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Thursday, June 30, 2005
ESPNsoccernet: July 1, 8:18 PM UK
Cut back fan, media voting

Marc Connolly

Here's an idea: Since the MLS All-Star Game has turned into an affair where the league's best take on a club from another country -- last year it was Chivas, this year it's Fulham -- rather than play a tired East versus West exhibition match, how about we all relinquish a portion of our voting powers to the players.

Right now, the media gets 25 percent, the fans get 25 percent, the general managers and coaches get 25 percent, and the players get 25 percent.

No one wants to hear from us writers -- we know that much. Give us 10 percent. We'll take a higher percentage when it comes to the voting for the end-of-year awards instead, thank you very much.

The fans? Being knocked down to 10 percent seems fine to me. Hold on a second and hear me out. Before you fire off that e-mail complaining about how unjust that is to those who are spending their hard-earned money on season tickets, the Direct Kick television package and yet another New England Revolution gamer because they change brands every single year, think about the people who are currently stuffing the ballot box.

Aren't you willing to take a bit of relevance off your lone vote in exchange for limiting the impact all those Real Salt Lake supporters have? You know the ones: They have pushed Clint Mathis dangerously into a starting spot in this year's match even though he's yet to record a goal, and they have somehow helped three of their backs sneak into the top 10 of the voting totals for defenders. I thought so.

Most of the GMs vote with politics in mind, and the coaches could care less. Actually, strike that, they do care. They'd rather see their veterans get some much-needed rest and their young stars make it only when they are truly deserving of such an honor. (You think Peter Nowak really will be happy to see Freddy Adu make the All-Star team?)

Drop them to 15 percent. That leaves 65 percent for the players. Keep in mind, this isn't the NFL or NBA we're talking about. The bonuses and extra exposure from playing in this match are a big deal to the players around the league. They take their time voting. Ask almost any one of them and he'll tell you things like, "God, I can't believe I'm voting for Ruiz, but the guy does deserve it" or "Cannon is the best goalkeeper in the league -- bar none -- but how do you leave off Matt Reis?"

In short, trust these guys. They'll pick the right players to take on whatever club feels like starting their preseason in the States next summer.

But, hey, that's next year. As long as my vote along with those of my colleagues around the league counts for a quarter of the final tally, I'm taking the requisite 30 or 40 minutes to file the following ballot of 11 players to take the field at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, against Fulham on July 30.

Goalkeeper: Matt Reis, New England -- The fans have this one right, as the perennial backup has been an absolute rock for the first-place Revs all spring. His call-up to the U.S. national team was well-deserved, just as his selection to this match.

Defender: Greg Vanney, FC Dallas -- As much for his stellar play as a centerback as for the leadership he's shown with a young back four. On a team that has most of its talent on the offensive side, it's a wonder what the club's record would be without the 31-year-old veteran running the show in his first season back in MLS since 2001.

Defender: Michael Parkhurst, New England -- Sure, he was taken to school by Jaime Moreno two weeks ago, but what defender in this league hasn't? The first-round selection out of Wake Forest has been all that Steve Nicol wanted and more, as his calming presence in the back is shockingly good for a rookie. Chris Rolfe has been one heck of a find for the Chicago Fire, but Parkhurst gets my vote for this match as well as for the Rookie of the Year for the first half of the season.

Defender: Jimmy Conrad, Kansas City -- All of a sudden, you look around the league and see that there aren't more than a handful of players you'd rather have on your side than this tough-as-nails centerback. Let's see how he does with the national team during the upcoming Gold Cup, as there's definitely some room on Bruce Arena's depth chart as far as quality defenders go.

Midfielder: Ronnie O'Brien, FC Dallas -- Simply continues to gain more respect around the league on a week-to-week basis. With the way he is playing at the moment for the Western Conference leaders, especially with fellow midfielder Richard Mulrooney out for the season, it's hard to imagine that he won't be in the MVP race come the fall.

Midfielder: Chris Klein, Kansas City -- His numbers don't pop out at you (four goals, six assists), but if you'd seen most every one of the Wizards' games you'd realize that no player gives opposing teams fits like this right-sided midfielder. After coming off another ACL surgery last August, he looks as strong as ever, as he is dominating the midfielder and back along his flank and serving in quality balls in bundles for Bob Gansler's side.

Midfielder: Clint Dempsey, New England -- His play has tailed off a bit from his scorching start in April and early May. But how could it not? Through his side's first six games, last year's Rookie of the Year already had five goals and four assists to lead all scorers in MLS. As it stands right now, Dempsey (seven) is tie for second behind Brad Davis (eight) in assists, tied for third in goals with six and is first in goal celebrations that have made it onto SportsCenter.

Midfielder: Brad Davis, San Jose -- Came out this season rejuvenated after being traded from Dallas as one of the key figures in a draft-day blockbuster. The whispers around the league that said the left-footed midfielder didn't have the heart to be a great player and questioned his interest in the game couldn't have been more wrong, as Davis is playing the best soccer of his career for Dominic Kinnear. After storming out of the gate with eight assists and standout all-around play, the fourth-year player out of St. Louis University is spending much of July with the U.S. national team.

Midfielder: Amado Guevara, MetroStars -- Has played every minute of every match for Bob Bradley's side and appears to be in the same MVP form that he displayed for much of last season. His five goals and six assists have paced the MetroStars thus far, but expect his numbers to jump in the second half now that Ante Razov is in town and Eddie Gaven is back on a full-time basis.

Striker: Landon Donovan, Los Angeles -- Despite being invisible on his return to San Jose last weekend, the 23-year-old is off to another strong start. The important stat to focus on is that four of his six goals have been game-winners for his new side. You almost get the feeling that once the U.S. has punched its ticket to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, the best of Donovan will come out.

Striker: Pat Noonan, New England -- With apologies to Chicago's Nate Jaqua and FC Dallas striker Carlos Ruiz, who each have one less tally than Noonan's eight -- Jeff Cunningham also has eight goals, but he's only started six of his team's 14 matches. The former Indiana University star has really come into his own in his third season in the league. Even though he tied with Guevara for the league lead in points last year with 30, Noonan's game has evolved to a much higher level in 2005, which has earned him a regular spot with the U.S. national team.

Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at marc@oakwoodsoccer.com.




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