By Paul Gardner
I see that Real Salt Lake’s Costa Rican Alvaro Saborio has just been voted MLS Player of the Week. I also note the announcement of the First XI for the MLS All-Stars, which does not include Saborio, which is no doubt justifiable. But the XI does not include any Hispanic players at all, which is an eye-opener.
Some explanation of this First XI is required. It represents, we are told, the “fans’ choice.” These are not fans who are polled while attending games. These are fans who vote online. It’s unclear to me whether these two groups are the same people, but I’d be pretty sure there are some drastic differences between them.
Anyway, the fans’ choice is what we’re getting. That’s what we’re told. And it is of crucial importance to note that it is MLS that is telling us. The First XI vote is organized by MLS. From MLS comes a press release beginning with the words “Major League Soccer announced the 2012 MLS All-Star First XI today.” The release does not include a disclaimer of any sort -- there is nothing stating that the selection “does not represent the opinion or judgment of MLS” -- nothing like that.
So I feel entitled to assume that the First XI comes with the approval of MLS. Would MLS release these player names, in one of its own press releases, if it had any problems with the selections? I think not.
It is important to make that point, because it confirms that MLS is entirely responsible for what is an absurd and unacceptable situation. Anyone who has given the matter a moment’s thought knows that online voting is a farce, biased from the start toward those who regularly use computers, and after that open to all sorts of abuse in terms of mobilizing voters. MLS has to know all of that, but it doesn’t care -- so this is a First XI that we are asked to take seriously.
That, of course, is impossible. Not least because it is not a starting 11. As the MLS press release puts it “players on the First XI are not necessarily included on the game day roster.” A rather timid way of stating that the All-Star coach Ben Olsen will be making his own selections, and the hell with the Fans’ First XI.
The Fans’ team, which so significantly fails to include any Hispanics, does include David Beckham and Thierry Henry. Two Europeans with English Premier League background. And two Designated Players. Of course it does. Now there’s something MLS can get behind. Can you even imagine what the circumstances would have to be that would allow MLS -- playing Chelsea, an EPL team, in its All-Star Game -- to omit these two somewhat elderly players? For the record, Beckham is 37, Henry is 34.
Neither of them deserves to be anywhere near the All-Star team, if current playing form is a criterion, which it should be. Beckham puffs and pants in midfield and, very occasionally, produces something special for the Los Angeles Galaxy -- a team that currently is not among the playoff positions. He is just coming off a two-game suspension for something that doesn’t sound too All-Star-ish -- conduct “detrimental to the league’s public image.”
Henry has started just 10 games (out of 18) for the Red Bulls this season. After a whirlwind start (nine goals in the first 7 games) Henry has failed to score at all as recurrent injuries have curtailed his playing time. The Red Bulls remain a characterless team that will certainly not remind anyone of Spain.
Another MLS team that cannot claim any awards for artistic excellence is Vancouver, where yet another veteran All-Star, the 32-year-old Jay DeMerit, contributes his rustic style to the defense. As for the Red Bulls’ Heath Pearce, it is difficult to see any reasons for either including or excluding him, such has been the ordinariness of his 16 games played for Chivas and the Red Bulls.
Goalkeeper? The position where Americans always show well? Not this time -- that selection goes to Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen, who is Danish. And 34 years old.
Rounding out the defense, we have two youngsters, KC’s erratic Frenchman Aurelien Collin (26) and San Jose’s Steven Beitashour (25).
Back to the 30-plus-year-olds. Landon Donovan (30), and Dwayne De Rosario (34) are in midfield, and belong there, where they’re joined by KC’s Graham Zusi -- a solid-enough player ... but an All-Star?
No doubts at all about San Jose’s forward Chris Wondolowski -- he would get my vote without a moment’s hesitation, a player (at 29 he doesn’t quite make the over-30 brigade) who always intrigues and excites.
So here we have the cream of MLS ... don’t we? Isn’t that the idea of an All-Star team? A First XI with an average age of 33, which suggests an almost geriatric league.
A starting 11 that also includes two famous DPs who’ve done nothing to earn this honor -- other than being famous EPL players, that is. And a starting 11 that includes players from only six of the league’s 19 clubs. Somehow, Sporting Kansas City gets three places. You can put that down to the intricacies of online voting. Ditto to the fact that KC’s goalkeeper Nielsen received the largest number of online votes. Oh, come on guys!
Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders - occupying second and third places in the Western Conference, don’t get a look in. Odd, that. RSL and Seattle happen to be two teams with important Hispanic players. To take the obvious examples -- midfielders Javier Morales and Mauro Rosales (both of whom qualify nicely as over-30 players). Not good enough? Not up to the standards of the ex-EPL players Beckham and Henry? Or without the sponsor-pull of those two, particularly Beckham?
In short, this All-Star First XI is a tremendous joke. Frankly, it’s precisely the sort of giggly soccer trivia that I would expect our friends the nerdy Eurosnobs to concoct. It might even be possible to dismiss it as such, were it not for the fact that the XI is a predominantly white team that includes no Hispanics.
“The fans,” this undefined group of Internet voters, apparently voted that way. So be it. But it is both sordid and scandalous that MLS should give its imprimatur to such a slanted selection.