MLS All-Stars Face Juventus in Atlanta

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(WFI) A soccer match between an all-star team of Major League Soccer (MLS) players and Italian champions Juventus will be a chance to showcase one of the league’s biggest success stories.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is hosting the MLS All-Star Game (Atlanta United)
Wednesday’s game will be played before an expected sellout crowd of more than 72,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of Atlanta United, an expansion team that has taken the league by storm since it began play last season.

The team made the MLS playoffs in its first year, finishing with 55 points, tied for third most in the league. This season, they lead the league in points with 47 with 11 games still to be played.

The success on the field has translated to record numbers of people attending Atlanta United games. The club broke the MLS record with an average attendance of 48,200 in its inaugural season. That was more than double the attendance of all but three teams in the 22-team league. This season, the average is up to nearly 52,000 through the first 12 home games.

The numbers would certainly be higher if the club opted to open the entire 72,035 seat stadium for more games. More than 70,000 people have shown up for every regular-season match in which the upper deck has been open.

So far, Atlanta United executives have opted to close off the top tier of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for most games, limiting attendance to around 42,500.

Almost all of the games have been played with the retractable roof closed, helping to increase the already high noise levels generated by the boisterous crowds. Players from both the home side and visiting teams say they give Atlanta United a definite home advantage.

Josef Martinez leads MLS in goals scored (@JosefMartinez17/Twitter)
“I heard a lot of talk before they came into the league about how it was going to be,” New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said to reporters on Tuesday. “I wasn’t sure, but playing here and watching them on TV, the support these players have is amazing.”

The great majority of MLS teams play in soccer-specific stadiums with capacities between 18,000 and 25,000. Atlanta United shares Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. The stadium, which cost $1.5 billion, opened last year and is expected to be one of the main venues for the 2026 World Cup, which will have 60 of the 80 games played in the U.S. The other 20 will be split evenly between Canada and Mexico.

Five Atlanta United players are a part of the MLS all-star squad, including Venezuela striker Josef Martinez, who has scored 24 goals in 23 games this season. He needs three more in his final 11 games to break the league record. The MLS team is coached by Atlanta United boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino, whose resume includes stops at Barcelona and his native Argentina’s national team.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who ranks second in the league with 15 goals for the LA Galaxy, will not be in Atlanta. The 36-year-old Swede declined the invitation after playing three league games in a nine-day span. He has also shown an aversion to playing on artificial surfaces like the one at Mercedes-Benz Stadium since coming to MLS. As punishment, MLS rules dictate he will have to sit out the Galaxy’s next match against Colorado on Saturday.

The all-stars will be facing a Juventus club minus most of its top players as it prepares to begin the chase for an eighth straight Serie A title on August 19. Among the missing on the Old Lady’s preseason tour of the United States is Cristiano Ronaldo, who is resting after the World Cup following his transfer from Real Madrid earlier this summer.

By INSIDER Gerard Farek

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