Major League Soccer moved another step closer to Concacaf rivals, Liga MX, on Wednesday night with a 2-1 win in the 2022 MLS All-Star Game at St. Paul, Minnesota’s Allianz Field.
Liga MX side came in looking for redemption after losing last year’s matchup in penalties, and losing Tuesday’s Skills Challenge 3-2. All-Star head coach Diego Cocca (Atlas) kept his side competitive through 90 minutes but, ironically, the Liga MX stars had to chase a goal by a Mexican international for more than 80 minutes.
Adrian Heath had a tough decision to make in selecting his starting lineup, but put MLS’s best foot forward with a 4-3-3 led by Carlos Vela, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and Jordan Morris. It paid off immediately. MLS took a 1-0 lead in the 3rd minute when Vela got on the end of a ball from his LAFC teammate Diego Palacios. Vela’s header was the fastest goal scored by MLS in international competition.
Heath, after seeing a trio of LAFC and L.A. Galaxy players on the pitch with his own Emanual Reynoso, was full of praise for Vela, Palacios, and Chicharito, and joked to an L.A. reporter that, “You can leave them here if you want.”
The Loons’ gaffer continued: “No, obviously, quality players, quality people. You know they come in they really mixed in with the rest of the group and that their career is there for all to see. Absolutely quality, great golden cross from the left hand side because he’s [Palacios] got at the back also. They’ve been, as I say, I can’t speak highly enough with (sic) their professionalism.”
The best opportunity for Liga MX came in the 21st minute when Cruz Azul’s Juan Escobar rushed into the box and attempted to cut a ball past Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union). Blake stopped the shot as the advertising boards stopped Escobar’s slide over the end line.
MNUFC’s Emanuel Reynoso, who received a deafening welcome as the starters were announced, had some good touches and was involved in a few plays that nearly became scoring opportunities. Reynoso and Dayne St. Clair shared the pitch briefly when the keeper replaced Blake in the 33rd minute.
St. Clair secured the 1-0 lead (and the MVP trophy) going into halftime with a huge stop in the 44th minute. A cross from Escobar to the far post was headed in cleanly, but punched away by the keeper. Brayan Angulo attempted the rebound, but leftback Kamal Miller intervened. St. Clair made another save on the LMX corner, stopping a shot from Lisandro Lopez.
A few changes for MLS saw out the remaining third of the match. Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz doubled the home side’s lead from the penalty spot less than ten minutes into his shift.
Pachuca rightback Kevin Álvarez injected new life into the game in the 84th minute when he scored a stunner from outside of the box to finally put Liga MX on the board.
With five minutes of regulation to play, Cocca’s squad poured on the pressure to find the equalizer. NYCFC’s Sean Johnson had to make a few plays in front of his net to hold it off, but Mexico’s late chances were poorly finished. MLS held on to win 2-1.
The second consecutive win and the level of talent on the pitch showed how far MLS has come in comparison to Liga MX, Heath argued.
“I will say I’ve been in American for 13 years and this is the closest example. And I think if you had gone back 10 years, I think Liga MX, these type of games, I would have expected Liga MX to win. Every time the US plays Mexico now, I’m not sure who’s going to win again, that speaks volumes about the ownership groups for these clubs in the MLS and investing big sums of money to put the quality on that you’ve seen this evening. You know, as I was jokingly talking about it the other day, I had seven or eight midfielders to try and fit into a game because that’s the quality that we have. So would I say that they’ve overtaken [Liga MX]? Not really. Would I say it’s closer than ever? Yeah.”
As for Minnesota United FC, Dayne St. Clair’s MVP award and the presence of two players on the All-Star squad shows that the club can contend within the improving league. Following a rough week in league play, St. Clair reflected on the recognition:
“I don’t think - I think I always knew that I was capable of putting in performances in games at this stage. But I think the way that it’s happened, with the way the season’s started for me, it’s been accelerated and a bit of a roller coaster for sure. I mean, especially coming off of last weekend to have an event like this and do well and have this trophy has been a nice thing to take a step forward again.”
Heath, St. Clair, and Reynoso, will revisit their fellow All-Stars, Walker Zimmerman and Hany Mukhtar, this weekend at Nashville SC. MNUFC sits at fourth in the West with 35 points, just two points more than sixth place NSC. That match will kick off Sunday, August 14, at 8:00 p.m. CST.