How wonderful is the MLS All Star skills contest

When it comes to presenting the elusive american model in European football some elements light years away from our culture are forgotten – or deliberately overlooked: not only the salary cap or the system of mobile franchises, but also a playful and purely spectacular conception of the sport – and therefore also of football – which absolutely does not belong to us. For example: would you see Messi, Ronaldo and Lewandowski competing in a volleyball match from outside the box? Or Verratti, De Bruyne and Modric vying for the title of best passer in European football in an individual challenge with huge goals scattered around the pitch? Here, events of this kind would make a European enthusiast smile wholeheartedly. In the United States, however, that is exactly how things are. Everything is normal. And very funny too.

These days, at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, the 25th edition of the MLS All Star is being held, that is, a series of events and football moments that will culminate (on the Italian night between August 25 and 26). in a challenge between two teams, one made up of the best players in the North American league and the other made up of the best players in the Mexican league. This new formula was launched for the 2020 edition and then skipped due to the pandemic, so it was brought up this year for the first time. Originally, that is, at the dawn of the MLS (founded in 1993, first edition in 1996), the game was very similar to the one organized by the NBA, that is, a selection of players from the two Conferences (East and West) competed ; from 2005 to 2018 it took place differently, with an All Star team from across the league taking on a European club in a friendly match over the summer – Roma and Juventus also attended the event, as well as West Ham, Chelsea, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid.

Let us return for a moment to the playful and purely spectacular conception of sport. In a typically American event such as an All Star Game, individual competitions borrowed from NBA All Star Weekend cannot be missed: in basketball, the best dribblers, the best passers, the best three-point shooters and the best attackers compete individually in These are pivotal and often these matches are of equal if not greater importance than the actual match, which closes out the weekend on Sunday night. And so Americans must have thought: why not do the same thing with soccer too? The first attempt dates back to the early years of MLS: before and after the All Star Game, there were “goalie wars” and soccer-tennis matches between players on the move. Then in 2001 this part of the program was abolished.

In 2019, these side events have been reinstated, under the name of the MLS All-Star Skills Challenge. Obviously there is a sponsor to support, in this case it is AT&T, a California telephone company. And tonight, after a year of forced hiatus, skill challenges are back. With a particular format: individual performances, but in reality they are for teams, on the one hand the MLS team, on the other the Liga MX team. The first game was focused on shots: the mirror of the goal was full of targets, and the players had to try to hit them by shooting from inside the area, a few centimeters from the penalty spot; the target that guaranteed the highest score (25 points) was obviously the one at the intersection of the posts. While the players were shooting, there were smoke machines and moving targets, obviously with the logo of the sponsoring company. Then there were the long and short passing races, with huge slides with targets and the inevitable smoke machines. Finally, the two most anticipated and spectacular races: cross with volley and then the so-called Crossbar Challenge (sponsored by Gillette), a challenge that rewarded the team capable of hitting the crossbar several times with shots from forty meters. The Liga MX players took it all thanks to the victory in the Crossbar Challenge, and they cheered like the teams that win the Italian Cup, not the World Cup or the European Championship, let’s not exaggerate.

Highlights of these unique moments

During the cross and volley competition, there was also a controversial moment: one of the Liga MX goalkeepers, Nahuel Guzmán, was injured while trying to intercept the shots of Ricardo Pepi, an 18-year-old Texan striker for FC Dallas. Actually, he smiled immediately after collapsing alone and requesting the intervention of the doctors, and in an instant everyone unmasked his feint: he simply wanted to block time and make his opponent nervous. Among the people who came to help him was also Jorge Campos, the former goalkeeper (but also forward) of the Mexican team. Referee Howard Webb – yes, himself – was not fooled, and in response handed the yellow and red cards to one of the MLS team’s players, Andre Blake. It was he who “expelled” Guzmán. The entire dramatic sequence is in this video, a true luxury for those who want to enjoy this incredible night of football a bit individually and a bit as a team. Even if they Los Angeles Times wrote that “these challenges were made especially for TV, they were two hours difficult to follow and they struggled to justify their existence”, we can say with certainty: everything we have seen will be engraved in our memory. And that’s why it was only fair that it also stayed in yours.

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