MLS takes measure of Liga MX from 12-yard line

LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta (left) assisted on the MLS All-Stars' equalizer just after coming on to start the second half. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta (left) assisted on the MLS All-Stars' equalizer just after coming on to start the second half. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
Liga MX loses All-Star game
The MLS-Liga MX All-Star Game featured plenty of defense and not enough offense, according to some disenchanted fans. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The MLS All-Stars claimed the inaugural MLS-Liga MX Showdown in a penalty shoot-out when Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas) banged his spot kick off the underside off the crossbar to provide his team with a 3-2 triumph.

MLS keeper Matt Turner (New England Revolution) made two saves in the shootout (counterpart Nahuel Guzmán of the Tigres managed only one save). Erik Luna (Pumas) knocked his penalty shot well over the crossbar as only Rubens Sambueza (Toluca) and Luis Romo (Cruz Azul) converted for Liga MX.

The game itself was a rather choppy affair, just as you might expect in an exhibition game of this sort. In the first half, players on both sides appeared hesitant, unsure of where their mates might be, leading to some mechanical action-and-reaction on the part of both squads.

Post-game commentary complained about the lack of offensive flash-and-flair, evidently expecting the game to be akin to the NBA All-Star Game, with plenty of showmanship (and no defense). Meanwhile, others wondered what the game meant in the long run.

Liga  MX draws first blood

América’s Jorge Sánchez was the early hero for Liga MX as he cleared a Diego Rossi (LAFC) chip shot off the line. Rossi had gotten in alone on Memo Ochoa thanks to a deflection off César Montes (Monterrey). Sánchez’s overhead kick went right to Gustavo Bou (Revolution) at the left post, but Montes recovered quickly and blocked Bou’s shot from point blank range.

The erratic passing and poor spacing occasionally produced breakaways, but none proved real threatening through the first 45 minutes.

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Bou squandered a 1-on-1 with Pumas goalie Alfredo Talavera in minute 40 when his dribble got away from him and “Tala” scooped it up. The chance was created when Sánchez almost went from hero to goat, mis-hitting a header right into Bou’s path.

Team Liga MX repaid the gift seconds later when Cruz Azul forward Santi Giménez was sprung free by a pass from Diego Valdés (Santos Laguna). Santi was alone into the box but kept his dribble too long and goalie Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union) was able to take the ball off Santi’s foot with a sprawling effort.

Giménez almost made up for his mistake when he was the beneficiary of some nifty ball movement between Orbelín Pineda (Cruz Azul) and Fernando Gorriarán (Santos Laguna). The Cementeros forward freed himself up inside the box for a scything left-footer that just missed wide of the back post.

Liga MX took the lead in minute 20 when Sánchez sent a long cross from the right flank to Jonathan Rodríguez (Cruz Azul) at the back post. “Cabecita” chested the pass down to his feet, stepped inside LAFC defender Alex Roldán and slotted home from 10 meters.

MLS responds in face of steady Liga MX pressure

The second half provided some smoother play with Liga MX enjoying productive possessions but faltering at the final touch. The extended control came after the equalizer which came off a corner kick. LAFC teammates Eduard Atuesta curled a cross into the box and Jesús Murillo met it at the near post, his powerful header hurtling into the back of the net.

For about 15 minutes starting at the hour mark, Liga MX appeared to be on the verge of the go-ahead goal. Rubens Sambueza (Toluca), Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey) and Alexis Vega (Chivas) demonstrated some understanding in attack, with Luis Romo (Cruz Azul) and Juan Escobar (Cruz Azul) following up to maintain the pressure. But MLS kept its composure and absorbed the pressure.

After that, Liga MX appeared bored without the ball, allowing the opponents to steady themselves and make moves forward.

MLS responded with two solid chances late on, both coming as a result of solid build-up play. Despite getting touches in the box, the hosts could not get a shot on goal in either sequence.

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The ugly homophobic chant that has spoiled so many Team Mexico matches of late made an appearance early on at the Banc of California Stadium. In minute 10, ref Armando Villarreal was forced to stop the game. He summoned all the players to the center circle while an announcement was made warning against use of the “discriminatory phrase.”