The 23rd MLS All-Star Game Presented by Target was hosted at Exploria Stadium, home venue for Orlando City FC and the Orlando Pride of the NWSL. This was the second time Orlando has hosted the game, with the first time being at Camping World Stadium in 1998.
The MLS All-Star Game is really the final event in a week of activities celebrating soccer. Earlier in the week, ESPN’s Wide World of Sports hosted a number of events including the MLS Homegrown Game featuring young players from the USA and Canada, a Special Olympics game, as well as the popular MLS All-Star Skills Challenge. The eMLS tournament was held at MLS Digital HQ.
The MLS All-Star Skills Challenge featured three teams representing the MLS All-Stars, Atlético Madrid and hometown Orlando City FC, with the headliner for the show being DC United’s Wayne Rooney, who after the weekend left the MLS for Derby County in England. In addition, the event featured celebrity judges including former Orlando City star Kaka, former US Soccer star Alexi Lalas, NFL star Chad Johnson and recently crowned FIFA World Cup champion Alex Morgan. The teams would be tested on three competitions: Shooting, Touch and Volley, and Passing. In the Shooting event, Atlético took the early 1-point advantage over Orlando City. In the Touch and Volley contest, Orlando won with an amazing scissor kick by Chris Mueller to take a commanding 32-point lead over the Spaniards. In the final competition Atlético scored the most points but it wasn’t enough to top Orlando City, who won when their All-Star Nani hit the target at the last second. With the win, the hometown side was able to designate their $25,000 prize to the Orlando City Foundation.
The following evening, the festivities finally turned to the MLS All-Star game where the All-Stars faced European powerhouse Atlético Madrid. The game featured all of the best players from across the league, but the biggest ovations were reserved for the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Orlando City’s own Nani. It was the 14th matchup of the MLS All-Stars against a European team.
The first half saw Atlético Madrid team with the better chances, which ultimately resulted in a goal right before the half to take the lead. The Spanish team continued to dominate play in the second half, scoring two more goals to shut out the All-Stars 3-0. Atlético was just too much for the MLS squad.
While the result was disappointing for the MLS All-Stars, it can create lifelong memories for its participants, as former U.S. Men’s National team member, and multiple time All-Star, Cobi Jones noted. When asked his favorite memory from all of his MLS All Star appearances, he said he enjoyed “the time spent in the locker room on the same team with guys that I played against my whole career. When you are on the field you have this certain animosity, you don’t know them very well except as the enemy on the other team. But when you’re in the locker room and joking around a bit, it’s like a mini national team situation and you get to know the guys better.” Despite the loss, the camaraderie was evident in the MLS locker room after the game as they exchanged hugs and autographed each other’s locker room nameplates as a keepsake.
In the end the MLS All-Star Game capped off a week of fun festivities in Orlando celebrating the “beautiful game,” bringing together the best players in the MLS and history of world soccer.