UPDATE: Consider this a mid-month amendment. I had an extra player on the watch list by accident. That's been fixed now.
With two weeks until the next Union game, I figured we could take a moment to step away from the usual grind and do something fun.
You all know that the Major League Soccer All-Star Game will be at PPL Park on July 25. Although the balloting won't start until early June (at least that's what happened last year), I decided it would be neat to keep track of some of the candidates to make the All-Star team.
My lists are going to be somewhat objective and somewhat subjective. There are a few guidelines, and they are as follows:
- A total of 32 players are officially named to the squad. This number has been collectively bargained by MLS and its players union. It dates back to the era when the All-Star Game was Eastern Conference vs. Westeren Conference.
Although the East vs. West format no longer exists, the union bargained for the same number of players to receive All-Star bonuses. Given how little MLS players get paid compared to other American sports leagues, no one complains about giving a few guys a little bit of extra money to reward their good play.
- Of the 32 players, 22 are named to the game day roster and 10 are named as alternates. As such, I will give you a first XI, a second XI, and a set of alternates.
- Last year, it was announced in advance that the roster would be composed of four goalkeepers, eight defenders, 13 midfielders and seven forwards. No such rule has been announced for this year, but I'm going to stick by that format on my roster list.
In reality, the All-Star team will not be named by just one person, or by just one set of people. Last year's All-Star team was assembled by the following procedure:
1. A panel of media members (which I've been on in the past) picked six players from each team to include in fan voting for selection.
2. Fans voted for the "First XI," picking the initial 11 players out of the 22 on the game day roster.
3. MLS Commissioner Don Garber selected two players, then All-Star team coach Hans Bakce filled out the rest of the game day roster.
Backe was named the coach because the game was played at Red Bull Arena. In past years, the coach of the best team in the league at that point got the honor.
This year, I would not be surprised if the coach is Sporting Kansas City's Peter Vermes. The South Jersey native's squad currently has the best overall record in MLS.
Of course, Peter Nowak will also be considered. But if Kansas City still has the best record in MLS when the time comes to select a coach, my guess is Vermes will get the nod. That would allow the league to reward a good performance on the field and also have a local tie.
4. Once the game day roster is filled out, a player ballot across MLS will determine the 10 alternates.
Having laid out the rules, here are the players I've selected for my early All-Star Game watch list. I doubt many of them will surprise you, but perhaps some will. It's a mix of stars, hard workers and players who have gotten off to strong starts to this season.
I also purposely picked at least one player from each team, and I did not put more than one player from any team on either XI. Although not every team in MLS was represented on last year's roster, there is enough talent spread across the league that I felt it would be good to make sure every team is represented.
Most teams have two players on my watch list, but no team has more than two. I plan to stick to that as I continue this feature throughout the spring. I don't know how often I'll update my list - perhaps monthly? - but I plan on doing so a few more times before fan voting starts.
So with all that said, here's my first 2012 All-Star Game watch list.
Goalkeepers (4): Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA), Milos Kocic (Toronto FC), Matt Reis (New England Revolution), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders (8): Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Ramiro Corrales (San Jose Earthquakes), Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Chance Myers (Sporting Kansas City), Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake), Lee Young-Pyo (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Midfielders (13): Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Patrice Bernier (Montréal Impact), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo) Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United), Gabriel Gomez (Philadelphia Union), Sebastián Grazzini (Chicago Fire), Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)
Forwards (7): Kris Boyd (Portland Timbers), Kenny Cooper (New York Red Bulls), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy), Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Chicago Fire: Sebastián Grazzini
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy
Colorado Rapids: Jeff Larentowicz
Columbus Crew: Chad Marshall
D.C. United: Dwayne De Rosario
FC Dallas: Brek Shea, Ugo Ihemelu
Houston Dynamo: Geoff Cameron, Brad Davis
Los Angeles Galaxy: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane
Montréal Impact: Patrice Bernier
New England Revolution: Shalrie Joseph. Matt Reis
New York Red Bulls: Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper
Philadelphia Union: Freddy Adu, Gabriel Gomez
Portland Timbers: Darlington Nagbe, Kris Boyd
Real Salt Lake: Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando
San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski, Ramiro Corrales
Seattle Sounders: Osvaldo Alonso, Fredy Montero
Sporting Kansas City: Chance Myers, C.J. Sapong
Toronto FC: Ashtone Morgan, Milos Kocic
Vancouver Whitecaps: Jay DeMerit, Lee Young-Pyo
Goalkeepers: Kocic, Reis
Midfielders: Beckerman, Davis, Gomez, Grazzini
Forwards: Boyd, Cooper, Montero, Sapong
Since I know you're going to ask: Adu is in the starting lineup because the game's in Philadelphia. Somebody from the Union will be, and given Adu's name recognition I suspect he'll get the nod.
I wouldn't put Adu in the starting lineup on merit - Nagbe deserves it more, especially after scoring two spectacular goals Saturday night. But All-Star Games are about popularity as much as they are merit, and that's as true in MLS as it is in any other American sports league.
You probably also noticed that there's one really big name missing: David Beckham. I'm assuming that he will be named to the Great Britain Olympic soccer squad, and the men's tournament kicks off July 26 - the day after the All-Star game.
Speaking of Los Angeles, it's worth noting that they have a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur on July 24. Portland also hosts Aston Villa on the same night. I would think the All-Star Game will take precedence when it comes to player selection, but we'll see.
Even if Great Britain's first game isn't on that date, Beckham will have surely left Los Angeles well before then.
As for which team will be the All-Stars' opponent, nothing has been finalized quite yet. My guess is it's either going to be Chelsea or AC Milan. Both have friendly matches scheduled on the east coast on Saturday, July 28, so a stop in Philadelphia would make sense.
What do you think of these lineups? Which players do you want to see in the All-Star Game, whether from the Union or other MLS teams? Have your say in the comments.