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MLS-Liga MX All-Star game halted after homophobic chanting

New England goalkeeper Matt Turner made two penalty shootout saves, and Ricardo Pepi converted the final kick to lift the MLS team past a collection of stars from Liga MX in the MLS All-Star Game. The MLS team won the shootout 3-2 after finishing regulation tied 1-1

However, an entertaining and lively match in front of a sell-out crowd was marred by homophobic chanting that led to the action being halted. The chant has plagued Mexican soccer for years and the country’s international team is already playing a game behind closed doors after the chant was used by fans during Olympic qualifiers in March. Under Fifa rules, matches are stopped and a verbal warning is issued if the chant is heard; if the slurs continue the match is suspended before a final step in which officials end the contest entirely. On Wednesday, fans largely stopped the chant after the warning, but many did it again during extra time in the second half.

On the field, it was a momentous evening for Pepi. After being courted by both The US and Mexico national teams, he is expected to confirm on Thursday that he has chosen to represent the US internationally when he is selected for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

“To get called up to the national team and then get the win for MLS, it feels great,” Pepi said. “You guys can see the MLS is getting better and more competitive.”

His penalty off the underside of the crossbar was a symbolic way to end an entertaining, friendly evening for the All-Star teams representing the continent’s two biggest leagues.

“To get called up to the national team and then get the win for MLS, it feels great,” Pepi said. “You guys can see the MLS is getting better and more competitive.”

The first matchup of these leagues’ top players in MLS’ midseason showcase was the latest step in the increasingly close ties between the US-Canadian league and Mexico’s top division. The teams put on a memorable evening at Los Angeles FC’s sold-out Banc of California Stadium in the heart of a cosmopolitan American city with a vibrant Mexican flavor.

Liga MX MVP Jonathan Rodriguez scored in the 20th minute of regular time, and Jesus Murillo evened it on a header off a cross from LAFC teammate Eduard Atuesta early in the second half.

The penalty shootout was a thriller: Turner won the game’s MVP award by stopping shots by Rogelio Funes Mori and Salvador Reyes, and Pepi finished it with style.

“I think [this All-Star format] would be great for both leagues,” Turner said. “You saw the competition was really spirited and high intensity. The fans were into it. It should be the norm, but it’s not my call. I had a ton of fun this week. People really wanted to win, and we don’t always get that in All-Star games here.”

MLS and Liga MX already hold two team cup competitions with hopes for even more interleague play, and both leagues agree a full merger is a real possibility in the coming years.

“Winning a match against the best players in Mexico feels so good,” said MLS captain Raul Ruidiaz, a Peruvian veteran of both leagues. “It proves our league is growing. We enjoyed this a lot.”

These All-Star teams’ demographics reflect both leagues’ growth and international appeal. The MLS All-Stars were born in 13 different countries, while only 12 of Liga MX’s 27 All-Stars were born in Mexico.

“It’s amazing to be here with all these great players,” said Guillermo Ochoa, the veteran Club America goalkeeper who played part of the first half. “It’s great for the fans because they can see these players live. I would love to be here again next year.”
MLS was once well behind Liga MX in quality of play, but players from both leagues agree the gap has closed significantly in the past few years. These All-Star teams appeared to be quite well-matched as they played to a draw in regulation.

“The thing I learned out there is we are up there with Liga MX,” Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said.