In a ballroom decked out for royalty, with five gleaming chandeliers and Corinthian columns wrapped in red, black and gold, players on the MLS All-Star team and Juventus, its opponent, praised each other ahead of Wednesday’s game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
With languages changing quickly depending upon who was being asked a question, no tactics were shared. No formations previewed. Fawning replaced facts. But it is an All-Star game, an exhibition designed to give fans a chance to see the best talent in MLS taking on one of the world’s best clubs.
Perhaps the most important piece of information, at least to those in the host city of Atlanta, is that almost 70,000 tickets have been sold and the league expects to set a new All-Star game record. The record is 70,728 in 2010 in Houston.
“I think this is a game for the fans to enjoy, the players to enjoy, also for the coaches to enjoy,” Atlanta United and All-Star team manager Gerardo Martino said in the press conference Monday. “It’s very good for the MLS when a team with such quality as Juventus comes to this event. It’s important for city to have the game.”
Juventus was represented by manager Massimiliano Allegri, who was asked a few times about new (but absent) signing Cristiano Ronaldo, captain Giorgio Chiellini, who spoke in English, and midfielder Miralem Pjanic, who spoke in Italian and French.
“We are sorry, as well not to have (Paulo) Dybala, (Juan) Cuadrado, (Gonzalo) Higuain, but unfortunately they played for the World Cup so they needed some days to rest,” Allegri said about Ronaldo, who was bought from Real Madrid in the offseason.
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan joked that he didn’t mind.
“It’s probably a bit of a shame for those on the outside,” he said. “For me, personally, hopefully it makes for an easier night.”
The All-Stars were represented by Martino, Guzan, LAFC’s Carlos Vela, who spoke Spanish, and Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco, who spoke Italian.
While the MLS is in the middle of its season, Juventus is wrapping up its preseason as it goes for an eighth consecutive Serie A title. So, the uniqueness of playing in an All-Star game was a constant topic for questions from Italian journalists. In different answers, Chiellini described it different, unique and curious, but hopes it’s an amazing night.
Martino, who hasn’t hid his bemusement about interrupting the season to participate in the game, dropped this nugget on Monday: “I understand it’s a beautiful spectacle for league and the United States. I think we will have to look at in the future having it a different time, either before or after, because teams are in important parts of the season and fighting for playoffs. We have to make sure the players arrive in good condition and return in good condition.”
Martino said he is still deciding on the starting 11 for Wednesday’s game. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic dropping out of the roster and New York Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams and Minnesota’s Darwin Quintero moving in, Martino said he is still figuring out the moving parts. He said those who will play the most will get about 45 minutes. Those who will play the least will get about 30 minutes.
Martino said Monday’s training session went well and that they will begin working on a formation and style on Tuesday during training at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“To have some of the best players here, to have these guys ... it should be a special night,” Giovinco said.
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