It is Sunday, and it is most certainly going to be a soccer week to be remembered in Orlando. It is All-Star Week, and it all got started last night with a free concert downtown with Prince Royce and special guest A-TRAK following the viewing party to watch the Lions face off against the New England Revolution. Also, Media All-Star game was held yesterday morning, but I apparently missed the call-up this year. As All-Star Week ramps up in Orlando, what can we expect?
This evening from 6-10 p.m. is the eMLS All-Star Challenge. Attending the event is free, but a group of lucky fans in the Orlando area will start their day a little earlier. Two finalists from the Open Qualifier tournament, beginning at 11 this morning, will claim spots in the eMLS All-Star Challenge tonight, and will receive tickets to the MLS All-Star Game. I’m wishing @FIFA_Abe good luck with the tournament tonight as he represents Orlando City. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I played FIFA, but I do remember it not going very well. I grew up during a time when video game controllers had a few buttons and that was it (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start). Might need to ask Abe for some lessons when all of this is said and done.
There are two big events going down. The first is part of the the MLS WORKS campaign. MLS WORKS is the platform the League uses to help better the lives and communities of the people where soccer is played. With the All-Star festivities coming to Central Florida, the outreach arm of MLS came along too, reaching all the way to Neptune Middle School. After unveiling two new soccer mini-pitches at the school, fans are invited for an afternoon of fun kids activities, soccer clinics, skills activities, music and snacks from 1-4 p.m.
Then it gets a little more formal, depending on which end of the pint glass you look through. The Men in Blazers, Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, will be going live at the Ace Cafe at 8 p.m. If you were lucky enough to grab a ticket, make sure to don your most splendid blazer, save room for a couple pies, enjoy a pint (preferably something local if you can), and get ready for a surprise, because when these guys get started discussing football, anything is possible.
Now is when we start to get into the meat of the festivities. Starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, the MLS Homegrown Game will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Go and cheer on Lions Mason Stajduhar and Benji Michel as they join the other young Homegrown MLS players to face Chivas de Guadalajara’s U-20 team. After the match, fans can stay and watch the All-Star Skills Challenge. Fans will get to watch Nani, Chris Mueller, and Sebas Mendez compete against the MLS All-Stars (Wayne Rooney, Carlos Vela, and Jonathan dos Santos) and Atletico Madrid (Koke, Joao Felix, and Hector Herrera). The teams will compete against each other in three skill challenges — shooting, touch and volley, and passing — with the winners being crowned champions and a donation will be made to the charity of their choice.
Judging duties will be covered by Orlando City legend Kaká, USWNT and Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan, former NFL star Chad Johnson, Alexi Lalas, and eMLS Cup Champion Cormac Dooley. Fans will have a chance to vote online, through either Twitter or Twitch, with Alexi representing the Twitter vote, and Dooley representing the Twitch vote.
This day sees two huge matches. First, at 10 a.m. at the ESPN Wide World of Sports is the Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Match. This match will bring together players from Special Olympics and Unified Partners to play in a 11 vs. 11 East against West match. This is certainly a match not to miss, and the message sent is one to certainly be heard and spread far and wide. MLS WORKS and ESPN are doing their part to make sure that the world hears loud and clear that “soccer is for all,” and we should support them, and the athletes, as loudly as we can.
Then the attention turns to downtown Orlando and Exploria Stadium as the celebration starts at 3:30 p.m. just outside of the stadium. The fan zone experience will feature player appearances, giveaways, prizes, games, and fun for young and old. The day will culminate in the MLS All-Star Game at 8 p.m, as the MLS All-Stars square off against Atletico Madrid. Here is a little history on Atleti, in case you might not know:
- Founded in April of 1903.
- They have won La Liga 10 times, the latest being the 2013-2014 season, and were runners-up 10 times, including the past two seasons.
- 2017-2018 UEFA Europa League winners.
- Three-time runners-up in UEFA Champions League, most recently in 2015-2016.
- 2018 UEFA Super Cup winner, which is a match between the Europa League winner and the Champions League winner, beating Real Madrid, 4-2.
- Names to watch out for are captain Koke, new record signing Joao Felix (19 years old, folks), Mexican National Team player Hector Herrera, England National Team right back Kieran Trippier, and Diego Costa.
Captain Carlos Vela will be leading the All-Stars of MLS onto to the pitch for what should be a great match. Atleti is on a roll this preseason, having recently destroyed rival Real Madrid 7-3 in an International Champions Cup match in New Jersey. This match obviously meant more to the individual clubs than just a preseason warm-up as the second half saw an 11-v-11 skirmish and two red cards shown. Hopefully the La Liga side was able get it all out of their system in Jersey.
How much of the festivities are you catching? A standing ovation needs to first be given to all the fans and volunteers who showed up at Ace Cafe yesterday to help pack meals for families in need. What a huge way to start the weekend and make a difference for the community.
Chances are, you will see me around at the Homegrown Game and the Skills Challenge afterward, and I will absolutely be at the All-Star Game itself. If you see me, come say hello and let’s chat for a few as I am going to be very interested in everyone’s experience with MLS All-Star Week. Also, if anyone ends up with a spare ticket for the Men in Blazers event, get in touch. I’ll buy you a pie and a pint!
Orlando is center stage now, so let’s make sure MLS, and the world know just how memorable the MLS All-Star extravaganza will be in purple, and set an example for years to come.