By Jacob B (@MLSAtheist)
It’s that time of summer again: voting for Major League Soccer’s All-Star game concludes tomorrow (last chance link) for the game that will take place in a few weeks in Portland. For the tenth consecutive season, the MLS All-Stars will face off with a club team opponent from overseas; in this case, German superpower Bayern Munich. The conventional wisdom behind this format for the All-Star game is pretty simple: in an American sports market dominated by other sports, getting soccer’s biggest names possible will help draw eyes to MLS. For soccer fans in the US, many of the game’s biggest names, personas and reputations still reside in Europe. But is this really the best format for Major League Soccer’s midseason spectacle?
For the value of my two cents, the answer is no. There are a lot of reasons that American soccer has outgrown the value of the big named Euro-club All-Star opponent, but I think this is an area that MLS had right way back in 2002. That year the MLS All-Star game took place in early August (as it will this year), and the MLS All-Star side took on a United States national team that was fresh off its best World Cup finish in the modern era. To be honest, I have approximately zero recollection of this game, so I couldn’t tell you if it was a success. But if MLS and US Soccer had the foresight to try the same thing in 2014, I’d bet my life that it’d be a bigger success than the current format.
There are plenty of reasons that people argue MLS has outgrown the current European guest club All-Star format. Attendance around the league has grown healthily for years, and filling seats at an All-Star event where the league picks the most attractive city possible is hardly a prohibitive challenge anymore. Whether the league plays East vs. West or American vs. World or All-Stars vs. Bayern Munich, you can bet that Portland's Providence Park will be sold out for the main event.
A more compelling argument is that of TV viewership: a clear hot button issue that the league still needs to continue improving. I’ll readily admit that a lot of casual sports fans are probably more likely to watch Bayern Munich play than some of the MLS stars that aren’t household names. But if you replaced Bayern with the United States national team? I think I need only direct you to the huge ratings and watch parties that US World Cup games got last month to say that this format would hardly lose TV ratings. In fact, I’d wager a guess that more people would tune in to watch the 2014 World Cup team’s last gasp in an exhibition than the reigning German champion that has almost no ties to the States. The commercials would’ve written themselves during and after the USMNT’s cup run ended: “The US’s run may have been ended by Belgium, but you can still see them one more time this summer! The 2014 MLS All-Star Game, presented by AT&T.”
There’s one more particularly compelling reason that my proposed All-Star format bests the current one: it gets more guys involved. The current format involves selecting one All-Star squad: in a bizarre method, 32 All-Stars are actually selected but only 22 make the game-day roster and get the chance to participate. With my proposal, 10 MLS players would already be in the Jurgen Klinsmann’s US squad, leaving an All-Star squad of 22 guys – all of whom would actually have a chance to play in the game. An underrated part of this idea is the number of converging story lines that this game would create: young up-and-coming MLS talent trying to demonstrate to Jurgen Klinsmann that they belong on the national team, roster snubs with a chance to exact some revenge on Klinsi (who could that possibly be?), etc.
Hopefully the above five paragraphs are enough to convince you that MLS should go back in time (no, don’t bring back the tie-breaking shootout) to the 2002 All-Star format. Without too much more delay, I’ll go ahead and tell you who I think should be on this All-Star roster. But first, I have one more rule: every MLS team gets an All-Star. This is a rule straight from Major League Baseball, where even if your team goes 0-87 in the first half of the season, the league picks the best of your motley crew to represent your team at the Midsummer Classic. As a guy who grew up rooting for the perennially dreadful Detroit Tigers, I can vouch for how hilariously awesome it is to see your best player called an All-Star despite a career .253 batting average.
First, a quick reminder of the MLS guys who were on the World Cup team and will play for the US in my All-Star game:
GK Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEF DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
DEF Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)
DEF Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
MID Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
MID Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo)
MID Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)
MID Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FWD Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)
FWD Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
*Check out their club stats here!
Now, here are my picks for the MLS All-Stars. Remember, my rules state that every team gets at least one guy on the team, so that’s how they’re listed:
Chicago Fire: GK Sean Johnson
Runner-Up: Harrison Shipp
This was the last team I could think of an All-Star candidate for, so I had to pick their goalie. That’s what happens when you tie more than 60% of your games.
Chivas USA: FWD Erick Torres
The guy's been one of the league’s ten best players while playing for one of the three worst teams.
