Major League Soccer All-Star team selection is always a tricky mix of fan popularity and entertainment value, held tenuously together with a blessed twine of pragmatism.
On the popularity and entertainment front, MLS’s mid-summer event is no different than other domestic All-Star events; there will always be tension and debate when fans have their say, as they frequently favor name recognition over actual, current performance value. That argument will go on and on, and in truth, stirring up lively conversation is surely good for the league’s bigger PR cause.
All that said, the latest fan selections and commissioner’s pick have a certain “jumping the shark” feel.
This one looks even more suspect than All-Star teams past. The “misdemeanor” violations are: Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando as goalkeeper when there are better choices this year; Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler as a starter when he is not having his best year; SKC teammate Graham Zusi as a starter when he is not at his best; Houston’s DaMarcus Beasley misplaced as a marking back in a 3-4-3, and when he is not among the league’s top defenders, and; Orlando’s Kaka as an outside midfielder, apparently.
The “felony” violations are not having Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco (the far and away league MVP leader at this point) or Columbus’ Kei Kamara (the Golden Boot leader at this point) as starters.
Yes, these are just the fan selections, and All-Star game manager Pablo Mastroeni will surely patch some of those holes when he completes the roster with his own selections. Columbus set-up man Ethan Finlay, for instance, will surely find his way into the roster mix, based on his splendid, breakout season.
On the other hand, most managers have attempted to remain true to the fans’ selections as much as possible, which means the starting 11 against Tottenham inside DSG Park on July 29 will likely look quite similar to the list announced Monday night by MLS, based on history.
Fan selections are always flawed; again, this isn’t just an MLS issue. Somewhere in the country, Major League Baseball fans are surely debating something similar about tonight’s All-Star Game at this very moment. But when this many flaws infiltrate the process, perhaps it’s time once again to examine the process (as MLS has been good about doing in the past as the selection mechanisms have evolved along with a young league).
The other issue is this: it is not just the fans getting it wrong. The real knee-slapper here, the establishment choices announced Monday that needs calling out, are Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard as All-Stars.
SEE ALSO: 10 things we learned from MLS Gameweek 19.
Don Garber selected Lampard and Gerrard, in part, because they add value as the globally recognized stars. Also, according to the league, because they are players who make “any team better.” That second part is debatable, considering Gerrard’s current level of form and fitness.
But the league also says the pair of former England internationals were selected in part for their “extensive experience playing against Tottenham.” Uh … that one smells too much like a reach, a telling attempt at league justification.
These guys certainly are legends in England and recognized global stars due to their years of quality service in the world’s most visible league. So they absolutely deserve a place at the All-Star Game – as celebrities to be feted in the events in and around that July 29 match outside Denver. On the field? Not so much.
New rule I’ll thoughtfully propose for MLS leaders’ consideration: In order to be selected for an All-Star game, you must have at least warmed up for a league match.
To put these two on the field tilts the event too far toward an overly commercialized dog and pony show. What makes Major League Soccer’s All-Star event unique: there is some competitive value to it, as MLS pits itself against a bunch of good players out of England or Germany or Mexico or wherever.
Past commissioner’s picks have been used to recognize MLS men with years of outstanding service; think Dwayne De Rosario, Eddie Pope and Cobi Jones. That’s a better use of the device.
But guys who couldn’t name five previous MLS Golden Boot winners, or who wouldn’t know Dominic Kinnear (one of the league’s most successful managers) if they shared a common table at Starbucks? I’m not so sure about that one.
Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk.