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MLS All-Stars fall to Juventus on penalty kicks in front of record crowd

Juventus players celebrate after defeating the MLS during the 2018 MLS All Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA — The largest announced crowd in MLS All-Star Game history got its money’s worth.

An audience of 72,317 came to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday to watch the best in MLS take on Italian Serie A juggernaut Juventus and, for the second season in a row, 90 minutes weren’t enough to decide the match.

The All-Stars and Juventus played to a 1-1 draw and Juventus won the match 5-3 on penalty kicks. The two sides matched each other shot for shot during the shootout until New York Red Bulls star Bradley Wright-Phillips dinged his attempt off the post.

Juventus full-back Mattia De Sciglio converted his try to seal the match.

“Everything I have to say is positive,” All-Star coach Tata Martino said through a translator after the match. “The league and Atlanta put on this show together. They were able to show off our beautiful stadium and the amazing crowd we have in Atlanta. I think it was a positive sign for Atlanta as a city and also for the league.”

The attendance record eclipsed the old one of 70,728, which was set during the 2010 game played in Houston.

Juventus opened the scoring in the 21st minute. Midfielder Matheus Pereira sent in a cross for forward Andrea Favilli, who beat Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a header into the lower left corner.

The Italian giants’ lead didn’t hold up for long.

Five minutes later, Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez did what he does best in his home stadium. After initial shot from LAFC midfielder Carlos Vela was saved, there was a scramble in front of the Juventus goal. Martinez took advantage and pounced, squeezing in a header from close range and tying the match at a goal apiece.

Martinez, whose family was in attendance, was named MVP of the match. In league play, Martinez is on pace to shatter the single-season goals record. He has 24 goals in 23 starts for the Five Stripes this season.

“We only had three days to learn about each other,” Martinez said. “Obviously I would have liked to have a bit more time, but I enjoyed it. I think we deserved a little bit more. We wanted to win, but we’ll see… until next year’s All-Star Game.”

The level score held through the rest of an electric first half. The two teams combined for 12 shots, seven of which were on target and nearly split possession down the middle (50.8 percent for the MLS All-Stars).

That excitement didn’t carry into the early part of the second half. Both teams had chances, but the action slowed down considerably before the 80th minute of the match.

Things picked up after Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen survived a one-on-one and saved a shot with his foot in the 80th minute, but neither side could take advantage of increased momentum and find a match-winner.

The MLS All-Stars put four shots on target in the second half and finished the match with 16 total shots. Juventus had 17 total shots, 11 in the second half, though only two were on target over the final 45 minutes. 

Martino made liberal use of his substitutions. He brought on four players at once in the first half, switched out players during halftime, then brought on six more players – including Orlando City midfielder Yoshi Yotún – in the second half.

Yotún was one of three MLS players who converted a penalty kick in the shootout.

“I was very calm when taking the penalty,” he said through a translator. “I knew I was going to score, honestly. That walk from midfield to the spot is always very long, but I was confident I was going score.”

Yotún had a chance to put the MLS All-Stars ahead in the 90th minute, but his free kick, which was taken from just outside the penalty area, went barely over the crossbar.

 “It was great to play with the best players in the league and it showed the great talent that this league has.”

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