ATLANTA – The 2018 MLS All-Star Game is shaping up to be one of the biggest in league history.
At the very least, league officials are expecting a record crowd for Wednesday’s match between the best players in MLS and Italian Serie A titans Juventus. MLS Vice President of Communications Dan Courtemanche said nearly 70,000 tickets have been sold.
The current attendance record is 70,728, which was set when the match was played in Houston.
MLS All-Star Week officially kicked off Monday afternoon with a press conference that featured representatives from the All-Star team and Juventus.
MLS coach Tata Martino took the bulk of questions from reporters, and although he said he was excited for the match in Atlanta United’s home stadium, he also looked toward when future iterations of the annual match could be played.
“In reality, I recognize it’s a little bit of challenge for all the coaches who have players participating,” Martino said through a translator. “Some of the players are coming from a week where they played three games. Others had a very long trip to get here, like Vancouver. I understand it’s a beautiful spectacle for the league and for the United States.
“I think what we’ll have to look at in the future having it at a different time because a lot of teams are at a very important place in their season, fighting for their positions. Some are fighting at the top of the league. Others are fighting to make the playoffs. So, we have to make sure the players are arriving here in good condition and also returning to their teams in good condition.”
The All-Star Game takes place Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Some MLS clubs played three matches over the course of last week – enough of a workload for the L.A. Galaxy to announce late Sunday night that Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović will not travel to Atlanta for the match.
Martino, also head coach of Atlanta United, said he’d like to see future All-Star games take place either before or after the season.
Still, Martino acknowledged the match is good for the growth of MLS.
“I think it’s very good for MLS,” he said. “That a team with such quality as Juventus comes to this event to participate. And then I understand it’s very important for the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia to be able to have this game.”
The coach wasn’t the only one to get hit with a question about the future of the All-Star Game and how it might change. Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan responded to a question about potentially changing the format of the All-Star game back to MLS East versus West, the way it was prior to adopting the current format, MLS All-Stars versus top foreign club, 15 years ago.
“The league has grown so much, ultimately in such a short amount of time, you could probably get away with an East versus West game and still have a fantastic game with a fantastic turnout,” Guzan said.
LAFC star Carlos Vela – voted captain of the MLS All-Stars – said it was an honor to be in Atlanta for the match.
“To be here means I’m having a good season and that individually things are going well,” Vela said. “As Tata said, we’re here to enjoy, but also here to win the game, because I think the fans deserve a show.
“It’s an honor because this is a team where the best players in the league have come together. It’s a great responsibility the fans have given me with this vote. Hopefully we can put forth a good performance, not just me, but the whole team.”
The game is part of Juventus’ preseason tour in the United States. Portuguese icon Cristiano Ronaldo — who recently signed with Juventus — will not be a part of the Italian juggernaut’s lineup Wednesday. Juventus is coming off its seventh consecutive Serie A title.
“We are sorry as well not to have the [Paulo] Dybala, [Juan] Cuadrado, [Gonzalo] Higuían as well,” Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri said through a translator. “Unfortunately, they played for the World Cup and they needed some days to rest.”
The visitors are excited for a chance to pit themselves against the MLS All-Stars.
“It’s an amazing match for us,” said Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini. “… We would like to see — to live an amazing night.”