unrivaled control of North American club soccer.
From the CONCACAF Champions League to the Campeones Cup, these two leagues have begun to see their best teams lock horns on a yearly basis. While the rivalry between their national teams is far more bitter, it bleeds into every matchup between their club sides. Just this season, the Seattle Sounders won the CCL, becoming the first MLS side to achieve the feat. In a tournament previously dominated by their elderly neighbors, the upstart MLS has found a way to win, setting up even more high-stakes matches between these two leagues in the years to come.
This year’s match will mark the 26th MLS All-Star game in league history. In years past, this game has pitted the best players from the Eastern and Western conferences against one another, though the last time that format was used was way back in 2004. From ‘05 to ‘19, a single All-Star team took on a pre-selected European soccer team, including the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Juventus, among others.
Last season, however, the league decided on a new format. Instead of bringing in teams from across the pond, they looked a bit closer: across the southern border. Liga MX and MLS have been growing alongside one another for years, and now we can see who’s got the right stuff when the best players from each league take the field against one another each year.
Before the festivities get underway, let’s break down the teams that will be on the pitch at Allianz Field this Wednesday.
From Major League Soccer, we have 26 players representing America’s league. 16 of the league’s 28 clubs have at least one player on the roster, with LAFC leading the way with three (Diego Palacios, Carlos Vela, and Ilie Sánchez). NYCFC also had three players selected, though striker Taty Castellanos has since packed his bags for Spain, having joined La Liga side Girona on loan. He has since been replaced by Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez.
On the other half of the field, the Liga MX All-Stars will be playing for just the second time ever. Their 26-man roster includes players from 13 of the league’s 18 clubs. Defending champions Atlas have seven players on the team, as well as their coach, Diego Cocca, on the sidelines.
Between the two teams, a total of 12 nations will be represented. Mexican players make up the largest group of All-Stars, with 15, while the USA and Argentina are tied for second with 9 apiece. The full rosters for both the Skills Challenge and the All-Star Game can be found at the links below:
While each of the players selected to this year’s rosters bring their own unique talents and abilities to the game, every constellation contains a few stars that shine brighter than the rest. We’ve taken a closer look at the brightest stars in each team, from the front to the back, so that you are prepared for the dazzling display they are sure to put on.
When searching for attacking talent in this year’s MLS season, onlookers may be overwhelmed by the options on display. While All-Star strikers Jesus Ferreira and Brandon Vasquez have both impressed this year, no one has produced more goals than Austin FC’s Sebastián Driussi. The Argentinian has found the back of the net 14 times this season, adding seven assists on top of that tally. If anyone is going to score for the MLS All-Stars, the league’s hottest feet are their best bet.
The secret to any good team is a creative midfield that can pull the strings of the game. In MLS this year, few midfielders have matched the output and impact of Minnesota United’s own Emanuel Reynoso and FC Cincinnati’s Luciano Acosta. Reynoso has contributed 9 goals and 6 assists for the Loons, while leading the league in successful dribbles. Meanwhile, Acosta is second in the league in assists (7) and has been a driving force behind Cincinnati’s resurgence this season.
Defensively, the MLS All-Stars feature a number of notable players. However, few of them can boast the consistency and dominance of Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman. The USMNT center back has been a rock for both club and country for quite some time, helping to guide the USMNT back to the World Cup and Nashville back into the MLS Playoff picture. With players like Deandre Yedlin, Kamal Miller, and Julian Araujo with him in the back, it will be difficult for the opposition to get any good looks at goal.
Just behind Zimmerman, there are three goalkeepers to choose from: Andre Blake, Sean Johnson, and Dayne St. Clair. While all three are talented keepers with stats to prove it, only one of them has fought his way to a starting position this year: Dayne St. Clair. St. Clair’s journey to the All-Star game was filled with grit, determination, and chances seized. When he takes the field, it will be an opportunity well-earned.
For the visiting side, the attacking weapons are certainly not limited. Former LA Galaxy winger Uriel Antuna will threaten the MLS All-Stars, though his lack of goals recently makes him far from his side's biggest asset. Instead, fans will likely look to Chivas Guadalajara forward Alexis Vega for goals. Vega ended the Clausura season with 11 goal contributions in 17 games, and has already accumulated three goal involvements in six games during the Apertura. A mix of pace and experience make Vega extremely dangerous and almost certain to produce sparks on the pitch.
In the middle of the park, watch out for Club America’s Alvaro Fidalgo. The 25-year-old Spaniard grew up playing in Real Madrid’s academy system before moving to Liga MX, where he has added to an already talented Club America roster. He will be a strong candidate to find the keys to unlocking the MLS defense.
Just behind the mediocampistas, Liga MX has a very experienced back line. Four of their eight defenders are over the age of 30, bringing years of expertise and know-how to the team. Yet none of these veterans present the most exciting piece of the defense. That distinction goes to Tigres’ Jesus Angulo, a 24-year-old Mexican international with 10 caps for El Tri. The young defender plays as both a center back and a left back, utilizing a mixture of smart positioning and speed to shut down opponents. Alongside his experienced teammates, he will do his best to keep the MLS All-Stars from finding the net.
If any MLS players do find a way through, however, Driussi and co. will be met by one of Liga MX’s three goalkeepers. Most notably, the President of Liga MX added Santos Laguna’s Carlos Acevedo to the roster as the 26th player. The club captain has played 87 games for Santos, as well as three games for El Tri. Attackers should be wary of his presence between the sticks, although Oscar Ustari and Camilo Vargas are no slouches either.
Let the Games Begin:
With the stage set and the teams broken down, it’s time to get into the meat and potatoes of this thing: oh yeah, game prediction time.
Without even analyzing styles of play, there is a glaring difference between these two teams; the MLS All-Stars are made up mostly of players in the prime of their careers. Meanwhile, Liga MX has a team filled with experienced veterans and some exciting youngsters. If this were a long-term project, they may have something there, but alas, it’s a one-off fixture. They didn’t even bring a single one of their league’s top five goalscorers.
Another factor to consider is wear and tear. MLS is currently in the back half of their season, so while many of their players will be operating at peak fitness levels, some are beginning to feel the effects of a long season. Liga MX only just started their Apertura season seven games ago, enough time to find fitness, but not enough to produce tired legs.
Advantage Liga MX.
Let’s put all of the pieces together now. When you don’t bring some of your best players you can’t expect to win, right? MLS has really brought it with this roster, and it’s going to show on the pitch for the full 90. No one can stop Driussi right now, and there’s no reason to expect that to change on Wednesday night. On top of that, Reynoso will be playing in his first All-Star game, at his home stadium. Don’t bet against El Rey.
At the final whistle, there’s only one result you should expect: an MLS dub.