The Columbus Crew goalkeeper returned to the scene of his 2017 playoff heroics, but he couldn’t stop Juventus on the way to an All-Star game loss
Thousands of fans raced for the exits when the whistle blew on regulation during Wednesday night’s MLS All-Star Game, with many of the announced crowd of 72,317 unaware that the game’s 1-1 draw would be followed by a penalty shootout.
The Atlanta United fans that left early were spared the anguish of having some bad memories resurrected when Zack Steffen walked to the goalmouth for the penalties.
It was Steffen, after all, who played the role of shootout hero for the Columbus Crew in their memorable playoff upset of Atlanta United at the same stadium last November.
“It was ironic that I was back in this moment,” Steffen told Goal after Wednesday’s match. “It was crazy, but it was cool to do it against Juventus players this time, with Atlanta fans backing me up.”
Steffen was unable to conjure up any more penalty magic though. He watched helplessly as Juventus converted five excellent penalty attempts, including two which struck the inside of the post before going in. Bradley Wright-Phillips sent his attempt off the left post, giving Juve the shootout victory in the latest installment of Major League Soccer’s summer showcase.
Despite the result, the event was still an impressive showcase of a city that has risen to become a league standard-bearer, drawing some of the largest crowds in the world and boasting one of the best and most exciting teams in MLS. The fact that the match sold out was much more a product of the soccer fever overtaking Atlanta than it was about facing a Juventus team missing many of its biggest stars, though the recent signing of Cristiano Ronaldo surely didn’t hurt ticket sales even if he did wind up skipping the match.
Josef Martinez gave Atlanta fans something to cheer about with his brave headed finish to open the scoring, adding to his already outrageous goal-scoring form. The Venezuelan striker was a handful for Juventus throughout his 30 minutes and you wouldn’t have bet against him finding another goal if he had been able to play the full 90.
Atlanta United manager Tata Martino made full use of his roster, making wholesale changes through each third of the match. That, along with the relative lack of familiarity among the players made finding any sort of real rhythm difficult, but that didn’t stop the MLS stars from enjoying some good moments against a Juventus side still working out the kinks in preseason while many of its stars are back in Italy.
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Among the players to provide flashes were Mexican star Carlos Vela, Atlanta United youngster Ezequiel Barco, Toronto FC star and former Juventus forward Sebastian Giovinco and newly-signed Bayern Munich sensation Alphonso Davies, who looked comfortable and effective playing as a left back and may have given Bayern fans a glimpse of where the teenager could be used when he joins the German champions.
Overall, the match was a good showcase for MLS, and showed off the considerable amount of talent the league now boasts. When you consider the star power on display, and the fact that the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa and Bastian Schweinsteiger weren’t involved, the overall evening was a good advertisement for the league.
It was also a memorable night for many players, including those appearing in their first All-Star Game.
“It was amazing,” Steffen told Goal, wearing a smile even in defeat. “It was a lot of fun and the guys were great. The game was the cherry on top.”