For anyone who’s been paying attention, the MLS All-Stars vs. European club format of the last decade has grown depressingly stale. It was kinda cool for a while but reached a nadir with a sad loss to Atlético Madrid in 2019. This year, MLS finally switched to a format people actually care at least a little about, and it was fun to enjoy the MLS All-Star Game once again.
The MLS All-Stars battled the Liga MX All-Stars in a first-ever showdown of the neighboring leagues’ top players. While it didn’t quite rise to the level of competition the FS1 announcers desperately wanted you to believe it was (stop trying to compare this to USA-Mexico), the match had just enough spice to keep things interesting, which is all you can ask for a match that kicked off at 9:30 p.m. ET.
In the end, Ricardo Pepi was the story on and off the pitch, drilling the final penalty kick to send the MLS All-Stars to a shootout victory 3-2 after a 1-1 draw in regulation. The perfect PK came hours after it was widely reported Pepi, an 18-year-old El Paso, Texas, native, would join the USMNT for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, picking the U.S. over Mexico.
18-YEAR-OLD RICARDO PEPI FOR THE WIN #MLSAllStar Game pres. by @Target pic.twitter.com/iAeES7qAyU— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 26, 2021
This wasn’t a typical all-star game in many respects; some of the biggest plays of the night were defensive and some of the biggest stars — namely Carlos Vela and Chicharito — did not play. But it was an entertaining match from the opening whistle.
Matt Turner continued his charmed summer with two saves in the shootout after helping the USMNT win the Gold Cup and it was an all-around fun experience to watch, which honestly I don’t think I could say about the last few MLS All-Star Games.
Does this mean MLS is better than Liga MX now? lol no, check back when MLS wins a few Concacaf Champions Leagues. But it does mean MLS is improving, and this all-star format must come back next year.
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MLS All-Star Game vs. Liga MX Highlights 2021
Diego Rossi looked to have put MLS on the board early when he beat Memo Ochoa with a chip only for Jorge Sánchez to swoop in with a goal-line clearance in the eight minute.
Shortly thereafter, the match was halted momentarily as fans yelled the homophobic chant.
Reigning Liga MX Jonathan Rodríguez, who had the winning crossbar kick in the skills challenge on Tuesday, opened the scoring with a stellar first touch to set up a low volley.
Late in the first half, Andre Blake showed why he’s been one of the best goalies in Concacaf for a while, denying Santiago Giménez one-on-one.
Pablo Aguilar made another great defensive play for Liga MX in the 52nd minute, but in doing so sent the ball out for a corner. On said corner, Eduard Atuesta teed up LAFC teammate Jesús Murillo to head home the equalizer.
Miles Robinson came up with a big defensive denial for MLS when the American made up for his compatriot’s mistake to block an effort from Alexis Vega.
With the teams tied 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes, the match immediately went to a penalty kick shootout. Neither side was all that great taking penalties, with a couple efforts way off target, including one from Nani.
Turner made two good saves in the shootout and Pepi scored the winner.
After the match, Pepi was asked on live TV if he’s going to be called into the USMNT on Thursday as reported, and the teenager shrugged it off and said we’ll wait to see what happens Thursday. Fans of both the U.S. and Mexico will wait to see if the reports are true, and I’ll be waiting for next year’s MLS All-Star Game for the first time in years.