MLS All-Star Game 2018 Preview
First, the good news: Greg Garza will not be playing in this year’s All-Star Game.
The bad news: that’s because he’s still recovering from last year’s game.
The worse news: we Atlanta fans are so addicted to upvoting anything related to Atlanta United that we still got 6 of our guys onto the 2018 team.
The worst news: one of the 6 is already out due to injury.
The can-it-really-get-any-worse-than-that news: we also have 2 players in the MLS Homegrown Game.
Well, that is of course the way to look at this circus if, like our own Sam Franco, you think All-Star Games are the devil. Others of us might think this is just a chance to get to see a few big names we might not otherwise get to see against an opponent we almost certainly will never get to see in a truly competitive game. Either way, the MLS all-Star Game is coming to the Benz on Wednesday evening.
Like all such events, the All-Star Game is more than just the game, there are plenty of other activities going on around it, so there’s lots to do. Full details are available here. Many of the events are free; some, such as this morning’s Juventus and MLS All-Star open training sessions at the Benz, require tickets. One particular free event that you may want to check out is the MLS Digital HQ, which is open until 8pm this evening and until 4pm tomorrow. It’s been set up at 200 Peachtree Street. If you work downtown you can drop in on your lunchbreak or stay a bit late after work and have some fun while you wait for the traffic to clear (yeah, right).
Another opportunity if you have a game ticket is to make a fool of yourself behind the Univision pre-game show desk (La Barra MLS). However, you can leave your #WengerOut banner at home.
As to the game itself, well, there are in fact three games.
Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Match
This is the fifth edition of this game, and is being played at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground, with kick off set for 6pm ET. It will immediately precede the MLS Homegrown Game and tickets are good for admission to both games. The game uses a traditional conference v. conference format, and the Eastern Conference team features two Atlanta players: Julian Butler and Michael Mastrangelo.
Also, Atlanta United players will be serving as celebrity coaches for both conferences, and announcers for the game will be Bobby Warshaw and David Gass of mlssoccer.com, so there will be plenty of opportunity to throw shade without directing any at the players.
TV: available via stream at MLS YouTube or ESPN3
The MLS Homegrown Game
Also in its fifth year, the MLS Homegrown game features, obviously enough, a squad composed entirely of Homegrown Players from the various MLS rosters. The first game in 2014 was played against the Portland Timbers U-23s, but since then all games have been against Mexican U-20 opponents, including the national team in 2015. As part of the new partnership with Liga MX, the game will continue to be played against a Mexican club U-20 team for the foreseeable future. This year’s opponent is Tigres UANL.
In a break with tradition, the MLS coach will be Atlanta United’s own Academy director Tony Annan (the 2017 team was coached by Brian McBride and Mike Magee, the 2016 team by Landon Donovan). His roster can be found here. It includes several recognizable names, not least among which are United’s own Andrew Carleton and Lagos Kunga. The Tigres roster is here. It features one American, Hector Montalvo.
TV: Univision Deportes and via stream on Twitter. Kick off at 8:30pm ET.
The MLS All-Star Game
This year’s game will for the 14th time be played against a team from a European league, and for the second time against an Italian Serie A team (the previous team was Roma in 2013). The All-Stars are currently7-6 in these games, with two of the losses in penalty shootouts, but have lost two straight. However, with the above-mentioned Liga MX partnership, the current format may be coming to an end, with future All-Star Games to be played against Liga MX All-Stars.
