Alberth Elis plays second half as MLS All-Stars fall to Juventus on penalties
Atlanta set another Major League Soccer attendance record as 72,317 fans saw the MLS All-Stars and Italian champions Juventus play to a 1-1 draw (5-3 Juventus win on penalties) at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday.
The Bayou City was represented on the field by the Houston Dynamo’s Alberth Elis, who played the second half in its entirety. He became the second forward after Brian Ching to take part in the event as a member of the Dynamo.
“It's something I will not forget,” said Elis. “It’s wonderful to be here and one always works to be at these kind of events. I’m always going to keep working and trying to get better.”
The 22-year-old Honduran had three scoring opportunities, with his clearest one coming immediately after halftime. The speedy winger attempted to pounce on a pass from reigning league MVP Diego Valeri but was denied by Juventus’ backup goalkeeper Mattia Perin.
Elis was persistent in his attempts throughout the second half by applying pressure on defenders and attempting the nifty moves he displays on gamedays at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Raising the flag for Honduras
Elis is the first Honduran player to receive All-Star honors since Roger Espinoza and Marvin Chavez in 2012 and only the third player from his country to don the All-Star jersey – the others being Alex Pineda Chacon in 2001 and the 2004 MLS All-Star Game MVP Amado Guevara.
The San Pedro Sula native has represented his nation since 2013 at the youth level, including a 4th place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Five of his seven goals with the senior national team came in qualification games for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“Very happy to be able to represent Honduras and my team,” said Elis. “Many thanks always for the support I receive from Honduras and everywhere where there’s Hondurans. I appreciate it with all my heart and I always hope to represent the country in the best way possible.”
In awe of the Atlanta support
This year’s attendance surpassed the 70,728 figure from the 2010 MLS All-Star Game that took place at Houston’s NRG Stadium to become the new standalone record for the event – the 1996 edition drew 78,416 but was part of a doubleheader featuring the Brazilian national team. It also became the second-largest attendance for any All-Star game in North America behind the 2010 NBA All-Star Game.
The match featured high-profile guests like singer Ashanti, rappers T-Pain and Waka Flocka Flame, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, wrestler “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Falcons/Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank.
Of course, none of this comes as a surprise for those that follow MLS and have witnessed the second-year club skyrocket to take all top five spots in the league’s all-time individual game attendance list.
The first time All-Star was able to experience that homefield advantage and was impressed by the support for soccer in the heart of SEC football territory.
“The truth is that the fans here are very different,” said Elis. “They get a lot into the game. I think it’s very nice, motivating for one as a player.”
Atlanta United leads the league in average attendance this season with 51,799 through 12 home games, just over 11,000 ahead of second-place Seattle who have hosted two less matches. The Houston Dynamo, in comparison, rank 17th in the 23-team league with a 17,236 average through 11 home games.
Eyes towards the playoffs and a trophy
Despite not coming away with the victory, the Dynamo’s top player looked rejuvenated by the experience and expressed joy in being able to take part in the event. He also clarified no hard feelings towards Dynamo Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera’s preference to not see him take part in the match.
“It’s normal,” responded Elis. “The team is going through a good spell and we know every player will be needed so the concern is normal.”
La Panterita (little panther) has scored 19 goals and 12 assists in regular season play through his two seasons with the Dynamo. He will be a key part of the team’s playoff hopes.
Four points separate the Dynamo from the playoffs and they’ll hope to make up that ground in the standings with three of their next four league matches at home, beginning with rival Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. They also have the added commitment of hosting the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup next Wednesday - with hopes to win out and lift their first major trophy since their 2007 MLS Cup title.
“We know it won’t be easy,” said Elis. “We’re fighting for the cup as well. Next Wednesday we have the semifinal and we hope to go through, to the final, and look for the championship as well.”
Follow on Twitter: @victoraraiza