MLS unveiled its full All-Star team on Monday.
In total, 26 players will go to Orlando to play Atletico Madrid, 11 of which were selected by fans. Orlando City SC coach James O’Connor picked 13. Commissioner Don Garber added two special picks — young FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal and RSL goalkeeping legend Nick Rimando, who will retire after this season.
All in all, it’s a pretty good team, and most of the players who should have made it made it. There are snubs, per usual, and smaller-market teams will rightfully complain that higher-profile players made it over more deserving guys. Bastian Schweinsteiger should not be on this team if we’re considering pure performance this season.
But it makes sense that fame and fan recognition takes precedence in some cases. This is a showcase for MLS against a high-level European team. MLS has plenty of motivation to let Schweinsteiger into this team ahead of, say, Jack Elliott, even if Elliott has been miles better than Bastian this season.
MLS All-Star game compared to other American pro sports leagues
And MLS’s All-Star Game does not carry the importance and prestige of other American all-star games. It’s not common to discuss an MLS player and say he’s a “three-time All-Star.” That statement in itself would not indicate that the player is very good, the way that it would if you were talking about the NBA or NHL.
Most importantly, All-Star selections don’t significantly affect a player’s salary and contract like they do in the NBA, at least to public knowledge. In the grand scheme of things, Houston Dynamo fans can deal with a deserving Alberth Elis missing the team.
With that in mind, we’re looking today at the players who should have and shouldn’t have made it.
Attacking Selections and Snub
Elis is the biggest snub that comes to mind. The forward selections from the fan XI were Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Vela. Those three are fair and deserving, though Elis has been a bit better than Rooney this season. Elis has five goals and six assists in 400 fewer minutes than Rooney, who has eight goals and five assists.
From there, O’Connor added Josef Martinez and Chris Wondolowski as coach selections. Martinez has 10 goals and is arguably the third-best player in the league. Wondo has caught fire in recent weeks. It’s hard to justify Wondo over Elis, Mauro Manotas, and others, but it’s nice to reward Wondo for breaking the scoring record. No quibbles there.
11 players make up the midfield, seven of whom are outright attackers (eight if you include Paxton Pomykal). The fan XI picks were, as expected, big-market stars: Nani, Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Jonathan dos Santos.
Nani and dos Santos have been very good this season and deserve spots. The same cannot be said for Martinez and Barco. Atlanta’s voting bots are effective.
Deserving players get recognition
It was nice to see James O’Connor add six deserving players with his coach’s picks. Diego Rossi, tied for fourth in the league in goals, made it, as did NYCFC star Maxi Moralez, who is second in assists with nine. O’Connor recognized the efforts of LAFC workhorse and play-driver Mark-Anthony Kaye, and made sure to add the league’s best defensive midfielder: Diego Chara.
Nicolas Lodeiro is in the team. He is consistently one of the league’s most valuable players and the Sounders are third in the west, so his spot is safe. O’Connor also included Toronto FC’s Alejandro Pozuelo, who looks like an instant superstar. Pozuelo has 5g and 8a already.
Credit to Don Garber for making Pomykal a commissioner’s pick — Pomykal was deserving regardless as one of the league’s best No. 10-ish players. A few guys, like Diego Valeri, Alejandro Bedoya, Latif Blessing, and Eduard Atuesta were unlucky miss out.
Fans whiff on two backline selections
The seven players who will make up the defense were primarily deserving selections, except for two: Schweinsteiger, based on his performance this year, and fan XI pick Graham Zusi. But, as mentioned before, it’s hard to argue against the draw of Schweinsteiger as a superstar.
Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Walker Zimmerman were the other two fan XI selections. Zimmerman is the running favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, and Gonzalez-Pirez remains an elite center back in this league. In addition to those four, O’Connor added Red Bulls right back Kemar Lawrence, Minnesota left back Romain Metanire and FC Dallas center back Matt Hedges. Quality picks.
It was disappointing to see that DaMarcus Beasley did not receive a selection in his final season. Elliott, Kelvin Leerdam, and Nick Lima were other contenders.
The retiring Rimando will be the third goalkeeper, added as a career honor. Brad Guzan and Andre Blake are the other two keepers — neither would have been my selections, but the goalkeeper pool is crowded, and there haven’t been many that have set themselves apart.