The MLS All-Star Team
Traditionally, the MLS All-Stars are coached by the head coach of the local MLS team, and so our own Tata Martino will be leading this year’s squad. The squad is composed of 26 players. Eleven are selected by fan voting, 2 by the league commissioner and the remaining 13 are picked by the head coach. This year’s squad is as follows:
Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto)
Josef Martinez (Atlanta)*
Darwin Quintero (Minnesota)
Carlos Vela (LAFC, captain) *
Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB)**
Miguel Almiron (Atlanta)*
Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta)*
Alphonso Davies (Vancouver)**
Tyler Adams (NYRB)
Jonathan Dos Santos LA Galaxy)
Alberth Elis (Houston)
Ignacio Piatti (Montreal)
Alexander Ring (NYCFC)
Ilie Sanchez (Kansas City)
Diego Valeri (Portland)*
Yoshimar Yotun (Orlando)
Wilfried Zahibo (New England)
Francisco Calvo (Minnesota)
Laurent Ciman (LAFC)*
Matt Hedges (Dallas)
Aaron Long (NYRB)
Michael Murillo (NYRB)
Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta)*
Graham Zusi (Kansas City)*
Brad Guzan (Atlanta)*
Zack Steffen (Columbus)
* Fan XI
** Commissioner’s Pick
The alert among you will have noted that there are only 9 fan picks, not 11, and that the Atlanta contingent is only 5, not 6. That’s because there have been 3 roster changes. Darlington Nagbe had to withdraw a while back due to injury (he was replaced by Sanchez). David Villa also dropped out Monday due to injury (although he has been injured for some time) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulled out apparently due to fatigue (he has played 3 games in 11 days). They are being replaced by Quintero and Adams (all three replacements are the coach’s choices). Amazingly, MLS assesses a one game suspension for such withdrawals, but since Villa and Nagbe are injured anyway that’s no big deal and Zlatan will be missing a game against Colorado so that’s not much of a penalty in his case either.
A few interesting points here: first is that Atlanta plays Toronto on Saturday. So if Tata has any sense, Sebastian Giovinco will play the full 90 (out of respect for Seba’s old club, of course). Second, among Tata’s personal picks is Calvo, the Rodney Dangerfield of MLS. Third, the captain was picked by fan voting and Vela’s win is probably the first time Atlanta fans have failed to sufficiently stuff the ballot box (our candidate was Parky). Fourth, only 16 of MLS’ 23 teams are represented. Missing are Chicago, Colorado, D.C., Philadelphia, Salt Lake, San Jose and, surprisingly, Seattle.
Now, given what happened to Garza last year in just two minutes of play, if any of our team see more than nominal minutes on the field there will probably be riots.
For the second straight year, a club with Cristiano Ronaldo on its roster comes visiting without that worthy. Considering he has a rather large tax bill to pay, you’d think he’d want all the income he can get. Apparently not, but even so, MLS will be facing a very strong team.
Juventus hail from Turin, a city that is best known for making cars that are either dangerously fast or dangerously small. They are the most decorated club in Italian soccer and are currently on a 7-year Serie A championship run as well as a 4-year Coppa Italia championship run. Both those streaks are Italian records. They reached the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2017, losing to last year’s All-Star opponent Real Madrid, and lost again to Real Madrid in the 2018 quarter finals. That last loss was on the basis of a controversial last minute penalty kick taken by a certain #7. After all that it’s no wonder Juve wanted Ronaldo.
Juve are coached by Massimiliano Allegri, who has been at the helm since 2014, having previously managed AC Milan. His managerial style is to use fluid formations. It is not uncommon to see the team employ some combination of the 3-5-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 and 5-4-1 in one game depending on the state of play.
The team is currently touring the US participating in the annual International Champions Cup. To date they played Bayern Munich in Philadelphia last Wednesday (winning 2-0) and Benfica in New York on Saturday (tying 1-1 but winning 4-2 on PKs). The tour roster includes 17 players from the first team and 10 others, mostly from the U-20 team (which is appropriate since the team’s name means “youth”):
Mattia Del Favero *
Matteo De Sciglio
Pietro Beruatto *
Leandro Fernandes *
Mattheus Pereira da Silva *
Alessandro Di Pardo *
Nicolo Fagioli *
Roman Macek *
Grigoris Kastanos *
Luca Clemenza *
Stefano Beltrame *
* Not first team player
Notable absences from the tour other than Ronaldo are Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi.
Lastly, this game is shaping up to be the highest attended MLS All-Star Game ever. Shocker. But more than that, it will likely end up the third or possibly the second highest attended all-star game in any sport. The record is a whopping 108, 713 for the 2010 NBA All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium. Second place is currently held by the 1958 NFL Pro Bowl which had 72,750.
TV: ESPN, kick off at 7:30pm ET