I’ll be honest, I was worried for the 2021 MLS All-Star Game in the lead-up to the week. Not only is Los Angeles still doing its best to overcome new variants of COVID. Not only is the hosting team having its worse season in club history, but just days before the festivities were to begin, it was announced the two biggest stars, in addition to several others, wouldn't be playing.
In the end though, the MLS did what it does best, persevere. Despite everything seemingly going against them, through will and sheer chaos. After Liga MX won a competitive, and surprisingly fun Skills Challenge the night previous, all eyes were on the ‘main event’ on Wednesday. It did not disappoint.
Liga MX All-Star Jonathan Rodriguez continued his incredible week. After nailing the winning shot in the crossbar challenge the night before, he got the opening goal of the match to give Liga MX the early lead. They would keep the lead going into the halftime break.
MLS eventually got their equalizer in the second half. The 3252 made an appearance early in the second half, as their voices filled The Banc. Their calls and chants would be answered, as if summoned by pure energy, as LAFC’s own, defender Jesús Murillo, climbed the ladder to get his head on a well placed corner kick into the box. After letting the crowd know whose house they were in, he decided to grace us with a dance. Momentum had shifted.
It was around this time MLS All-Stars head coach Bob Bradley brought out his brick wall, New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner. The U.S. International has enjoyed an incredible summer, and the hype train wasn't about to stop in Los Angeles. While he put together some nice saves to keep the match level, it was his play in the penalty shootout that left mouths opened and minds blown.
In the end, it was the teenage sensation that sealed the deal for the MLS. 18-year-old FC Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi was the talk for much of the night as his international decision was once again top news. Amidst the apparent confirmation that the youngster would be among the USMNT team set for World Cup Qualifiers, he calmly stepped up to the spot at The Banc with the entire crowd hanging on his every move, and netted the winner.
The moment capped off an incredible few days in Los Angeles as the center of the MLS universe. From The 3252 making their presence felt, an LAFC player getting a goal, and that winning feeling back at The Banc, perhaps this is just what the team needs heading into Saturday, when it really matters.
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