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.
1. Toronto FC
On top of the standings and still top of the Power Rankings, Toronto FC is now going from strength to strength after getting the big boys back from the Gold Cup. Sunday’s tilt against NYCFC was a big one, but TFC dominated the visitors en route to a 4–0 victory. Sebastian Giovinco is rounding into one of his incandescent runs of form. All in all, it's making for excellent times at BMO Field.
2. New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls were on the right side of one of MLS’s three 4–0 results this past week weekend, with their particular triumph coming against the Montreal Impact. Daniel Royer is scoring for fun now; the Austrian has six goals in the last four games for RBNY, all of which have been wins. That’s the longest active winning streak in the league, and the Red Bulls will put it to the test this weekend in a local derby against NYCFC.
3. New York City FC
Yes, NYCFC was playing away at the league’s best team, but any way you slice it a 4–0 loss is a setback. On the plus side, Patrick Vieira and the world at large got to see just how valuable Yangel Herrera is to this team. The Venezuelan was suspended this week due to a red card in Week 20, and Andrea Pirlo was repeatedly beaten in key moments in his stead.
4. Chicago Fire
After an 11-match unbeaten run, the Fire have now lost two straight. The most recent was Saturday’s 3–2 loss at Sporting Kansas City, in which the Fire only equalized because of a Matt Besler own goal. With this and rumors of David Accam’s discontent and push for a transfer away, things may not be as sunny in Chicago as standings indicate, though the city will put on a show for the league's All-Star festivities.
5. FC Dallas
Last week, it appeared FC Dallas was back on the right track after a midsummer swoon. Ehhh…maybe not. FCD was second-best in just about every facet against Vancouver on Saturday, and it showed in the scoreline of a 4–0 loss. Overall, Dallas is still in good shape standings-wise out West, and has still won three of its last five. Still, 4–0 is a score the team will want to bury as quickly as possible.
6. Atlanta United FC
Atlanta United’s winning streak ended at four, but the unbeaten streak remains alive at five after Saturday’s 1–1 draw against Orlando City SC. Hector Villalba’s late equalizer gave Bobby Dodd Stadium a nice send-off, and now Tata Martino’s side will look to continue its good form on the road for the next three weeks before opening its time at the Mercedes-Benz enormo-dome.
7. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City dealt away its leading goal scorer from the last three seasons, but it didn’t seem to have any problem creating offense in a 3–2 win over the Chicago Fire. It’s unlikely that any single player on the team will replace Dom Dwyer’s output, but the unit as a whole looked better against Chicago than it has for much of this season. Daniel Salloi, who scored his second MLS goal against Chicago, could be a breakout player in Dwyer’s absence.
8. Houston Dynamo
Mauro Manotas and Juan David Cabezas scored in Houston’s 2–2 draw with the Portland Timbers, a result that extends Houston’s undefeated 2017 at BBVA Compass Stadium. Erick “Cubo” Torres was quiet in his return from Gold Cup duty, but with the way this season is going chances are he’ll be back amongst the goals soon enough.
9. Vancouver Whitecaps
Where did that come from? The Whitecaps were deservedly considered to be underdogs visiting FC Dallas on Saturday, but a strong first-half performance and second-half FC Dallas red card resulted in a 4–0 win for Vancouver. Fredy Montero scored twice, but 2017 addition Bernie Ibini-Ibie also netted his first league goal and looked dangerous otherwise in his second start.
10. Portland Timbers
A 2–2 draw against Houston is the Timbers’ fourth draw in their last six games. One bright spot among the mediocrity: Sebastian Blanco. The Argentine has scored go-ahead goals in each of the last two weeks for Portland, and has amassed four goals and three assists in the last eight games he’s played. The story for the Timbers continues to be the defense (or the lack thereof).
11. Seattle Sounders
It must have been weird for the Sounders players and staff to line up against Sigi Schmid, the coach that led the team through its entire MLS existence before his firing last season. Regardless, the Sounders couldn’t find a way to break through Schmid’s LA Galaxy team in a 0–0 draw. It’s a valuable away point that extends Seattle’s unbeaten run to six games (three wins and three draws).
