By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jul 20, 2023) US Soccer Players – The 2023 Major League Soccer All-Star Game came and went this week, its unique flavor of American soccer pizazz breaking up the first and second halves of the MLS season the same way it has since the league’s launch in 1996. Though the MLS All-Stars fell disappointingly short against visiting Premier League side Arsenal, the excitement around the game and its ancillary events showed why Major League Soccer remains committed to its version of the midsummer classic.
For MLS players, the All-Star game is a chance to play on a big stage and be recognized for their excellence with their clubs. With the experience now over, they can get back to their teams and push for honors in 2023.
Arsenal, including two American internationals who both played in the club’s 5-0 win on Wednesday will continue its American journey as it prepares for the new Premier League season. Striker Folarin Balogun and defender Auston Trusty move on to New Jersey, where the Gunners will take on Manchester United at MetLife Stadium on Saturday.
In every other year of Major League Soccer’s existence, the All-Star game was immediately followed by a return to regular season play. Not in 2023. This year, MLS and Liga MX will both pause their seasons for a month to conduct a first-of-its-kind competition, the Leagues Cup.
All 47 teams, 29 from MLS and 18 from Liga MX, will participate. LAFC and Pachuca, as the most recent MLS Cup champion and the Liga MX club with the most points over the last two domestic seasons, get byes into the knockout phase. Everyone else will play group stage matches to determine which clubs join them in the Round of 32.
Here’s what’s ahead for seven USMNT players who represented the league at the All-Star Game.
FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira will play his first match with his MLS club since June 11 when they take on Charlotte FC in its group stage opener on Friday night in Frisco. Ferreira took the Golden Boot award at the 2023 Gold Cup while playing for the United States, with seven goals across five games.
Dallas is grouped with Charlotte and Necaxa in South 4 and will face off against the Liga MX side on Tuesday. Ferreira’s return to the lineup will boost an FC Dallas team that won just once in his absence and scored just twice in the five games he missed.
FC Dallas is also anxiously awaiting the return of USMNT winger Paul Arriola from injury. He could be ready in time to play a role in FC Dallas’s Leagues Cup effort.
A Gold Cup player and an all-star, Seattle’s Jordan Morris could return to the Sounders starting lineup for the club’s Leagues Cup opener in Utah against Real Salt Lake on Saturday. Morris played in Seattle’s final league match before the All-Star Game as a second-half substitute when the Sounders and FC Dallas played to a 1-1 draw on July 15.
The veteran US international suffered an injury in the opening game of the Gold Cup that limited his contributions to the team during the tournament, but he is now fully healthy ahead of the Leagues Cup and the second-half push for a third MLS Cup title for the Sounders. As the only MLS team to win the Concacaf Champions League in the modern era, the Sounders are one of the most intriguing teams in the tournament.
Morris is no stranger to scoring against Mexican clubs in international competition: He scored one of Seattle’s three goals against UNAM Pumas in the second leg of the 2022 Champions League final. The Sounders will face Mexican power Monterrey in its second match on July 30 in Seattle to finish its “West 2” group.
New York Red Bulls fullback John Tolkin was also in the All-Star squad, his first, following a Gold Cup tournament with the USMNT. Tolkin played in the opening and final games of the tournament for the Americans, then returned to start for the Red Bulls just a few days later in a loss to Real Salt Lake.
Tolkin’s MLS side is grouped with the New England Revolution and San Luis, a team with a win, a loss, and a draw through three league matches in Mexico. New York will open the Leagues Cup against the Revs at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, then host San Luis on July 30.
Columbus Crew midfield Aidan Morris’s Gold Cup experience was short, but the talented product of the Crew academy earned his way into the All-Star Game with an excellent first half of the MLS season. After returning to MLS play, Morris made one start before the All-Star Game. Columbus’s Central 1 group will pit the Crew against St. Louis at home on Sunday, then Club America on July 31.
A trio of American center backs with USMNT experience played against Arsenal on Wednesday, Walker Zimmerman as a starter and Matt Miazga and Tim Parker as halftime substitutes.
Nine-year MLS veteran Parker made his first all-star team in 2023 thanks to a starring defensive role in St Louis City’s surprise expansion season.
Zimmerman’s Nashville SC will begin its Leagues Cup campaign on Sunday against Colorado at Geodis Park in Nashville. Nashville is in Central 4 with the Rapids and Toluca. Nashville struggled going into the break in MLS play, losing five of its last six matches.
Miazga’s FC Cincinnati side is still riding high atop the combined standings. Holding a commanding eight-point lead in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, FCC arrives at Leagues Cup carrying expectations as the season’s best team so far.
Miazga has been critical to the club’s success thus far, providing dominating center back play in coach Pat Noonan’s 3-5-2. Even as Cincinnati chases its first domestic trophy both in MLS and the US Open Cup, where the club is in the semifinals, Miazga and company have eyes on Leagues Cup success. To achieve it, they’ll have to finish ahead of either Sporting Kansas City, against whom they open group stage play on Sunday in Central 3, and/or Chivas.
The All-Star Game is in the books, the regular season is now paused, and the best and brightest of American soccer in MLS have a new challenge to face. It’s time for the Leagues Cup.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
More From Jason Davis:
- Sands, Busio, Jones, and Ferreira during the 2023 Gold Cup
- The USMNT finds strength in its center backs during the 2023 Gold Cup
- Djordje Mihailovic’s all around performances in the USMNT midfield
- Ferreira shows the strengths of his game for the USMNT
Photo by Stephen Nadler – ISIPhotos.com