By Ridge Mahoney
By voting and other means, 20 players have been chosen to represent MLS in the All-Star Game against Roma to be played July 31 at Sporting Park.
A wave of expansion -- MLS has added seven teams since 2007 and has announced New York City FC will join in 2015 -- hasn’t much diluted the level of play. Though the league featured more star power in its early years, the gap in quality between those players and their average MLS teammates was staggering. The collective bargaining agreement states 32 All-Stars must be selected each year, and those players will receive the All-Star bonuses stipulated in their contract whether or not they play in the game.
We’ll add our 12 to the official 20 as a reward for those players who have been most glaringly snubbed. No doubt readers will mention many others. In this selection we’ve beefed up the Timbers’ representation beyond that of captain Will Johnson, passed some kudos onto FC Dallas, acknowledged those stalwarts carrying the load for struggling teams, and picked a few contributors to successful teams.
Goalkeepers: Raul Fernandez (FC Dallas), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
Snubbed: Jon Busch (San Jose), Donovan Ricketts (Portland).
The Quakes are floundering, but they’d be sunk without Busch, who leads the league in saves with 73. Ricketts has flourished since being traded by Montreal. He’s regained the sharp form of his Galaxy days in 2009-2011. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said as much after losing, 2-0, in Portland last weekend thanks in part to Ricketts’ heroics.
Defenders: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders).
Snubbed: Jose Goncalves (New England), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (Portland), Chris Klute (Colorado).
The Revs are stingy by design as much as application and Goncalves -- a rough game and own goal Wednesday against Colorado notwithstanding -- has been impressive locking down the middle. Seldom does a team excel in MLS without a first-rate centerback, and so far in his second MLS season Jean-Baptiste has filled the bill. Klute, 23, played the 2012 season finale on loan (from NASL Atlanta Silverbacks) and is due to be recalled in mid-September. He’s started 16 of his 17 appearances at left back and leads the team with five assists.
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Mike Magee (Chicago Fire), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Snubbed: Justin Mapp (Montreal), Michel (FC Dallas), Rodney Wallace (Portland).
One of those former U.S. under-20s who seemed to stagnate in the pro game, Mapp labored seven years for Chicago (three times notching eight assists in a season) and two more in Philly before heading north in 2012. He’s found consistency and threat in a midfield with Bernier and Felipe Martins (very nearly a All-Snub selection).
Michel, a 31-year-old Brazilian, is still adjusting to the peculiar ways of MLS. He hits great dead balls, can spray the ball around, and needs to follow through in the second half of the season or FCD will suffer. His partner Andrew Jacobson is another on the All-Snub bubble. Wallace is a real pest offensively for the Timbers; his raking runs down the left flank have produced four goals and five assists.
Forwards: Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy), Camilo Sanvezzo (Vancouver Whitecaps), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).
Snubbed: Deshorn Brown (Colorado), Diego Fagundez (New England), Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia).
Those first five are tough group to crack. Brown torments defenders with his speed and craftiness and he will be under intense pressure as the Rapids try to crack the Western Conference playoff tier. Fagundez is an amazing talent who is just coming to grips with the pro game. Le Toux leads the league in assists with 9. McInerney (10 goals) is well on the way to a breakout season but if he goes cold and the Union drops down the standings, he’ll illustrate how tough is the life of a young MLS striker.