For about three minutes it seemed like the Major League Soccer All-Stars were going to put up a fight at Audi Field. Hany Mukhtar, Denis Bouanga and Luciano Acosta were on the doorstep and trying to put some pressure on Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Then Jorginho found some space and fed Bukayo Saka a perfect ball up the right wing. Saka fought off Álvaro Barreal and Walker Zimmerman, and then Gabriel Jesus hit a delicate chip from outside the box, with a little help from a deflection, into the back of the net.
Five minutes into the All-Star game and the Arsenal showcase was officially on. The crowd of 20,621 at the home field of D.C. United, which was a sea of red shirts representing the London club, were treated to a 5-0 victory over a collection of the biggest stars in MLS.
Saka was a menace all first half, dancing past Barreal again in the 23rd minute and feeding Leandro Trossard for a great goal from distance to double the lead.
Ultimately, after two years of playing entertaining matches against a team of LigaMX All-Stars, the resumption of the MLS vs. Europe All-Star concept that previously ran from 2005 to 2019 resulted in the All-Stars’ worst-ever defeat.
And as MLS All-Star manager Wayne Rooney rightly pointed out, this couldn’t have exactly been a surprise. Both Nottingham Forrest and Wolverhampton Wanderers lost by the same score to the Gunners last season, and those are two clubs who survived the best division on earth last year.
New Inter Miami CF signing Lionel Messi did not play for MLS. The reigning World Cup champion and former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain star participated in his first training with Miami on Tuesday.
Arsenal went in front on their first attacking sequence after a promising start from the MLS All-Stars.
The MLS side looked to have halted the danger when Bukayo Saka was dispossessed inside the penalty area.
However, the ball fell to Jesus, who hit an audacious first-time chip with his right foot that sailed perfectly over St. Louis City FC goalkeeper Roman Burki and off the inside of the left upright on its way over the line in the fifth minute.
Trossard doubled the lead on nearly as exceptional of a goal 18 minutes later. Saka again was involved, driving down the right side then playing a ball square to Trossard in the vicinity of the penalty arc.
Trossard took the pass, moved to his right to evade the marking of the Philadelphia Union’s Jose Martinez and ripped a right-footed strike past Burki’s dive and into the top right corner.
Arsenal newcomer Kai Havertz added one more to put the stamp on it in the 88th minute by netting a volley.
For a game that’s considered friendly, six yellow cards were given. But it was clear from the beginning that one side was better than the other, even if they are just in preseason. Arsenal is a team that is coming off an excellent Premier League season and has familiarity with each other. This group of MLS players have been together for a few days and not trained much.
The past two years MLS has played against Liga MX All-Stars in this event, making it a much more even matchup.
“The emphasis is on fun, celebrating us as players the league, growth and ultimately trying to put together some kind of fun product for the fans to enjoy,” said Zimmerman. “Unfortunately, it’s tough and that’s the nature of the All-Star Game.”
Playing against European competition isn’t a foreign concept for the league as they’ve done it in the past. And while it’s great to see how many Arsenal supporters were present in the nation’s capitol throughout the festivities, for MLS fans it was a complete letdown from a competition standpoint.
When asked what he took from the game as a coach and honing his craft, Rooney responded, “absolutely nothing.”
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