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MLS eager to show off Atlanta success story at All-Star Game

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ATLANTA (AP) The MLS All-Star Game is more than the league showing off its best players against Italian powerhouse Juventus.

It’s a chance to flaunt one of its biggest success stories.

The A-T-L.

Atlanta United has shattered just about every MLS attendance record since joining the league in 2017 , which made it a natural choice to host the All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Another mark could fall in Wednesday night’s match, expected to lure upwards of 70,000 fans to this technological marvel of a stadium.

[ MORE: Garber “hopeful” Crew will stay in Columbus ]

“That’s why the game is here,” said United defender Michael Parkhurst, one of five players from league-leading Atlanta picked for the MLS team. “It’s to showcase the city itself, the stadium, the atmosphere that we create here. It’s special.”

Indeed, there’s nothing unusual about drawing such a mammoth soccer crowd in Atlanta.

In its debut season, United shattered the league record by averaging 48,200 per game – more than doubling all but three other teams in MLS. The club is projected to go even higher this season, averaging nearly 52,000 through its first dozen home matches.

The top five individual game crowds in MLS history have all been in Atlanta, which has eclipsed 70,000 for every regular-season match in which the upper deck has been open . The target to beat for an All-Star Game is 70,728, which was the record turnout for the 2010 match at Houston’s NFL stadium.

If the weather forecast holds – there was a strong chance of thunderstorms – the camera lens-resembling roof will be closed to ensure a comfortable setting for both the players and the big crowd.

Too bad.

The complex structure only recently began operating properly, allowing it to open or close in less than 10 minutes .

Every other aspect of the $1.5 billion stadium has drawn rave reviews, setting it up to be one of the leading venues for the 2026 World Cup that will be largely hosted by the United States. The winning bid, which also includes Mexico and Canada, calls for six games to be held in Atlanta – including a semifinal.

The stadium has already developed quite a reputation in MLS, with its chanting, flag-waving fans showing off their passion while giving United a huge home-field edge.

“It’s surprising,” New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said before a workout Tuesday at the stadium. “I heard a lot of talk before they came into the league about how it was going to be. I wasn’t sure, but playing here and watching them on TV, the support these players have is amazing.”

[ MORE: Phoenix, SD get Garber bump ]

Since the current All-Star Game format was adopted in 2005, pitting a team of MLS stars against a prominent club from Europe, the American-based league holds a 7-6 edge.

Of course, this game means a lot more to MLS than it does to the opponent.

Juventus, which is riding a streak of seven straight titles in Serie A, is merely tuning up for a league season than begins in less than two weeks. The Italian club already played two exhibitions in the U.S. as part of the International Champions Cup – beating Germany’s Bayern Munich and Portugal’s Benfica – and has one more friendly Saturday against Real Madrid before returning to Europe.

Juventus didn’t bring along five-time FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, acquired from Real Madrid a few weeks ago in a record transfer deal for a player older than 30.

Still recovering from the World Cup, Ronaldo remained in Italy to train, along with new teammates Gonzalo Higuain, Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala.

Manager Massimiliano Allegri is confident that his squad is ready to make another title run in Serie A.

“There isn’t much to do,” he said through a translator. “We have the defenders. We have the midfielders. It’s just a matter of deciding who are the two or three in front who are basically going to put the ball in the goal.”

The MLS team also will be missing one of its top players – LA Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who ranks second in the league with 15 goals.

The 36-year-old Swede chose to not to make the cross-country trip to Atlanta after playing three league matches over a nine-day span, saying he was more focused on leading his streaking team to the playoffs. Under league rules, he’ll also have to skip the Galaxy’s next match against Colorado on Saturday.

Commissioner Don Garber told reporters he was “disappointed” that Ibrahimovic would skip “the most important special event that the league has.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

For more AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLSsoccer

Adams, Quintero take Zlatan, Villa places on MLS All Stars

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Darwin Quintero and Tyler Adams have been added to the MLS All Stars roster for Wednesday’s match against Juventus.

Spots became available when Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the LA Galaxy and David Villa of New York City FC opted out of the contest.

[ MORE: Zlatan suspended ]

Both players have been suspended for missing the game. Though NYCFC says Villa is missing for an injury, that doesn’t matter according to MLS rules.

Quintero has nine goals and seven assists in 17 matches for Minnesota United. The 30-year-old Colombian has six goals and five assists in his last half-dozen games.

