Bradley Wright-Phillips’ shot clanked off the left goal post. No good. You could feel what was about to follow. Mattia De Sciglio lined up, whipped the ball, and in the net it sank. Juventus players came sprinting off center line to celebrate their win. MLS players walked off the pitch with a third straight loss in the annual All-Star game, this time at the hands of famed Italian club Juventus, in penalty kicks.
Except, this one felt different. The score didn’t matter. Fans weren’t leaving the game hanging their head. In fact, most could be seen with boisterous attitudes and smiles as they hustled towards the crowded exit. 72,317 faces of all different colors and backgrounds packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, not for the Falcons or SEC Championship but for soccer. Over 100 media members filled Atlanta United’s tiny locker room after the game to talk about the real fútbol taking over this city.
The most authentic sign of Wednesday night’s impact could be seen on Manager Tata Martino’s face, standing at the back of the press conference room with his translator Justin. He wasn’t angry or upset his team lost, but instead carried a giant grin. Martino hates losing, but it makes sense. His club brought five players to represent the MLS. Arguably his best player scored a goal against one of the most historic clubs in the world. Lastly and possibly most important, everyone finished the match without any injuries.
Wednesday night was the perfect opportunity for the rest of the world to see that Atlanta may be new to this soccer thing, but this city is here to stay. Now when it comes to the actual match, the product matched the hype. Many wondered if Juventus and MLS All-Stars would put in maximum effort into a friendly contest. Those wonders were met with a start that felt like a playoff match.
MVP Josef Martinez began the game determined to be fast and physical. He seemed to be involved in every offensive possession in the first 15 minutes. However, Juventus attempted to assert their dominance through physicality. They would draw first blood in the 20’ off an Andrea Favilli header that keeper Brad Guzan had no shot at.
However, Josef Martinez would answer back six minutes later with his own header that pinballed around finally finding the net. Unfortunately for the MLS All-Star team, Martinez and Atlanta United have a very important match on Saturday thus requiring Martinez to be one of the ten substitutions allotted during the exhibition. The energy of both squads appeared to drop off after Martinez left the pitch, but the match remained entertaining.
Opportunities came and went, but neither side could find the separating goal needed for a win. Then came the moment of realization that this game would require one of soccer’s most exciting components, penalty kicks. The sequence that followed was intense, captivating, and completely meaningless. The dye had been cast. The city of Atlanta won the 2018 MLS All-Star game despite the final score.
By: Caleb Johnson