MLS All-Star Game - Who I Want to See There
By Simon Allen
Every year around this time I write the same article. I joke with my friends that the byline should read “By Simon Allen and Cut N Paste VI” and my friends agree. I'm rarely Dalai Lama-like when the MLS All-Stars are announced. In fact...I'm rarely Dalai Lama-like regarding the All-Stars match period. Some years I have been brutal at the selections and some years I've just gone with the flow. This year on the World Wide Soccer Podcast I was pretty fair...So here it goes...
The All-Star Match is tomorrow and once again the best of MLS will be matching wits with a Euro squad during it's preseason...this year- AS Roma.
The All-Stars were announced. All Stars. This year, keep in mind, the MLS All-Star Game is in Kansas City and players selected are as follows.
Goalkeepers (2): Raul Fernandez (FC Dallas), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders (6): Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Aurelien Collin (Sporting KC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders (7): Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Mike Magee (Chicago Fire), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC) , Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls)
Forwards (5): Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Camilo Sanvezzo (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
Here's who I would have chosen.
Goalkeepers (2): Raul Fernandez (FC Dallas), Carlo Cudicini (LA Galaxy)
Defenders (6): Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Matteo Ferrari (Montreal Impact), Allesandro Nesta (Montreal Impact), Andy O'Brien (Vancouver WhiteCaps), Djimi Traore (Seattle Sounders), Carlos Bocanegra (Chivas USA)
Midfielders (7): Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew), Nigel Reo-Coker (Vancouver Whitecaps), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Dwayne De Rosario (DC United), Tim Cahill (NY Redbulls), Kleberson (Philadelphia Union), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
Forwards (5): Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), Thierry Henry (NY Redbulls), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Robert Earnshaw (Toronto FC), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders)
So...I agreed with 7 of the selections. But ironically my selection of All Stars only includes 4 Americans. Now you might be wondering how I chose these players. It's simple really! An All-Star team has to actually have “stars” on them.
Now...Tim Cahill is injured and Peter Vermes selected Philly Union's Jack McInerney fresh from his Tour of Gold Cup Benches. Also Robbie Keane was injured so his replacement is Landon Donovan which is a smart move.
“Landon is a great addition to the MLS All-Star team. Obviously his form is fantastic right now and his impact and representation for Major League Soccer throughout his career is immeasurable.” said Peter Vermes. To which most LA fans would add “Why wasn't the greatest American Soccer player in history on the roster to begin with?” At least he is now.
I say this with deep regret but midfielders on the list are not really big stars outside of America. And The All-Star game is meant to be an advert of just how brilliant Top Tier Soccer is in America. Imagine a soccer fan in Holland or Japan looking at a poster advertising the match. What would that fan abroad think if he saw the players faces and read their names? Well if that fan saw the first list he might say (please forgive me cos this bloke is a hero of mine!) “Mike Mawho?” But a poster with top name (international) players would get more than a casual look.
Some folks would say “Who cares about those people who live abroad and don't watch MLS!”
Frankly...everyone should. For MLS to be successful it has to go toe to toe with top leagues from around the world. The same way fans in Norway and Malaysia and South Africa watch English Premier League Football and make it the top League in the world...is quite honestly what American Soccer should be striving for. For Top Tier American Soccer to grow...it has to go international. The same way there are dozens of Man U supporters clubs in the US that follow the team even more rabidly than the fans in Manchester...there should be LA Galaxy supporters groups in Milan and Tokyo and Kuala Lumpar.
One way to get these fans is to show them just how star-studded the League is. And nothing shows how good Top Tier American Soccer is than the All-Star Game.
Outside of Americas franchise Zones, Belize and Cuba, I doubt that anyone knows who Chris Wondo(w)lowski is. Obafemi Martins, that's another story. Martins is a Super Eagles Legend. A pretty big name in Nigeria who had a good following at Inter and Newcastle. It's not outlandish to say that he would be a bigger draw than Wondolowski. If I were a betting man I would say Martins would potentially bring in more new fans than Wondo. And that pretty much goes for all the players I picked. Robert Earnshaw has 71,000 follows on Twitter. Wondo has 17,000. Kyle Beckerman has 23,000 Twitter Followers. One tweet and Earnshaw could bring in tens of thousands of new fans to MLS by watching the All-Star Game. And isn't the All-Star Game about getting new fans?
As the All-Star match is in KC, the squad playing contains 3 lads from Sporting. Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin and Graham Zusi. I chose to omit Collin and Besler and keep Zusi. The whole idea in having 3 players from the home town team is to give the folks in KC a chance to see their local heroes play with the best in the League. I don't get it to be honest with you. Fans of Sporting have an opportunity to see their players week in and week out. Fans might have missed seeing Nigel Reo-Coker or Kleberson but you can see your local club every other week. Of course, keeping Zusi on the list was to satisfy the folks who think that some hometown players should be on the list. Unless KC have well known stars, recognizable outside the 50 continuous States then one player is enough.
The idea of having an All-Star match in a franchise City baffles me. Wouldn't you want to hold these kinds of events in areas where Soccer is Big but where MLS doesn't have a big footprint? Las Vegas comes to mind, St Louis, Atlanta...etc etc. What a way to expand the brand by having the match in an area with no Top Tier team. I can only imagine the weekend of activities that could be planed if the match was ever in Vegas. I'm not saying KC isn't throwing a big bash of it's own. I'm curious to see The Fashion Show with Aurelien Collin at 6:30pm on the 30th or The Radkey and Silversun Pickups concert at 8pm.
The thing is an All-Star match in the middle of the season has some risks. The first article I ever wrote for Football.com was 51 ways to make MLS better...or something like that...I can't find it on the site...in which I wrote something like I'm so not a fan of the All-Star game that I think we should have Two of them.
One in the middle of the season show casing the Stars of the League and One at the end of the season, played one day before the MLS Cup Final, showcasing the All-Stars of the season (minus the fellas in the final). An All-Star match in the middle of the season should function solely as an advertisement to the rest of the World to essentially watch the second half of the season. When you have the most in-form players playing in the middle of the season there is a risk of injury that really could effect that player as the season goes on. If I was an MLS manager I would rather have my most in-form players rest up a week than fly off to Kansas for a meaningless match with AS Roma.
And let's be honest...for the player...this is a meaningless match. I doubt if any soccer player in America grew up dreaming that they would one day be an All-Star. “Gee Kid! You're gonna grow up to be an All-Star one day!” was probably never heard in the High School and College locker rooms of the lads on the roster. For the match to be meaningful it would have to be at the end of the season. Where it could be a showcase for the players that weren't in the Final. Not a consolation prize but a big match (East Vs West) for the lads who could have very well been at the Final if it wasn't for that last minute goal or bad call by the ref etc etc.
The All-Star game is a thoroughly American thing. People who have known me for a while know that I love anything that makes American Soccer stand out to the rest of the world. I love the idea of people around the world flipping through sports channels and spotting a soccer match being played on fake grass with Am-Footy lines on it...yes...it's American Soccer so don't touch that dial...stick around and watch it! I love the idea of Conferences and Playoffs and No Relegation and Promotion. Heck! I even liked watching hapless foreign players trying to figure out the “shoot-out”. I'm glad it was done away with...but I liked it. It showed the world that it was watching American Soccer...and hopefully it drew their attention to it for long enough to get hooked and become a fan. The All-Star Game has to do the same.