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MLS to debut new skills challenge during 2019 all-star week in Orlando

Nani’s smooth passing and Wayne Rooney’s precision strikes will be put to the test

Orlando City forward Nani (17) looks to kick the ball against the Vancouver Whitecaps earlier this season at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

Nani’s smooth passing and Wayne Rooney’s precision strikes will be put to the test when Major League Soccer adds trick shot flavor to its all-star week for the first time.

MLS is unveiling a new skills challenge during all-star weekend later this month in Orlando, inviting fans to cheer on the game’s most gifted handlers as they battle for bragging rights.

The MLS Skills Challenge will be held at 8 p.m. ET July 30 at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Three teams composed of players from the MLS all-star team, Orlando City and Atlético Madrid will contend in three competitions involving creativity, precision and accuracy. Fans who purchase tickets to the event will be close to the pitch when the MLS and international stars face off.

The tests have been created by The F2 Freestylers duo of Jeremy Lynch and Billy Wingrove, two of the most well-known soccer freestylers. They’ve worked with many players across the world and hope to take advantage of all-star talent to put on a show.

“What I like about MLS and American sports in general is it’s not just about the game, it’s about the spectacle, making the event fun and enjoyable with your family and your friends, and I feel like this kind of event will bring that out,” Wingrove told Pro Soccer USA.

Orlando City’s Nani is the captain of his side and has invited midfielders Chris Mueller and Sebas Méndez to join his team. The MLS all-star team will consist of D.C. United’s Rooney, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Jonathan dos Santos. Jorge Resurrección Merodio, also known as Koke, will represent Atlético Madrid, alongside two more players who will be announced at a later date.

The challenges include touch and volley, which requires players to score on crosses using creativity; shooting, which will require players to hit targets in the goal; and passing, during which players will accumulate points for hitting moving and static targets ranging in difficulty.

“It’s an incredible achievement for us, an honor to be able to team up with MLS and run some of the best pros in MLS through skills challenges,” Wingrove said.  “I’m really looking forward to it. This kind of event has never been done before, so it’s totally new to us. It’s gonna be so fun.”

Fans who cannot watch the skills challenge live can participate on Twitch and Twitter streams, helping vote on a champion at the end of the competition.

“Skills are a core part of soccer culture and they are influencing a shift in the way fans around the world are consuming and playing our sport,” said Camilo Durana, MLS senior vice president of properties and events. “MLS is committed to delivering innovative content to fans everywhere.”

Skills challenge organizers expect highly competitive players to deliver must-see moments.

“It’s going to shut down the Internet, for sure,” Lynch said. “That’s what we’re coming to do. We always aim high and the names in MLS carry so much weight. When they take part in some of the activities that we have planned, it’s going to get shared everywhere. From our experience, that’s what we’re hoping for and aiming for and what we fully expect.”

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