Kai Wagner has been around American sports enough to know the place that All-Star games have on the landscape. So the 24-year-old German left back knows what it means to be heading to his first Major League Soccer All-Star Game, as the Union’s only representative this year.
Wagner was announced Wednesday as one of 28 players announced to the squad that will face an All-Star team from Mexico’s Liga MX on Aug. 29 at Los Angeles FC’s Banc of California Stadium. The MLS squad features the usual big names such as Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Carlos Vela, and Nani; and a slew of rising young stars including Tajon Buchanan, Cade Cowell, Ricardo Pepi, Miles Robinson, and James Sands.
“It’s a great accomplishment for me to be named as an All-Star,” Wagner said after the Union’s 3-0 win over Toronto FC Wednesday night at Subaru Park. “I’m just happy that the work that I put in, a lot of people are seeing it.”
Thirteen of the 28 players (including the aforementioned big names, not surprisingly) were voted in by a mix of media, fans, and players. Wagner was among 13 players picked by LAFC manager Bob Bradley, who will coach the MLS squad.
That has some special resonance for Union manager Jim Curtin, who played for Bradley on the Chicago Fire back in the day and was an All-Star in 2004. (His teammates included Freddy Adu, who played for the Union seven years later; the manager was Curtin’s former teammate Peter Nowak, who became the Union’s first boss.)
Curtin saluted the league’s desire to ensure that the All-Star team is an actual team, not just a collection of players. Though Wagner was a Bradley pick, it got widely noticed that this year’s balloting required voters to pick a left back, a right back, and centerbacks — not just a batch of defenders from any position.
“Should every position be represented? I actually tend to think it should,” Curtin said, admitting he spoke as a former centerback. “I’m glad outside backs got selected. … I think it’s fair.”
It will be needed as the celebrated soccer rivalry between the U.S. and Mexico takes on a new twist in the club game. There will be quite some spice on the field, especially for the MLS squad’s North American players — Americans and Canadians looking to continue the rivalry, and Vela and Hernández playing against their countrymen and friends.
“I can’t wait for the whole week, just to get to know all the guys, the coach, the other players, and the whole event around it,” Wagner said. “I think it will be a couple days I will never forget in my life.”
Wagner will get a little taste of that spice when the Union kick off their Concacaf Champions League semifinal series against Club América next Thursday at Mexico City’s legendary Estadio Azteca (10 p.m., FS1 and TUDN). And truth be told, Wagner didn’t have a ton to say about the All-Star honor because he’s got games before it on his mind first — starting with Sunday’s visit to the first-place New England Revolution (6 p.m., PHL17).
“Now we have just other stuff to do,” he said. “We just think about New England, about the next game, and I think a little bit in the back of our head about the Champions League game.”
There will be time for the fun stuff later.
2021 MLS All-Stars
Goalkeepers: Pedro Gallese (Orlando City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Defenders: Julian Araujo (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jesús Murillo (Los Angeles FC), Nouhou Tolo (Seattle Sounders), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Alex Roldan (Seattle Sounders), James Sands (New York City FC), Kai Wagner (Union), Yeimar Gomez Andrade (Seattle Sounders), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
Midfielders: Eduard Atuesta (LAFC), Carles Gil (New England Revolution), Damir Kreilach (Real Salt Lake), João Paulo (Seattle Sounders), Emanuel Reynoso (Minnesota United), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Lucas Zelarayán (Columbus Crew)
Forwards: Gustavo Bou (New England Revolution), Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes), Javier Hernández (Los Angeles Galaxy), Nani (Orlando City), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Diego Rossi (Los Angeles FC), Raúl Ruidíaz (Seattle Sounders), Dániel Sallói (Sporting Kansas City), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC)
Manager: Bob Bradley (Los Angeles FC)
Liga MX All-Stars
Goalkeepers: José de Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Pumas UNAM), Guillermo Ochoa, (Club América)
Defenders: Matheus Doria (Santos Laguna), Pablo Aguilar (Cruz Azul), Víctor Guzmán (Club Tijuana), César Montes (Monterrey), William Tesillo (León), Fernando Navarro (León), Salvador Reyes (Puebla), Juan Marcelo Escobar (Cruz Azul), Jesús Gallardo (Monterrey)
Midfielders: Luis Romo (Cruz Azul), Luis Montes (León), Fernando Gorriarán (Santos Laguna), Rubens Sambueza (Toluca), Guido Pizarro (Tigres), Pedro Aquino (Club América), Diego Valdés (Santos Laguna), Ángel Mena (León)
Forwards: Jonathan Rodríguez (Cruz Azul), Pedro Canelo (Toluca), Santiago Muñoz (Santos Laguna), André-Pierre Gignac (Tigres UANL), Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey)
Manager: Juan Reynoso (Cruz Azul)