Adams, just 19, has already appeared in 60 MLS matches for the New York Red Bulls and is widely considered one of the best league-produced prospects in history.

Adams also gives the United States a seventh player on the All Star roster.

Zlatan suspended one match for skipping MLS All Star Game

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Apologies to the Colorado Rapids home crowd, but they aren’t going to get their fill of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Saturday.

And given the entertainment he provided on Sunday, that’s some sacrifice.

Ibrahimovic, 36, is going to miss the match with a one-match suspension imposed by MLS for skipping the All Star Game while healthy.

[ MORE: Puel says Leicester stars will stay ]

The big Swede did not want to play three matches in a 7-day span, and so elected to skip Wednesday’s reunion with Juventus. From LAGalaxy.com:

“I am disappointed to miss the 2018 All-Star game against Juventus, one of my former clubs,” said Ibrahimović. “I want to thank the fans for voting me to the team. My main focus is to score goals and help the LA Galaxy to the playoffs.”

The MLS All Star Game may still be a big draw for neutral fans, and Zlatan’s participation would be make us more interested in the match.

The rule makes sense in that regard, but certainly brings an exhalation of relief from Rapids supporters hoping for a win.

Zlatan nabs hat trick in wild comeback

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Don’t tell Zlatan Ibrahimovic that the MLS MVP Award is named after someone else.

While the big Swede isn’t likely to win it this year — Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez is on pace to murder the single season scoring record — the 36-year-old aerial ace is on a dominant run with the LA Galaxy.

[ VIDEO: USWNT equalizes in stoppage ]

Ibrahimovic scored three times and added another assist on Sunday against Orlando City SC, as the LA Galaxy won 4-3 at the StubHub Center.

Ibrahimovic assisted the Giovani dos Santos goal that made it 1-1, then scored equalizers at 2-2 and 3-3 before completing his hat trick with the 71st minute match-winner.

Cristian Higuita and Dom Dwyer joined a Michael Ciani own goal in putting Orlando on the board.

Orlando remains six points back of sixth place in the East, while the Galaxy moves third in the West (a point back of new rivals LAFC).

How prolific is the former Manchester United, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and Inter Milan man? Allow me to quote myself:

LAFC blow another “El Trafico” lead, but hold on for a point

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The game in 100 words (or less): Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Los Angeles FC were absolutely cruising against the LA Galaxy on Thursday, but Bob Bradley‘s side completely capitulated late in the second half and blew a multi-goal lead. Yes, it happened again, only this time LAFC managed to hold on for a point at home. Carlos Vela and Lee Nguyen established the expansion side’s 2-0 lead after just 20 minutes, and it held firm until the game’s final 10 minutes. The Galaxy didn’t register their first shot on target until the 67th minute, but Romain Alessandrini and Ola Kamara snatched goals in the 82nd and 86th minutes. It’s a massive result for the Galaxy, who move to within a point of Sporting Kansas City for third place in the Western Conference, and a bitter pill to swallow for LAFC, who could have moved to within a single point of West-leading FC Dallas. Sporting KC hosts FCD on Saturday.

[ MORE: Peru star Raul Ruidiaz gets first MLS goal; Sounders win ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

7′ — Vela heads home from close range — Vela-to-Adam Diomande is the more likelier sequence of play that will frequently lead to a headed goal, but this time it was the other way around as the big Norweigan whipped a ball into the six-yard box for his Mexican superstar teammate to finish with aplomb (WATCH HERE).

20′ — Nguyen beats Bingham with a free kick for 2-0 — Mark-Anthony Kaye suffered what could be a serious ankle or achilles injury upon winning this free kick. Kaye would be a massive loss — and an unexpected one, at that — but Nguyen made the most of a potentially dire situation (WATCH HERE).

82′ — Alessandrini smashes past Miller to make it 2-1 — Nobody really closed him down, and Alessandrini made the most of the space he was afforded. Comeback: on.

83′ — Miller pulls off a spectacular save a minute later — It should have been 2-2, but Tyler Miller probably won Save of the Year with his denial of Kamara just seconds after Alessandrini’s goal.

86′ — Kamara pounces on a tragic mistake for 2-2 — Miller’s save was, ultimately, mostly for naught, as Andre Horta marked his LAFC and MLS debut with the worst back-pass you’re likely to see this season. Kamara pounced, and Sigi Schmid’s side was level despite offering next to nothing all night long.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tyler Miller

Goalscorers: Vela (7′), Nguyen (20′), Alessandrini (82′), Kamara (86′)