ATLANTA – Josef Martinez thrilled another record crowd in Atlanta by scoring in the Major League Soccer All-Star Game, but Italian powerhouse Juventus prevailed on penalty kicks after the match ended in a 1-1 draw Wednesday night.
Juventus scored on all five of its penalties before 72,317, winning when Mattia De Sciglio drilled one into the upper left corner past Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen. The MLS scored on its first three penalties, but Bradley Wright-Phillips of New York Red Bulls left the door open in the fourth round when he slammed his shot off the post.
It was the second straight year that the All-Star Game ended in a 1-1 draw and was decided by penalties. In 2017, Real Madrid prevailed over the MLS squad 4-2 at Chicago’s Soldier Field
This game was a showcase for Atlanta United and $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium , where record crowds have flocked since the club joined MLS in 2017. The team is averaging nearly 52,000 per game this season and already has drawn five largest single-game league crowds in MLS history – each more than 70,000.
Add another mark to the ever-growing list. It was the largest turnout in the history of the MLS All-Star Game, surpassing the crowd of 70,728 for the 2010 match in Houston.
Juventus, which is playing four games on its American tour, didn’t bring along its prized acquisition of the offseason – five-time FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo . He remained at home to rest and train after Portugal’s elimination from the World Cup and his pricey transfer from Real Madrid.
The MLS team also was missing one of its biggest names.
LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic skipped the exhibition match rather than make a cross-country trip to Atlanta. The 36-year-old Swede cited the grind of playing three matches in a nine-day span, including last Sunday night’s 4-3 victory over Orlando City in which he scored his first MLS hat trick.
Ibrahimovic, who played with Juventus from 2004-06, ranks second in MLS with 15 goals.
But the MLS did have Martinez, the scoring machine for Atlanta United. Fittingly enough, he netted the only goal for the MLS stars.
Juventus jumped ahead in the 21st minute. Giving the Italians far too much room to develop the play, the MLS back line allowed Matheus Pereira to go unchallenged as he curled a left-footed pass in front of the goal. Andrea Favilli flicked it past Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan with a nifty header.
The lead didn’t last long. Five minutes later, Martinez sent the Atlanta fans into a frenzy with a goal of pure persistence.
Minnesota’s Francisco Calvo got off a blistering shot in front of the net, which was brilliantly swatted away by keeper Wojciech Szczesny with a leaping save. The rebound ricocheted to the side of the net, where Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti attempted to head it in from a tough angle. The ball bounced along the line, all the way to the other side of the net, where Martinez got a head on it – just enough to slide it into the net while Juventus defender Alex Sandro flailed at it helplessly with his feet while sprawled on his back.
As fireworks went off behind the goal, Martinez posed in front of the stands with his arms crossed – a familiar stance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2018. With 24 goals already in just 23 league games, the Venezuelan is on pace to easily eclipse the MLS scoring record of 27 goals and has essentially been conceded the Golden Boot with a third of the season still remaining.