The roster of MLS All-Stars who are going to take on Arsenal is set. It is largely who anyone predicted. They will be wearing very blue uniforms. They will likely lose to the perennial contender for 4th place in the EPL.
It didn’t have to be like this.
The All-Star Game, like all ASG’s should be, is a goofy exhibition, and it should be treated as such. Guys like Kyle Beckerman and Darlington Nagbe are deserving all-stars to be sure. They’re two of the smartest players in the league and, it doesn’t hurt to say, two high-profile members of #USMNT that have had their share of international experience, in addition to their obvious popularity with the fans. Plenty of Dominic Kinnear’s selections are of this mold: they’re solid and won’t embarrass themselves (or, Dominic Kinnear) against Arsenal.
It’s fine to field a team of consistent, strong and objectively good players from MLS, but yet, this is one of those frustrating things about MLS, too. It refuses to get out of its own way sometimes. In its bid to be taken seriously, the league has created a roster full of its best players. For 13 years now (since 2002, with a break in 2004) the league has imagined its fans wondering what a Pirlo-to-Giovinco partnership might look like, wondering if the best of the MLS can be up there with the best.
It’s probably more accurate to say that few MLS fans actively wonder about this. The truth is that if soccer fans want to watch the best soccer in the world, they have European soccer for that and that’s okay. As I mentioned last time out, there are LOTS of other reasons to love and watch the MLS. If they want to see Pirlo and Giovinco on the same team, they can look up old Juventus matches on YouTube. The best of the MLS can barely compete with a disinterested, vacationing, Premier League team. That is, in the 21st century so far, the state of the league.
So I suggest an entirely new way of putting together a team. Put the most entertaining eleven out on the field, against the most entertaining opponent Don Garber can convince to come to North America. Worry less about measuring up against the rest of the world and focus more on delivering the most entertaining All-Star match for the MLS fans. Cobbling together a group of talented hotheads, overconfident youngsters, and the a few very good players to see what they can do against the Arsenals of the world? Yes. Yes. Yes.
The selection criteria is necessarily subjective: do I hold my breath when this player is on the ball? Or when they’re emergency defending? Do I think that they’re a 20-sided die I want to see rolled again and again over the course of 90 minutes? Then they’re on this team. A lot of these selections are going to be really good anyways, and some will even be all-stars. But all of them are a whole lot of fun to watch.
Steve Irwin (Columbus): Irwin believes he has pillowfeet and moves like butter. He’s seen the Manuel Neuer highlight clips and thinks that Steve Irwin is every bit the sweeper-keeper Neuer performs like. Irwin is not, but he’s aggressive inside the box and tries to pinpoint longballs all day. Every so often, something wonderful will happen. He looks shocked when its anything else.
Backup: Andre Blake (Philadelphia): The best athlete and maybe the best goalie in the league. Also, surly.
Axel Sjoberg and Jelle Van Damme (Colorado, Los Angeles): Two very different players chosen for very different reasons. Sjoberg is a lanky giant who can somehow run around in the Colorado altitude despite being a stork. He has yet to be ripped in half by a tackle, and Joao Plata has yet to run between his legs. But I’m waiting for that to happen, and it may as well occur in the All-Star Game. Van Damme seems to openly disdain the entire league and may think that if he ruins enough peoples’ days then Arena will send him back to Belgium. Grumpy Cat with tattoos and no patience for teammates, let alone the opposition.
Backups: Jeremy Horst and Kendall Waston (Houston, Vancouver): Two big dudes who don’t always have control over their limbs. I’ve always wondered what soccer looks like if it was played running downhill — they have shown me.
Taylor Peay and Harrison Afful (Portland, Columbus): Taylor Peay is the best left back in the country, just ask Taylor Peay. The 24-year-old has all of six senior team caps and barks at players like he’s Paolo Maldini. And every so often, he backs it up. Harrison Afful actually is the best right back in the country, and everyone should see him play in a showcase match before he leaves and becomes a millionaire in Bundesliga or wherever.
Backups: Taking a page from Belgium, the most entertaining national team in the world, this team has no backup fullbacks.
Midfielders: Tommy McNamara, Fatai Alashe, Sebastian Lletget (NYCFC, San Jose, Los Angeles): Everyone knows McNamara by now, the deadly winger who is, despite what you might think by looking at him, not a fan of The Replacements. Sebastian Lletget is basically his bête noir — devilishly handsome, loves to dribble past people, and gets very few results. As for Alashe, the league is full of great defensive midfielders but has very few funny athletes at the position. Fatai is an up-and-coming national team player gunning for the Beckerman role with his combination of great tackling, good vision, and devastating shade-throwing. A bonus is given for scoring cheap set-piece goals and celebrating them with culuturally-relevant dance moves.
Backups: Patrick Nyarko, Ignacio Piatti, Chris Pontius, Sacha Kljestan (DC, Montreal, Philadelphia, NY Red Bulls): Nyarko and Pontius are two hard-working wingers who are basically sled dogs in the Iditarod of their respective teams. As for Piatti and Kljestan, they are two wildly creative and skilled attacking midfielders. They are too good to start on this team, one of them will be tasked with leading the inspiring comeback.
Attackers: Fabian Castillo, Yura Movsisyan, David Villa (Dallas, Salt Lake, NYCFC): In the words of the esteemed Patrick Redford in The Classical: “if you could dunk in soccer, Castillo would.” Yura Movsisyan is the mightiest oak in a league full of lumber. He’ll be a great Ent-y center forward in the midst of all of this chaos. David Villa might flip his lid playing on this madhouse of a team. Or he might just score five goals himself. We will get to find out!
Backups: David Accam, Mike Grella, Lucas Melano (Chicago, NY Red Bulls, Portland): Accam is the fastest dude in the league — or at least the fastest one to panic once he gets on the ball. Mike Grella will either sneak by everyone or let everyone sneak by him. And Lucas Melano is there to serve as “break-in-case-David-Villa-storms-off-at-halftime” role.
Coach: Jason Kreis (Orlando): Welcome back! This is your trial by fire before you can just saddle up Kaka. If Kreis doesn’t count for having as-yet coached a match in 2016, we’ll go with Jim Curtin. The Philadelphia Union coach never seems to be having fun, and this way he may just crack a smile.
Everything else will be pretty simple. For the guest team, we’ll invite Besiktas over from Turkey. They probably need a place to play about now, and they have fun-as-Hell fans who are going to love the Bay Area. Ricardo Quaresma is fresh off of a star turn in Europe and may be the highest-profile athlete with face tattoos. And if Besiktas can deal with playing by a busy port, they can deal with the San Jose International Airport.
This post was composed by freelance writer and swell guy, Asher Kohn. Reach out to him and discuss all the soccer happenings from around the world on Twitter at:@AJKhn. Catch up with all of the latest MLS happenings on SiriusXM FC.
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