The MLS All-Stars picked up a win in the 2022 Skills Challenge last night, defeating the Liga MX All-Stars. Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar was the difference, hitting a late winner in the crossbar challenge to give MLS a walk-off victory.
Here’s a breakdown of all the action:
Hector Herrera set the shooting challenge point record en route to an MLS victory. The Houston Dynamo midfielder’s 65 points surpassed Lucas Zelarayán’s 55 from last year. FC Dallas’s Jesús Ferreira and Minnesota United’s Emanuel Reynoso contributed to a 136-74 victory, beating Monterrey’s German Berterame, Cruz Azul’s Uriel Antuna and Atlas’s Julián Quiñones.
Event rating: B
Seeing pro players take pot shots at targets is fun. As my friend John Muller joked, it’s also solid evidence that finishing may not be a repeatable skill. But the format of taking shots from the penalty spot took away some of the intrigue, and having one player pass the ball and another settle clearly threw things off a couple times. With some re-tooling this could be a great event.
Hany Mukhtar essentially single-handedly gave MLS the victory. His massive 80 point haul would have won the contest on its own, with New England Revolution midfielder and reigning MLS MVP Carles Gil contributing 26 points in a 106-68 win.
Event rating: A
If the shooting challenge made me wonder if I could hit targets from 12 yards out, the touch challenge quickly reminded me why I was never remotely close to making it as an athlete. The ability of all four players to control the ball and set themselves up for their next touch was impressive, even if the service from their teammates was sub-par at points. It’s the kind of game we all played after practice as kids, and was fun to see the best around the league give it a go.
Cross & Volley Challenge
This challenge is exactly what it sounds like; two players cross the ball, one tries to volley. Extra points are given for bicycle kicks (20) and full volleys (15), while a two-touch goal is worth 10 and a half volley only brings in 5.
Liga MX ran away with the Cross & Volley Challenge, with Pachuca’s Avilés Hurtado’s 60-point haul shattering the competition.
Event rating: A+
I mean, does this need an explanation? All of us have dreamed about smashing a bicycle kick into the top corner. A smaller group of us have tried it. And of that group, only a small, elite group has pulled it off. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. And yeah, at the most basic level, soccer is really just about ripping a shot as hard as you possibly can into the side netting.
Liga MX leveled the score with another win. Germane Berterame took down Emanuel Reynoso and Pachuca’s Luis Chávez beat Hector Herrera, with both Liga MX stars hitting the Bounty target for an automatic win.
Event rating: C-
Visually, it wasn’t super easy to track the passes on their way to the target, at least via TV. And like the shooting challenge, the format was messy, with incoming passes throwing the contestants’ rhythm off.
The winner-take-all Bounty target was a cool touch, but it would have been simply and probably more fun to see them try to chip the ball into a trash can at varying distances.
The two sides went into the final event tied, with the winner of the Crossbar Challenge set to win the entire event. Hany Mukhtar once again played hero, clanging a walk-off winner of the bar from 40 yards out to give MLS the 2022 Skills Challenge victory.
Event rating: A+
MLS clearly saved the best for last. The crossbar challenge is probably the most universal skills challenge in the game. We’ve all tried it. Like other events in this contest, it was fun and in some ways humanizing to see the players we watch every weekend play the same stupid games we try after our rec league matches are over.
The Skills Challenge is a uniquely American idea, and it’s on-brand for MLS to take a swing and be different from the rest of the world. A Nashville fan who lives in England dropped this in the group chat last night:
A televised skills competition is the most American thing I’ve ever heard. God bless you for it! Not being condescending there! Credit to you for saying “screw it, we are gonna do something a unorthodox but a bit fun that might make the sport appeal to introduce a larger audience.”
The Skills Challenge is a silly, fun, and ridiculously entertaining event that gives fans a totally different look at the game. And at the end of the day, it’s good to occasionally be reminded that soccer is simply a fun game that we take way too seriously.
The Skills Challenge was just the appetizer for the main event. The MLS All-Star game takes place tonight at 7:30 pm CT on ESPN.