Voting for the 2019 MLS All-Star game has already started, and will continue until June 13. Fans pick 10 players — an 11th will be determined by FIFA19 — and the rest of the roster is selected by Orlando City coach James O’Connor.
Given the recent history of All-Star voting, it is unlikely that the fan XI will actually produce the best players at each position. Atlanta United players will dominate. MLSsoccer.com gives fans an unrealistic 3-4-3 formation as the base, tilting votes toward attackers. Fan voting is inherently fraught.
Regardless, it’s fun to pick the most deserving players, even if most of them probably won’t earn fan XI spots. We’ll go through today and do exactly that, including tons of honorable mentions, just for fun. Let’s go.
Goalkeeper: Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders)
Similar to much of last year, there isn’t a goalkeeper who jumps out as an obvious pick here. Stefan Frei earns this spot by virtue of being the best in the league.
Zack Steffen hasn’t been out of this world and his team has lost seven of its last eight games (two of which came without Steffen). We’ll give this spot to the reigning Goalkeeper of the Year champ.
Honorable mentions: Tyler Miller (LAFC), Evan Bush (Montreal Impact), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Daniel Vega (San Jose Earthquakes)
Defenders: Walker Zimmerman (LAFC), Jack Elliott (Philadelphia Union), Kelvin Leerdam (Sounders)
Only selecting three defenders (and thus possibly excluding a defensive position or two) is not an ideal set-up, but I was at least spared from having to mine out a left-back, often the toughest task in these debates.
Walker Zimmerman seems to be the frontrunner for Defender of the Year, leading the backline of the best team in the league. He is more disciplined stepping out of the back this year and has partnered effectively with Eddie Segura, an All-Star contender in his own right. Elliott has played every minute for the Union.
Kelvin Leerdam is a clean, solid right-back who knows how to connect play on the ball and defend in space. He steps into midfield when needed for the Sounders, and he understands his role.
A few of the usual center back names nearly made it on here: Ike Opara in Minnesota, Matt Hedges in Dallas, and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez in Atlanta, namely. In addition, I gave serious consideration to Montreal stalwart Zakaria Diallo, Vancouver’s Doneil Henry, and Seattle’s Kim Kee-Hee.
FCD youngling Reggie Cannon, Whitecaps golazo-scorer Ali Adnan, LAFC vet Steven Beitashour, Minnesota newcomer Romain Metanire, Orlando wing-back Ruan, and versatile San Jose defender Nick Lima deserve a mention at right back.
And, for the record, if I had to include a left-back, I’d throw in the Impact’s Daniel Lovitz, the Red Bulls’ Kemar Lawrence, or D.C. United’s Leonardo Jara.
Midfielders: Latif Blessing (LAFC), Mark-Anthony Kaye (LAFC), Nicolas Lodeiro (Sounders), Alejandro Bedoya (Union)
I included two LAFC midfielders in this spot, and yet Eduard Atuesta remains one of my biggest snubs here. LA’s midfield is fantastic. I mentioned Blessing in this article a month ago, and Kaye is an engine alongside Blessing and Atuesta.
Nicolas Lodeiro is the same Lodeiro — he gets on the ball a ton, dictates everything, and creates on-goal chances. This time, the Sounders are actually good early in the season, so Lodeiro deserves a starting spot. Some other attacking midfielders in contention here: Darwin Quintero (Minnesota), Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC), Paxton Pomykal (FCD), and Luciano Acosta (D.C. United).
Alejandro Bedoya is not as obvious a selection as Lodeiro, but he deserves to at least be in the mix. He is an important part of Philly’s success with the 4-4-2 diamond, playing as a shuttler and helping transport the ball to the attackers. Cristian Roldan, Darlington Nagbe, and Jonathan dos Santos deserve shouts as No. 8s.
It feels weird not having a true No. 6 here, but Kaye can very capably fill that role, and one could argue that he is a 6 anyway. Diego Chara is always in contention.
Forwards: Carlos Vela (LAFC), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), Alberth Elis (Houston Dynamo)
Carlos Vela is the best player in MLS and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is right behind him. Those two are pretty secure in their spots here.
Alberth Elis is secure as well, with four goals and six assists in 854 minutes and a role as the best player on one of MLS’s best early teams. His talent and performance this year in spite of the fewer games he’s played than others elevate him over productive attackers like Orlando’s Nani, Sporting KC’s Johnny Russell, and D.C.’s Wayne Rooney.
Dynamo teammate Mauro Manotas comes second to Zlatan among center-forwards — he has six goals and four assists this season as Elis’s partner in crime.
Honorable mentions: Josef Martinez (Atlanta), Jozy Altidore (TFC), Diego Rossi (LAFC)