On August 2, the Major League Soccer All-Stars played one of the world’s best teams, Real Madrid, at Soldier Field in Chicago. Each team heard boos, claps, whistles, and cheers from the diehard fans in attendance.
At halftime the score was 0–0, but in the 58th minute, Borja Mayoral had nice pass from Dani Ceballos for Real Madrid’s first goal to take the lead 1–0.
With about four minutes remaining, and the game looking pretty much over, the All-Stars had a beautiful corner kick right in the box, but nobody could convert the goal. Then Dom Dwyer scored on a header.
The game was tied, and it stayed that way until the end of regulation. Then it was time for penalty kicks, a crowd favorite! Real Madrid won 4–2 in a shootout.
Before the game, MLS commissioner Don Garber held a press conference, during which he discussed the league’s push to be considered among the best in the United States.
“It’s everything that we need to do to get kids to believe in our league,” he said. “I am excited to be a part of the investment our teams make to have more kids at the U14, U13, U12 level, and getting the experience to potentially become an MLS player. Also, when kids leave practice or [are] playing in the courtyard, we want them to be wearing an MLS [uniform]. So we want young kids playing the game and wanting to go to the MLS when they are older.”
I asked several kids what type of soccer fan they are: an early riser for European league games, or a dinner-in-front-of-the-television diehard MLS fan.
Some kids said they stay up until 1 a.m. to watch the late MLS games, while others wake up at 1:00 a.m. to watch European league games. Favorite teams ranged from the Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Tottenham, and Atletico Madrid.
And the kids I interviewed wanted to grow up and be just like their favorite players, a list that included Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Clint Dempsey, Antoine Griezmann, Neymar, Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Accam, and Christian Eriksen.
Following the game, I interviewed several of the MLS All-Stars. When asked what kids should do when faced with the decision of whether or not to keep playing, Kellyn Acosta of FC Dallas said, “If you really love the game you should continue pushing and continue working hard. There are times when the going gets rough, but you have to continue with it. There will be obstacles in the way, but everything happens for a reason.”
Tim Howard of the Colorado Rapids is an idol for many kids who love soccer, especially goalkeepers. He shared a favorite childhood soccer memory: “I was very fortunate to play on very good youth teams. And there was one team in New Jersey when I was 13, and we won the state championship, which was like our World Cup. I will always remember that.”
Dwyer, who plays for Orlando City SC, saved the game for the All-Stars with his header. He explained how important it was to have fun in this game and any other soccer game.
“It is always the most important thing—you see a lot of guys having fun and smiling. Soccer is a game that you play and enjoy it.”
Stefan Frei of the Seattle Sounders was the second goalkeeper on the team and made some big saves near the end of the game. What people don’t know is that he might’ve not even been able to play professionally. He shared advice to help children in the same situation.
“Dream big, work hard, and anything can be possible,” he said. “I was in college, and I came to Chicago and I met this guy”—he gestured toward Howard—“and my mom took a picture of us, and he signed it DREAM BIG.”
Photographs by (from top) Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images; Charlie Olesker