When San Jose was announced a year ago as the host of the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, local soccer supporters rejoiced. After all, the last time the league came to the Bay Area for its summer celebration was back in 2001, and fans were hungry for more of the beautiful game.
Earlier this year, when Arsenal FC was revealed as the opponent, a whole other level of interest was generated, especially among the thousands of Gunners fans in the area -- and the rest of the U.S. -- and the All-Star Game quickly became the hottest ticket in town.
Thursday's game, a 2-1 victory by visiting Arsenal following a dramatic late goal from Chuba Akpom -- named the match MVP for his heroics -- was by all accounts a rousing success. Sure, the pregame show, replete with noisy and flashy fireworks -- in the middle of the afternoon, mind you -- was a bit over the top, but the record Avaya Stadium crowd enjoyed every moment of the festivities.
Arsenal was missing many of its front-line players, but the Gunners squad was hungry for a victory. Head coach Arsene Wenger said in the days leading up to the game that his team knew only one philosophy, even if the All-Star Game was an exhibition for both sides. "We play to win. We want to win," said Wenger, and his team delivered against the best of MLS.
The sights and sounds of the All-Star Game were not just limited to the field. Fans for both sides arrived early, hoping to get a glimpse of their soccer idols. The LOBINA scoreboard bar was the center of attention before the game, with patrons half a dozen deep. Throngs of red-and-white clad Gooners streamed through the Avaya Stadium concourses, and whenever an Arsenal player wandered close enough, they hooted and hollered and snapped photo after photo.
Speaking of photos, please enjoy some of the moments captured by Center Line Soccer photographer Lyndsay Radnedge below. Her complete photo gallery can be viewed here, so check it out, and maybe you will see yourself among the crowd!
Kaka looks to make a defensive stop in midfield.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain eludes a tackle en route to goal.
Jack Wilshere out-duels Sacha Kljestan in the first half.
David Villa runs the flanks for the MLS All-Stars.
Didier Drogba gets loose to score just before halftime.
Andrea Pirlo spraying the ball around the field, leisurely.
We have lift-off!
More magic from Kaka.
Who's going to get there first?
Andrew Farrell has this covered, or so he thinks.
Classy possession from Arsenal all evening long.
It wouldn't be long before Arsenal found the game-winner.
For more photos from the 2016 MLS AT&T All-Star Game, please check out the Center Line Soccer Facebook page.