MLS released its 115-player ballot for next month's All-Star Game against AS Roma at Sporting Park. Here's a merit-based starting XI that could face the Serie A power.
MLS released its 115-player All-Star ballot Monday, one that contains six players from each of the league's 19 teams (covering at least three positions on each team) as chosen by select media members' voting.
Regardless of whether that is the best way to build a ballot -- the handful of players with All-Star potential who did not even make the ballot at the expense of those on weaker teams who shouldn't even sniff the All-Star Game would argue for the contrary -- fans, MLS All-Star coach Peter Vermes and MLS commissioner Don Garber will combine to carve out the MLS team for the midsummer showcase.
There is always the challenge of whether to select an All-Star team by merit and to reward team success or to select a team of players based on reputation, skill, and who may match up best in a certain formation against the opponent, which in this case is Michael Bradley's AS Roma.
The point of an All-Star team's starting lineup in any sport should be to reward and acknowledge those who have played at the highest level over the first half of the season. While winning the game is a goal for MLS, so too is rewarding deserving players, dictating to fans which players have been the best and celebrating the season up to that point.
So who would I take as my starting XI to Sporting Park for the July 31 clash? Here's my (admittedly attack-minded) ballot, based on merit from the 2013 season alone:
GOALKEEPER: Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
Rimando is old news at the goalkeeper spot. He's solid, has been for years and other players at the position have had strong seasons too. Does that mean he should be punished for turning in another great campaign because his "usual" happens to be way above average? Hardly.
The U.S. national team No. 3 has been as good as ever in 2013, stopping two of three penalty kicks, playing behind a number of different back line combinations, posting an impressive save percentage (77) and continuing to be sound while playing out of the back. When it comes to judging goalkeepers based on statistics, all sorts of variables based on team play enter the picture, but whether you are into the numbers or not, Rimando has had a top-class campaign.
Narrowly missing out: Raul Fernandez, FC Dallas; Clint Irwin, Colorado Rapids, Troy Perkins, Montreal Impact; Donovan Ricketts, Portland Timbers; Bobby Shuttleworth, New England Revolution
DEFENDERS: Corey Ashe, Houston Dynamo; Jamison Olave, New York Red Bulls; Jose Goncalves, New England Revolution
It's amazing to look back and recall that Dynamo manager Dom Kinnear moved Corey Ashe to left back initially as an experiment two years ago solely to help contain then-New York Red Bulls winger Dane Richards. Now, Ashe has parlayed his play at left back into a U.S. national team call-up in May (one from which he had to withdraw because of injury) and a place on the provisional U.S. Gold Cup roster. He's been as steady as they come for Houston this season.
When Olave is healthy and on his game, no defender in the league is better. His combination of speed, athleticism and brute strength makes him a handful for opposing attackers. Even though he has been on the wrong end of a detrimental own goal this season, he has also managed to score a career-high four of his own, including an absolute cracker against Columbus. It's no surprise that some of New York's best performances have coincided with some of his.
Goncalves, meanwhile, has helped transform the Revolution's defensive unit from a laughingstock to an impenetrable wall, and the stingiest in MLS. Along with rookie Andrew Farrell, Goncalves' introduction to Jay Heaps' back line has made all the difference for the resurgent side, and the Portuguese defender has made such an impression in his first MLS season that he already wears the captain's armband for the Revs. He is as worthy as anyone for an All-Star nod.
Narrowly missing out: Tony Beltran, Real Salt Lake; Matt Besler, Sporting KC; Aurelien Collin, Sporting KC; Matteo Ferrari, Montreal Impact; Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy; George John, FC Dallas; Amobi Okugo, Philadelphia Union; Kofi Sarkodie, Houston Dynamo; Josh Williams, Columbus Crew; DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle Sounders
MIDFIELDERS: Graham Zusi, Sporting KC; Michel, FC Dallas; David Ferreira, FC Dallas; Rodney Wallace, Portland Timbers
Zusi gets the nod as the only member of Sporting KC to start in front of the home crowd, and for obvious reasons. He doesn't have form, he just is how he is every game: Supremely hardworking, effective and influential.
Michel and Ferreira represent the league's top team (as of now). Michel's versatility to play in the back or in the midfield has helped Schellas Hyndman's side achieve consistent results, but it is in that midfield role where the Brazilian -- he of the Olimpico in Seattle -- has excelled. He always seems to find plenty of the ball, distributes influential passes and digs in to do the dirty work as well. Ferreira is fully healthy for the first time since the opening month of the 2011 season, and has shown flashes of his MVP form while persevering as he continues to be the most fouled player in the game.
As for Wallace, who is capable of playing out on the wing even if he is technically a wide forward for the Timbers, he has been an absolute revelation for Caleb Porter in his attacking role. Plenty of his teammates are rewarding of All-Star recognition (so many to the point that Wallace was snubbed from the actual ballot), but Wallace's transition to his new position has been a true difference in helping the rest of the pieces fall into place for the most improved team in MLS out in the Rose City.
Narrowly missing out: Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders; Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake; Patrice Bernier, Montreal Impact; Tim Cahill, New York Red Bulls; Diego Chara, Portland Timbers; Brad Davis, Houston Dynamo; Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution; Felipe, Montreal Impact; Jackson, FC Dallas; Will Johnson, Portland Timbers; Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake; Oriol Rosell, Sporting KC; Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers
FORWARDS: Jack McInerney, Philadelphia Union; Marco Di Vaio, Montreal Impact; Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy
McInerney and Di Vaio are first and second in the Golden Boot race with 10 and nine goals respectively, and both have been scoring at a consistent rate to lead their teams to success. Di Vaio also has the added advantage of having played against Roma in his Serie A days, adding a nice twist to the plot.
As for Keane, who has amassed five goals and four assists while missing time, the LA captain is arguably the most valuable player in MLS with his skill set. His ability to finish, combine and make savvy off-ball runs is a pleasure to watch and is on its own level when compared to his colleagues.
Narrowly missing out: Claudio Bieler, Sporting KC; Camilo, Vancouver Whitecaps; Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy; Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls; Federico Higuain, Columbus Crew; Dominic Oduro, Columbus Crew; Mike Magee, Chicago Fire; Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers; Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes