It’s the day the stars show up to play together against a big foreign club.
It’s the day that Pep Guardiola comically tells off Caleb Porter.
It’s...according to one of our roundtable participants, a glorified friendly.
It’s the MLS All-Star Game. And the ballots have been released for fans to vote on their ten picks to start the game (the eleventh position in the MLS starting XI is reserved for that cross-promotion MLS does with EA Sports).
Without further gilding the proverbial lily, I present to you the participants in this Blue Testament roundtable:
- Yours truly (aka the cleric named Eric)
- TBT Editor Chad Smith (also the maker of Twitter gifs)
- TBT author Araceli Villanueva (currently elated with Real Madrid)
- TBT author Mike Kuhn (the East German judge)
Eric Atcheson (EA): Okay, let’s start between the pipes. I’m biased, since I play keeper, but clearly it’s the most important position and should be voted on first among us. If for no other reason than process of elimination—most every other big name MLS keeper from Bingham to Rimando has made howlers this year—Tim Melia has to merit consideration as the starter if we’re going to by the criteria solely of who has had the best 2017.
Araceli Villanueva (AV): It needs to be Melia. His story really is remarkable, he leads the league in shutouts...he is the league’s best keeper right now.
Chad Smith (CS): Yeah, not to be a homer, but prior to this weekend’s game against Minnesota, the guy indeed led the league in shut outs (7), but also save percentage (78.2%) and is near the top of the league in goals against average (0.71). Jesse Gonzalez is the only other player close and he only has 9 starts to Melia's 14.
EA: And I know Jesse has just been rewarded by Dallas for his good play this year with a long term contract extension, but I think it’s no contest. Melia’s the guy.
Mike Kuhn (MK): I've taken to not voting for Kansas City players for the All Star Game. While I know that opinion isn't always a popular one, that the All Star Game is one of the highest rated MLS games of the year on TV, and that the players have said that they enjoy playing in the All Star Game, I view it the same as I view any other midseason friendly against a European team, a distraction from the regular season. If a player for Kansas City is truly worthy of being an all-star they will either be selected by the league, the coach, or as a "reserve" which means that they'd still get an "All Star" bonus, but wouldn't have to play in the game.
So I’ve voted for all the players that are on the ballot that play their next game against Sporting. This year, Sporting's first game after the All Star game on August 2nd takes place four days later on Sunday the 6th when Sporting hosts Atlanta United. So my first selection to the All-Star team is a former SKC player—Alec Kann.
EA: -sings “One of these things is not like the other” from Sesame Street- Erm, how about the backline, then? I think we’ve got a couple of close-to-unanimous choices there as well. I know we’re all SKC homers here, but Ike Opara definitely has to be worthy of a spot, yeah?
AV: He has been a key defender for SKC when healthy over the past five seasons. He snuffs out attacks before they threaten Melia, and he is capable of scoring goals too.
CS: I fully expect fans to pick Besler over Opara, but I personally believe Ike has earned it with his stellar play.
EA: I think he has as well. Not that Besler has been bad, but Opara has been superlatively good this year—as he usually is when he isn’t injured. What about a partner for him? I’d have to cast a vote for Matt Hedges.
MK: With Dallas near the top of the table with games in hand on KC, I’m also selecting Hedges. Hedges himself has had a very good season that has earned him US national team call ups this season that are certainly deserved.
(Let the record reflect that Chad also cast a vote for Hedges and for Nick Hagglund. Araceli voted for Besler as her other center back. [Editor: We also didn’t vote at the same time so I’m impressed that our votes line up so well.])
EA: Okay, midfielders. Here’s where it can get a bit tricky...backline voting seems pretty straightforward, either you pick a back three of center backs or a back four of a pair of fullbacks and a pair of centerbacks. But there’s a lot of different ways the midfield could go. Personally, if I’m trying to come up with a midfield that can operate well and is anchored by someone who deserves it, I’m starting with Dax McCarty. He took being traded to Chicago in stride and has been a huge part of the renaissance there.
AV: So has Bastian Schweinsteiger. He’s strong, poised, and can utterly control a game, which he has mostly done since joining Chicago—along with scoring a couple of goals for them.
CS: If we’re talking holding midfielders, stupidly, Ilie isn’t even on the ballot, so I’m casting a protest vote for him.
EA: That’s fair. What about more attacking midfielders?
AV: Romain Alessandrini is making both scoring and playmaking look easy for the Galaxy this season.
EA: Gotta agree. Six goals and six assists is a nice return from the guy so far. I’d like to pair him with Victor Vazquez in attack—Vazquez can operate more centrally, and as the league leader in assists ought to have plenty of targets in the All-Star Game.
CS: Vazquez has been the #10 whom Toronto FC have been missing and definitely makes them a better team. They didn’t even have to pay him millions like with Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco—they were able to afford him with Targeted Allocation Money. I’d like to see him partnered with Justin Meram and Diego Valeri—those two have eight goals apiece and lead their teams despite competing for that lead with Ola Kamara and Fanendo Adi respectively. Then there’s Houston’s Alex Lima. Seven assists, a total workhorse, can play all over the midfield...he gets my last midfield vote.
MK: It’s an easy Alex vote for me as well. Houston is right behind SKC in the Western Conference table, and Alex has been no slouch this year—seven assists as you said, but also a goal. I’d send him with Kellyn Acosta—also a very easy pick. Acosta, in my opinion, has been one of the best players in the league this year and should be earning himself a lot more credit for his play with Dallas than he has this season; he has been absolutely fantastic.
Because I’m voting for Atlanta players as well, I’d send Miguel Almiron and Julian Gressel as well. While I’m throwing the vote here, but there’s cases to make on merit for each of them, especially Almiron with his seven goals and four assists.
AV: Indeed. Almiron is slowly becoming a hero in Atlanta. He can play wide or centrally and is scoring plenty of goals.
EA: I know I’m not on the Alex- or Acosta- trains, though I do get the case for them. But I think Almiron has to get my last midfield vote as well. And Gressel is probably the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year so far. Watching him for Atlanta has made me wish he fell to Sporting KC, since he was on my shortlist of who the club should have picked in this year’s SuperDraft. Okay, what about a strike pair?
MK: Keeping with the Atlanta theme, Josef Martinez and Yamil Asad could go on merit. Martinez was the league leader in goals early in the season before an injury on national team duty sidelined him, and Asad has six assists so far.
EA: I feel for Martinez, sure, but I have to go with the current league leader in goals—Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic. The guy has just been automatic for the Fire, it’s almost like they’re playing with house money with him.
CS: Yeah, Nikolic has been a big part of their resurgence. I’d pair him up top with NYCFC’s David Villa, who is tied for third in the league in goals with eight, and sixth in assists, with six (just two behind the league leader here).
EA: I get the case for Villa, but I think there might be other candidates out there. C.J. Sapong, anyone?
AV: Or Giovanni Dos Santos. His karate kick goal was heard around the world and really solidified his place as an MLS great.
(Let the record reflect that Araceli also cast a vote for Dom Dwyer.)
EA: This one looks to be the toughest area of the field to sort out for us. Lots of good candidates this year.
Here is how the TBT staff vote ultimately tallied up:
Goalkeeper: Tim Melia: 3 (EA, CS, AV), Alec Kann: 1 (MK)
Defenders: Ike Opara: 3 (EA, CS, AV), Matt Hedges: 3 (EA, MK, CS), Matt Besler: 1 (AV), A.J. DeLaGarza: 1 (AV), Nick Hagglund: 1 (CS), Greg Garza: 1 (MK), Leandro Pirez: 1 (MK), Steve Sutter: 1 (EA), Joevin Jones: 1 (EA)
Midfielders: Miguel Almiron: 3 (EA, MK, AV), Romain Alessandrini: 2 (EA, AV), Alex Lima: 2 (MK, CS), Victor Vazquez: 2 (EA, CS), Kellyn Acosta: 1 (MK), Julian Gressel: 1 (MK), Roger Espinoza: 1 (AV), Diego Valeri: 1 (CS), Justin Meram: 1 (CS), Dax McCarty: 1 (EA)
Forwards: Nemanja Nikolic: 2 (EA, CS), David Villa: 1 (CS), C.J. Sapong: 1 (EA), Giovanni Dos Santos: 1 (AV), Dom Dwyer: 1 (AV), Josef Martinez: 1 (MK), Yamil Asad: 1 (MK)
Who would make your All-Star Game Starting XI? (Or Starting X, thanks to the cross-promotion between MLS and EA Sports.)