July 17, 2012

No All-Star vote is controversy-free. Often, fan voting reeks of some measure of computer-based programming fraud. But in looking at the selections for this year's MLS All-Star team as someone who played for five MLS teams and coached for another, it's impossible to argue that the fans did not nail it this year. In translation for all the text voters, IMHO I had a lot less WTF + SMH reactions, and flashed way more Emoji "thumbs up" icons while browsing through the selections.

Comprised of a "First XI" voted on by the fans, the roster was was filled out with a pair of commissioner's picks and five picks from All-Star head coach Ben Olsen of D.C. United. On July 25 at PPL Park in Philadelphia, the team will take on world powerhouse and defending Champions League winner, Chelsea.

After spending countless hours removing all my biases and reviewing the selections, here's my take on why everyone involved in the selection process got it right.

In goal, by far the most difficult position in which to choose, Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City) and Danny Kennedy (Chivas USA) were well-deserved selections.

Nielsen, the fan's vote winner, has been a stabilizing presence for a Kansas City team that sits atop the Eastern Conference standings. The "White Puma" has posted a 0.89 GAA, with a league-leading 11 wins and eight shutouts.

Numbers don't quite tell the story about how influential Olsen's choice, Kennedy, has been. After earning last season's Team MVP Award, Kennedy has almost single-handedly kept the Goats in every game this year. (On a personal note, it's quite gratifying to see Kennedy honored. He arrived as a trialist for Chivas USA in 2008, when I played for the team. Danny made the team as a third-string keeper and has done nothing but work hard to finally earn and excel in his opportunity as a starter. His first All-Star selection also isn't a bad way to celebrate your 30th birthday, as he will later this week.)

Though they missed the cut, many keepers have distinguished themselves this season, from Andy Gruenebaum in Columbus to a few wily vets still on top of their games -- Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Joe Cannon (Vancouver Whitecaps), and Jon Busch (San Jose Earthquakes).

On defense, the fans voted for Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes), Aurelien Collin (Sporting K.C.), and Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps) to each earn their first All-Star nods, with Heath Pearce (New York Red Bulls) rounding out the back four.

Pearce earned his third All-Star selection with some help from hipsters with cell phones from coast to coast and a concerted campaign on Twitter. This isn't to say the selection wasn't earned. A trade from Chivas to New York has helped Pearce, whose versatility has been a huge boost to the Red Bulls' backline.

Beitashour came out of nowhere for San Jose and has been a weapon bombing up the right side each and every game. Don't be surprised if every MLS team changes up their game plans vs. the Earthquakes in the second half of the season to limit Beitashour's dangerous service.

Though not as explosive, Collin and DeMerit have both been rock solid in the center of defense all year for K.C. and Vancouver, respectively, and have both taken advantage of their aerial prowess to get on the scoresheet as well.

Commissioner Don Garber chose Philadelphia's Carlos Valdes and San Jose's Ramiro Corrales to complete the defense, and both were smart picks. Valdes has been a rock for Philly all season, despite being paired up with multiple inexperienced center back partners. The Union captain surely will get a nice applause from the Sons of Ben faithful, especially coming off his game-winning injury time goal vs Montreal last weekend. And Corrales has defied Father Time, as the only selection on the All-Star roster who was an active player in MLS when the league started back in 1996. Back then, I was celebrating my 8th grade graduation while listening to the brand new Fugees album on my Discman. Crazy.

Speaking of reminiscing, do you remember when everyone was complaining about David Beckham and Landon Donovan being selected to the All-Star First XI? Becks is too old. Donovan is off his game. The Galaxy are in last place. Well, that didn't last very long. Los Angeles has won six of its past eight games and has leapfrogged from ninth to fifth in the Western Conference standings in less than a month. Beckham put on a clinic in L.A.'s match vs. Portland on Sunday, scoring two goals that indirectly yelled "Really, Stuart Pearce?" after being snubbed by the British Olympic team manager. As for Donovan, all he has done is posted seven goals and six assists while still not performing at his best, which is scary news for the rest of the league.

Joining the Galaxy duo, Dwayne DeRosario earned his seventh All-Star nod by helping to lead D.C. United back to prominence in the Eastern Conference with five goals and 10 assists this season to his name. Graham Zusi deservedly rounds out the fans' midfield selections; he's a workhorse engine on both sides of the field and has posted two goals and eight assists.

Olsen added midfielders Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders) and Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) to the roster, and all bring strong resumes to the game.

Though it is still July, Pontius has MLS Comeback Player of the Year all but locked up. After returning from a scary broken leg that ended his season in 2011, he has nine goals and one assist in 12 starts for D.C. Beckerman has been his usual gritty self in the midfield while adding some attacking prowess. His play has also gained the attention U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, with Beckerman earning several Team USA caps over the last year. Seattle fans were screaming for Alonso to be on this list, and they got their wish. And what's not to love about a guy who is a general on the field, wears his heart on his sleeve and takes pride in doing all the dirty work? Alonso also serves as yet another great example of how soccer is not a game that can always be measured in stats. He has a whopping no goals and no assists as a central midfielder but still provided enough of the intangibles to earn an All-Star nod.

Unlike Alonso, the life of a forward is often dependent on numbers, and nobody in MLS is posting better stats right now than Chris Wondolowski of San Jose. Truth be told, I have to admit that I have never been the biggest Wondo fan. For lack of a better term, you could even say I was a hater! But give credit where credit is due, and I am in awe of what this man has been able to accomplish. Wondolowski has managed to establish himself as one of the greatest goal scorers in MLS history with an incredible 51 goals in the last 2 ½ seasons, including 17 in 18 games this year. Scoring goals at such a consistent rate is extremely difficult in any league, let alone MLS, where player personnel turnover, injuries and travel seem to catch up to everyone at some point. No matter, Wondo simply is the best finisher in MLS today, and proves haters like me wrong each and every week. He has my vote as MLS MVP thus far this season, and if he keeps scoring at this clip we might even see him dethrone Roy Lassiter's single-season goal-scoring record of 27.

Thierry Henry was also selected to his second consecutive All-Star Game. Many wondered what his mindset would be like after he was given a taste of glory at his former (and my favorite) club Arsenal, but he put that to rest early on. Injuries have slowed him down a bit lately, but Henry is clear-cut First XI choice and solid MVP candidate when he returns to health.

Seattle's Eddie Johnson (yes, that Eddie Johnson) used a strong, late push to once again make his way onto the team. This must mean a lot to Johnson, as many considered him an afterthought since he left MLS back in 2007 to pursue opportunities in Europe. Major props to Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid for slowly incorporating Johnson into his lineup rather than placing high workload and expectations on Johnson from the start. EJ has rewarded Schmid and the Sounders faithful by scoring five goals in his last seven games to reignite Seattle's MLS Cup aspirations.

Deserving as the selections above are, just like with everything else in life, you can't always make everybody happy. Olsen admitted that he was in a no-win situation in trying to select players because you will always have to leave off someone deserving. So without any further adieu, my picks for this year's All-Star snubs are: Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Lee Young-Pyo (Vancouver Whitecaps), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Geoff Cameron (Houston), Marvin Chavez (San Jose Earthquakes), Kenny Cooper (New York Red Bulls), Danny Koevermans (Toronto FC), Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Saer Sene (New England Revolution), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), and Robbie Keane, along with the aforementioned Rimando and Cannon. Though they were overlooked for the match vs Chelsea, these guys still have an opportunity to be rewarded as MLS will announce a list of 32 players who will be selected as 2012 All-Stars, per the CBA.

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