Esmir Bajraktarević and Jack Panayotou took the field at National Sports Center on Wednesday afternoon as the duo represented the East in the inaugural MLS NEXT All-Star Game.
Bajraktarević was named to the starting eleven as Jack Panayotou started the game on the bench.
Bajraktarević displayed flashy footwork in the second minute. Finding himself surrounded by three West defenders, Bajraktarević maneuvered away from the pressure and found a lane to get the ball to a teammate.
The West caught a lucky break in the sixth minute as San Jose’s Cruz Medina lined up a long-distance shot outside the box. Medina’s strike took an awkward deflection off Atlanta’s Noah Cobb. The deflected shot changed course as it sailed into the left side of the net. It was an unlucky break for the East as they found themselves down 1-0 just six minutes into the game.
Bajraktarević came close to getting the East back into the game in the 15th minute as he got on top of a driven ball upfield. Bajraktarević drove down the right flank and into the box. Realizing he was under pressure, the midfielder cut it back to his teammate, but the East did not capitalize.
Bajraktarević again nearly created another chance in the 19th minute as he created a counterattack opportunity as he drove down the pitch but the West defense quickly recovered and dispossessed Bajraktarević to end the attack.
Despite good efforts from the East, they did not find the net in the opening forty-five minutes as things stood a 1-0 entering halftime.
A flurry of changes came at half as Bajraktarević’s day ended while Panayotou entered the match.
It was a quiet start to the second half. While both sides put together some good offensive chances, both sides put up some solid defense. That all changed as the clock reached the eightieth-minute mark.
The East received a golden opportunity in the eighty-fifth minute as they earned a penalty kick. Toronto’s Adam Pearlman stepped up to the spot as he slotted the ball past the keeper to even things up.
It looked as if this All-Star Game was going to a shootout, but Panayotou had other plans. He quickly got onto a ball sent forward as he slotted the ball across the face of goal to Philadelphia’s Marcos Zambrano-Delgado, who tapped the ball into the back of the net to give the East a 2-1 lead in the eighty-eighth minute.
East called game @Allstate | #MLSNEXTAllStar pic.twitter.com/htwkRUiGEI— MLS NEXT (@MLSNEXT) August 10, 2022
It was a fun and exciting contest ends with a 2-1 victory for the East as Academy and Revolution II standout Jack Panayotou earned the game-winning assist.