Colorado Rapids: DEF Drew Moor, DEF Chris Klute
Giving this back line two All-Stars might be a stretch, but Moor’s been very good, and every MLS fan would love to see Klute take on the USMNT in hopes that he’ll be on it next time.
Columbus Crew: DEF Michael Parkhurst
Runner-Up: Federico Higuain
Columbus probably doesn’t deserve an All-Star, either. Parkhurst has been his normal steady self and Higuain is so skilled, but the rest of that team just doesn’t do enough to help them.
DC United: DEF Bobby Boswell
Runner-Up: Fabian Espindola
Boswell has been the key to DC’s resurgent defense, and Espindola has been the key to DC’s resurgent attack. Had to go with the defender because United still tends to play a lot of low-scoring games.
FC Dallas: MID Mauro Diaz
Runner-Up: Fabian Castillo
This team goes as Diaz goes – they treaded water while he was injured and hope to creep back up now that he’s healthy. Castillo’s so dangerous, but doesn’t quite have the ability to be a team’s focal point yet.
Houston Dynamo: DEF Corey Ashe
Houston definitely doesn’t deserve an All-Star, but there aren’t many good fullbacks to choose from. Remember when the Dynamo steamrolled New England in the season opener? Feels like decades ago.
LA Galaxy: FWD/MID Landon Donovan
It’s hardly been Donovan’s best year, and he may not be the most deserving Galaxy player, but you know you want to see him play against a Klinsmann-coached USMNT.
Montreal Impact: MID Justin Mapp
Not a whole lot of bright spots in Montreal this year, but Mapp has consistently been one of them, and Felipe has glinted at times.
New England Revolution: MID Lee Nguyen, DEF Andrew Farrell
Runner-Up: Jose Goncalves
Lee Nguyen was the league’s best player during the Revs’ May winning streak, and Farrell has been indispensable filling in at both right back and centerback.
New York Red Bulls: GK Luis Robles
Runner-Up: Bradley Wright-Phillips, Thierry Henry, Lloyd Sam
Tough to pass on the guy leading the league in goals, but he’s been set up for a lotta easy ones by Lloyd Sam and this Henry guy you may have heard of. For my money, Robles has been one of the league’s top keepers all season.
Philadelphia Union: DEF/MID Amobi Okugo
Runner-Up: Maurice Edu
Philadelphia’s the league’s most frustrating team: so much talent and potential, yet so many inexplicably dropped points. Take your pick between Edu and Okugo.
Portland Timbers: MID Diego Valeri
Runner-Up: Darlington Nagbe
Valeri has been on a tear and is almost single-handedly carrying the Timbers out of their drowsy start to the season. Nagbe’s been his usual thrilling self to watch, but Valeri’s that team’s best player.
Real Salt Lake: FWD Joao Plata
Runner-Up: Nat Borchers
Platita has been fantastic in the attack for RSL, especially with the absence of other guys due to injury. If only he could stay healthy, too…
San Jose Earthquakes: MID Shea Salinas
The Quakes have been bad. If nothing else, Salinas can at least still hit a peach of a dead ball.
Seattle Sounders: FWD Obafemi Martins
Runner-Up: Chad Marshall
Shame to have to see him play opposing Deuce instead of with him, but Oba has lived up to his DP tag this year. Chad Marshall sneakily is having another good year as the leader from the back – his health is as important as any player’s in the league.
Sporting Kansas City: MID Benny Feilhaber, DEF Aurelien Collin
Runner-Up: Seth Sinovic, Dom Dwyer
Despite injuries to seemingly every player in powder blue this year, there are plenty of deserving candidates. Collin has kept this ship afloat defensively, and Feilhaber has filled every role Peter Vermes has asked.
Toronto FC: FWD Jermain Defoe
TFC is living up to expectations as sort of a stars-and-scrubs bunch. They’ve played fairly well collectively, but nobody stands out aside from Bradley and Defoe.
Vancouver Whitecaps: MID Pedro Morales
Runner-Up: Matias Laba
So many exciting, speedy attackers that it’s tempting to pick any of them just to see them play one more time: Mattocks, Hurtado, Manneh. But Morales is the guy that makes it all happen, and Laba is the guy who lets Morales make it all happen.