Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA – Atlanta set another attendance record Wednesday night, this time for the MLS All Star Game, with an official total of 72,317. Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said via a translator he “was very pleasantly surprised for the entire climate and the entire impression that we got. You know it’s not easy to put 70,000 people in a stadium.” Nonetheless, Atlanta United has routinely filled Mercedes Benz Stadium and hold the top five most highly attended games in MLS history.
Comfortable in front of his home supporters, Josef Martinez scored for the MLS All Stars in the 26th minute, assisted by Nacho Piatti, to even the score with Juventus at 1-1. After a Martinez header initiated a scramble inside the 6-yard box, the ball ricocheted to Piatti who headed it laterally from left to right across the goalmouth, where Martinez sprinted in from the right to head in the tying goal just over two Juventus defenders.
As the only goal-scorer for the MLS All Stars on the night, Martinez won the game MVP award. Asked how it felt to score the goal in front of the home fans, Martinez said via a translator “I feel very happy. It was a very important game with a very important opponent. I feel thankful for this week and to the other players and their efforts today.”
After a week of festivities, the MLS All Stars faced off against perennial Series A champions Juventus Wednesday night in Atlanta. Noteworthy match production included synchronized wristbands of flashing lights for fans, fire cannons, waterfall fireworks from the halo board, and light displays on the field. The host city also put on an inspiring week of events beginning Saturday with the MLS Block Party at Historic Fourth Ward Park and culminating with the game at the juggernaut Mercedes Benz Stadium Wednesday night.
Noteworthy All Star Week events included the kick-off MLS All Star Concert featuring 2 Chainz and Cheat Codes, MLS All-Star Community Day celebrating opening new soccer play spaces around the city and country, Juventus and MLS All Stars open training, the Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star match, the MLS Homegrown Game vs Tigres UANL U-20s, the MLS Digital HQ including the MLS FIFA All-Star Challenge tournament, the Soccer Celebration, and, of course, the MLS All-Star Game.
MLS teams played last weekend, leaving little time to prepare for the challenging exhibition match. Martinez commented on the task faced: “There was a lot of pressure—beyond the fact that we had a very good opponent and we had to do well, it was an important game, especially at this caliber. We had never played together before, we only had 3 days to meet, but I think we looked good despite that.”
MLS All Star coach Tata Martino acknowledged devising tactics with the short timetable: “we know we have a responsibility to try and play in this game and not just contain and try to defend Juventus; this is a team of MLS All Stars, the best players in the league, chosen by the fans and by the coach, so we felt like we had a responsibility to really try and impose our own style on the game.” Indeed his team pressed high and counterattacked.
Separately he added “I think especially in the first half the team was able to get out on some really good counterattacks and take advantage of that and playing quickly to counter. Taking into account that we only had about two days together, I think everyone did an excellent job in the first half and in the second half.”
On the other side of the touchline, Juventus also played well, particularly defensively. Multiple scoring chances were cut off or saved by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny. Even the MLS All Star goal required multiple shot attempts in the same series.
Offensively Juventus broke through in the 21st minute when the team worked the ball across from right to left advancing forward through midfield. Ultimately Matheus Pereira served a cross in from the left wing to Andrea Favilli at the near post. Favilli out-jumped the defense and headed the ball across MLS All Star goalkeeper Brad Guzan and inside the far post to take an early lead. Both Brad Guzan and later Zack Steffen also saved multiple quality shots on goal, as did Szczesny for Juventus.
Full time ended with a 1-1 draw that took the match to penalty kicks. Both teams took quality shots from the spot. Only Bradley Wright-Phillips’s shot landed just an inch or two too wide, knocking off the left goalpost. Mattia De Sciglio stepped up and buried the final shot for Juventus who won on penalties.
Next up, Juventus will continue preseason preparation for the Serie A season which begins August 18th against Chievo. The All Star Game falls in the middle of the MLS season, so players selected have limited recovery time. All Star Game MVP Josef Martinez and Atlanta United face last year’s MLS Cup champions Toronto FC on Saturday. Said Josef, “the team trained yesterday. We’ve personally had some long days, Monday especially we had a lot of appearances, but we had fun. It was my first All Star game and I think we maximized it to the fullest.”