12. New England Revolution
After publicly questioning his role within the team last week, Kei Kamara broke out with two goals in a 3–0 win over the Philadelphia Union. Kamara’s first was an incredible feat of athleticism that deserves to be seen, and his second was a cool, calm, and collected finish to the bottom corner. That’s two straight wins for the Revs, who travel to take on Chicago next.
13. Orlando City SC
The Lions gained a new striker in Dom Dwyer, but the newly-minted USMNT forward didn’t have much impact on proceedings in a 1–1 draw at Atlanta United. Dwyer didn’t get a goal or assist, nor did he even manage to take a shot. There’s still plenty of potential for Dwyer to fulfill in Orlando, though, and his scoring record over the past three seasons indicates he’s more likely to live up to it than not.
14. Real Salt Lake
It took RSL 20 weeks of MLS action to string more than two positive results in a row, and now it has built that little unbeaten run to four after Saturday’s 2–2 draw with Columbus. The fact that RSL gave up a lead in that draw is disappointing, but what has been a bad season by the Wasatch Range is being given a glimmer of hope by this recent uptick.
15. Philadelphia Union
The Union have had New England’s number as of late, but they certainly didn’t on Saturday as Kamara’s brace sent the Union to a 3–0 loss. That’s Philly’s third loss in its last five, with just one win in that span. Andre Blake’s injury in the Gold Cup final means the Jamaican goalkeeper will be out of the selection picture for a couple of weeks at least. All in all–there's not a lot of reason for optimism in Philly these days.
16. Columbus Crew SC
Columbus finished a three-games-in-eight-days stretch with a record of 1–1–1, including a 2–2 draw on Saturday at Real Salt Lake. Ola Kamara scored both goals in that one, giving him 11 for the year. Columbus has this weekend off, which is a good thing as linchpin Federico Higuain recovers from a knee injury that’s kept him out of the club's last four games.
17. Minnesota United FC
There’s nothing like playing the worst team in the league to break a bad run of form, even if your team is also one of the worst in the league. The Loons got their sixth win of the season in dominant fashion over a poor D.C. United side, with all of the team’s big attacking characters (Miguel Ibarra, Abu Danladi, and Christian Ramirez) chipping in goals in the victory.
18. San Jose Earthquakes
The Earthquakes bounced back from three straight losses with a 1–0 win over the Colorado Rapids, thanks to a second-half strike from rookie homegrown defender Nick Lima. Lima has been one of the stories of the season for San Jose, which is still within touching distance of a playoff spot under interim boss Chris Leitch.
19. Montreal Impact
The Impact lost their second straight and third in their last five in horrendous fashion on Saturday, falling 4–0 to the New York Red Bulls. The Impact were under pressure pretty much the entire time at Red Bull Arena, with Ignacio Piatti limited and on the bench due to injury. Next week, Montreal travels to face Orlando.
20. LA Galaxy
The Galaxy made a move that had to be made, firing head coach Curt Onalfo after five straight losses and replacing him with a known, proven quantity in Schmid. A return to the Galaxy for Schmid has a nice storybook feel to it after he led the team to be an MLS power in the early 2000’s. From the looks of Saturday’s 0–0 draw at home against Seattle, there’s still plenty of work for him to do.
21. Colorado Rapids
Tim Howard was in attendance for Colorado’s 1–0 loss to San Jose, but didn’t make the gameday roster. That’s likely due to Howard just coming off a Gold Cup victory with the United States, but it’s clear that the Rapids need all the help they can get at this point. Pablo Mastroeni’s men remain at the foot of the Western Conference.
22. D.C. United
In its last 10 games D.C. is 1–8–1, including a run of seven straight losses that continues after a 4–0 loss to Minnesota. DCU has been outscored 18–6 over those seven losses. Even Bill Hamid, usually a bright spot, was awful against Minnesota on Sunday. Things aren't so rosy in the USA capital.