The budding rivalry between the best players in Major League Soccer and Liga MX has raised the level of intensity for the annual MLS All-Star Game, says Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman.
On Wednesday, MLS’s best will face a team of Mexico’s elite All Stars for the second time in a battle between North America’s two top leagues. The MLS All-Stars won the inaugural edition last year in a penalty shootout after regulation time ended in a 1-1 draw.
Zimmerman said last year’s game had a different feel than previous years in which the MLS All-Stars played against a top team from Europe or in an East vs. West intra-league format.
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“We played Atletico Madrid in Orlando in 2019, and it was competitive – you want to prove you can play at a high level,” Zimmerman said before the game in Saint Paul, Minnesota (watch live on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. ET). “But the competitiveness on the pitch last year in Los Angeles against Liga MX was definitely a new step in terms of competition.”
The year-end game marked the start of a new format in an event that has evolved since the league’s launch in 1996. The game originally pitted teams from the Eastern and Western Conference against each other. An all-American team faced a team of international MLS players in 1998. From 2005 to 2019, the MLS All-Stars faced a guest club team from one of Europe’s top leagues.
But the current format reflects the direction both leagues are heading. From 2023, MLS and Liga MX will reintroduce a joint competition called the League Cup, this time with all 47 clubs from the competing leagues and the two domestic leagues taking a break for the event.
The change in format – and the convergence of the two leagues playing regular competitive matches – coincides with MLS’ continued success against its rival league to the south. Seattle Sounders FC won the last CONCACAF Champions League this year and MLS sides have won all four Campeones Cup games against Liga MX since 2018.
« I think being from Europe and coming here 13 years ago, I’ve been outside and watched it, I think it’s the closest MLS has ever come to the Liga MX,” said US All-Star coach Adrian Heath. “I think 13 years ago when I arrived, the gap was quite big but it has been continuously closing, and closing with the investment that clubs have put into their clubs in the United States. United »
LA Galaxy striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is one of several MLS All-Stars with experience in Liga MX, having started out at Chivas before pursuing careers in Europe at Manchester United and Real Madrid, among others.
“Storytelling is always about wondering what [league] is better and how they are doing. They get compared to each other a lot,” Hernandez said. “No matter which league is doing better, Liga MX will have to learn and use a lot of things that MLS does well.
“Also, MLS sees all the qualities of Liga MX and some of them have been added. They must learn from each other. But yeah, we’re going to go there on Wednesday and try to win. »
The game also offers a chance to see some players who could play at the World Cup in Qatar later this year. On the Liga MX side, Cruz Azul’s Uriel Antuna and Chivas’ Alexis Vega are both expected to make the Mexican roster.
MLS players, including FC Dallas’ Zimmerman and Jesus Ferreira, could make the USA squad.
And there is also a crossover. Galaxy’s Julian Araujo is an MLS star player who could play for Mexico in Qatar.
But just because there are ever-growing ties between the two leagues, the MLS All-Star Game won’t necessarily be an exhibition.
« It’s a competitive atmosphere, » Zimmerman said. « The game is not something you see in a typical All-Star game, whether it’s NBA or baseball, it’s very competitive. »
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this article.