MLS All-Star Game Preview: Can MLS knock off Juventus?
The Major League Soccer All-Star Game doesn’t generate as much nationwide interest as the MLB or NBA versions, but it’s still an interesting idea. For years, the American top flight has pitted a collection of top MLS talent against one of the European powerhouse sides. While this is pretty clearly an embarrassing indictment on the overall quality of the MLS product, it is what it is. The All-Star Game is supposed to make money, so what better way to do that and generate interest than by inviting Europe’s top talent across the pond? This format has been in place since 2005 when the MLS All-Stars toppled Premier League side Fulham 4-1.
Last year, the MLS All-Stars played European champions Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw before Los Blancos prevailed 4-2 on penalties. The last time the MLS side prevailed in this game was in 2015 when they beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Bayern Munich are some of the most noteworthy sides to have taken on MLS in recent years.
Now it’s Juventus’ turn. The 7-time defending Serie A champions will meet an MLS squad on Wednesday night at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home of Atlanta United.
Unfortunately, the game will be missing 2 of the biggest stars on the planet. Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to participate in any preseason match since joining Juventus from Real Madrid last month as he continues to ramp-up his preparations ahead of the upcoming campaign. Meanwhile, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, fresh off of his first MLS hat trick with Los Angeles Galaxy, pulled his name from consideration for the game, citing fatigue. NYCFC star David Villa has also declined to participate. Ibrahimovic and Villa were replaced by New York Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams and Minnesota United’s Darwin Quintero.
While it is certainly a bummer that the game will be without said superstars, there will still be no shortage of talent on the pitch. Perhaps the most exciting player on the MLS side will be Vancouver Whitecaps phenom Alphonso Davies. Davies has risen to stardom as a teenager with Vancouver, and the youngster recently signed a deal to join Bayern Munich in Germany. The Canadian international will join the Bundesliga giants officially in January of 2019 after the conclusion of the MLS campaign.
Also set to feature on the MLS side will be LAFC and Mexico international Carlos Vela. He’ll be captaining the MLS squad that features hometown hero Josef Martinez of Atlanta United, who has already bagged a league-leading 24 goals on the season. New York Red Bulls legend Bradley Wright-Phillips, who ranks third with 13 goals, will also be here. as will Montreal Impact striker Ignacio Piatti.
Fans of the U.S. Men’s National Team will also get to see Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan as well as fellow USMNT alum Graham Zusi. Portland’s Darlington Nagbe was unfortunately forced to bow out of the game thanks to a back injury. Still, there are 5 players on the MLS roster that competed in this summer’s World Cup in Russia, so it’s arguably the strongest MLS side ever assembled.
It will be interesting to see what kind of lineup we get from Juve here. We know Ronaldo is out, but the roster for this game does feature 17 players from the first team in addition to 10 others that primarily play for the U-20s. There will be plenty of familiar names in the side, so the MLS group will actually be squaring off with a fairly strong squad from the Italian champions.
Newcomer and former Liverpool central midfielder Emre Can is here, as are goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro, midfielders Sami Khedira and Joao Cancelo. Federico Bernardeschi is the most noteworthy name leading the line.
Notable absences in addition to Ronaldo are Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in addition to France World Cup champion Blaise Matuidi. Juventus will be the second Italian side to participate in this event after Roma beat the MLS 3-1 at Children’s Mercy Park in 2013. The MLS are 7-4-2 all-time since the league switched to this All-Star format about a decade-and-a-half ago.
This is also going to be the most highly-attended MLS All-Star Game ever, by a wide margin. Atlanta leads MLS is attendance on the season, and you can bet they’ll be coming out in droves in support of their hometown players.
Juve are somewhat surprisingly heavily favored here. While they do obviously boast plenty of talent in the side, this is still a preseason fixture for them. Coach Massimiliano Allegri is likely to shuffle his lineup quite a bit, and we could see an entirely new side come on at the half. Considering they are not operating at full strength and don’t have much impetus to put forth maximum effort here, I think the clear play is to take MLS here.
With the massive crowd in support, I like MLS to win this game outright at +260 on the moneyline. Considering I like them to win, I would obviously also take the MLS at +0.5 against the spread. I don’t think the talent gap between the sides is large at all, and I feel like the MLS players will be more driven to prove a point here. Give me the MLS All-Stars.
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