This year's MLS All-Star Game features plenty of the league's biggest names–and a whole host of deserving players who will be missing out.
On Wednesday night in Chicago, Major League Soccer will invite you to tune in to its big, mid-year special event. The MLS All-Star game is the last time this year where the league will have relatively uncontested time on the American sporting landscape to catch fans’ attention—before football season starts, and in the middle of baseball’s post-trade deadline lull. You’ll see a world-class team in Real Madrid and an MLS squad full of big-name players—some of whom have personal histories playing against (or, in Kaka’s case, with) Los Galacticos.
What you won’t, see, though, are many of the league’s best performers through the first half of the year.
Columbus Crew SC midfielder Justin Meram made waves this week by claiming that the event is more of a celebrity game than anything. It’s a hot take, but it’s hard to ignore its basis in reality.
MLS currently has five players (Michael Barrios, Victor Vazquez, Yamil Asad, Alex, and Sacha Kljestan) tied atop the league with 10 assists apiece. None of them are on Veljko Paunovic’s All-Star roster. David Accam and Erick “Cubo” Torres have enjoyed breakout campaigns in front of goal, but they’ll be nowhere to be found at Soldier Field. The frontrunner for Defender of the Year (Ike Opara), and arguably the league’s best attacking left back (Joevin Jones)? Nada. Tim Melia leads the league in just about every statistical category relevant to goalkeeping—he’s staying home in favor of higher-profile players whose numbers pale in comparison.
Those are just a few select names, based on only the most obvious of metrics. What about guys like Seattle’s Cristian Roldan, or Kansas City’s Ilie Sanchez, whose contributions are subtle but just as important to their team’s success as goals?
We get it–all-star games are for stars. It’s right there in the name. MLS is not the first league to have undeserving players appear in an all-star game on the strength of their public profile. Thanks to the continued influence of fan voting across all leagues, they won’t be the last. It’s as much a feature of these types of games as special edition uniforms that retail for entirely too much.
And, truth be told, most of the fan XI selections are good ones. But as coach of the MLS All-Star team, the onus was on Paunovic to fill out the team with players that represent the best of what MLS has to offer at this moment in time. Instead, he made even more puzzling selections: Players like Stefan Frei, Jelle Van Damme, Michael Parkhurst, Ignacio Piatti, and Giovani Dos Santos, whose reputation precedes them and ability isn’t in question, but whose performances on the year simply don’t merit the recognition (or the pay bonus, now more exclusive with MLS no longer featuring an "inactive All-Star" group) that being an all-star provides.
Undoubtedly, the game against Real Madrid will be a fun event. The players chosen will represent the league to the best of their ability, and Real Madrid will get one last high-profile training session under their belts before starting on a long and arduous season in Europe.
But it’s hard not to wonder how much more meaningful the All-Star Game would be if it actually displayed the best of the league to the world.
With that soliloquy out of the way, let’s get to this week’s Power Rankings.