The nearly men among the stars
Ahead of next week's All-Star Game against Manchester United, Los Angeles Galaxy and MLS All-Star coach Bruce Arena talked about many thing, but there was one topic that Arena dared not broach: The delicate subject of those unfortunate players who just missed the cut for making the 23-man All-Star squad.
"There are so many good players," Arena told reporters. "I could rattle off half a dozen names. We don't really want to get into that debate necessarily, but you know, we realize we've left out some good players, and that's always difficult."
Softening the blow is the fact that, come Monday, an additional eight players will have All-Star status bestowed upon them, a quirk left over from the days when the format was East vs. West and kept alive by the current collective bargaining agreement. While these players won't be on the active All-Star squad, it will allow them to collect bonuses specified in each individual's contract.
The chance to still be named an All-Star will be especially comforting to those players who will be otherwise occupied by CONCACAF Champions League commitments. Seattle will take on Salvadoran side Isidro Metapan just as the festivities in Houston are winding down, precluding any of its players from participating. Los Angeles and Toronto will play the day before, meaning no additional players beyond those named in the starting XI were added.
One doesn't have to read the tea leaves too carefully to come up with some quality players who will be All-Stars in spirit, if not in body. Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio, with his seven goals and four assists, has been stellar for the defending champs this season.
Yet the naming of D.C. United forward Jaime Moreno and Houston striker Brian Ching as commissioner's picks essentially ruled out Saborio's inclusion. San Jose midfielder Bobby Convey will also be an All-Star spectator despite enjoying a fine season that has included eight assists for a Quakes side whose corps of midfielders and forwards has been decimated by injury.
Two holding midfielders have done yeoman's service for their clubs. Dallas captain Daniel Hernandez has been an invaluable link between defence and attack for FCD while providing the requisite snarl in the centre of the park. L.A.'s Chris Birchall has also flown largely under the radar, but he has helped anchor the Galaxy's midfield.
Youngsters Brek Shea of FC Dallas and Andy Najar of D.C. United have delivered some eye-catching moments and belong in the All-Star conversation. Shea's four goals have helped offset the drop-off in form of striker Jeff Cunningham, while Najar's displays on the right side of midfield are about the only thing that makes D.C. United worth watching these days.
At the back, the entire Galaxy backline would suffice given how they're set to obliterate the record for least goals conceded, but Gregg Berhalter deserves particular praise for keeping the L.A. defence organised. Toronto centre-back Nana Attakora has also performed well in what will likely result in TFC's first trip to the postseason.
The debate over All-Star snubs will continue to rage even after the additional players are named. No doubt, though, Arena will remain mum on the subject.
The Starting XI: Fan voting counts for 25%, with the remaining 75% comprised of players', General Managers', coaches' and media input.
Commissioner's picks: Two players are selected solely at the commissioner's discretion.
Remaining game-day squad: Ten players (perhaps more in case of injury) are named by the All-Star coach.
Inactive All-Star squad: Nine players (eight this year due to the injury of Kyle Beckerman) based on the next highest vote getters.
MLS All-Star Squad:
Goalkeepers: Donovan Ricketts (L.A. Galaxy), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Omar Gonzalez (L.A. Galaxy), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Wilman Conde (Chicago Fire), Kevin Alston (New England Revolution).
Midfielders: Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC), Marco Pappa (Chicago Fire), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus Crew), Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia Union), David Ferreira (FC Dallas), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids).
Forwards: Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Jaime Moreno (D.C. United)