The MLS All-Star -- and nearly All-White -- First XI

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.

17 comments about "The MLS All-Star -- and nearly All-White -- First XI".
  1. John Burns, July 10, 2012 at 1:17 a.m.

    More often than not I find Paul Gardner's comments and observations thoughtful and entertaining. He does not hesitate to point out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. I like that aspect of his writing very much.

  2. Alvaro Bettucchi, July 10, 2012 at 1:46 a.m.

    I look forward to Paul Gardner's comments and on this one he is "RIGHT ON!". Next year lets try to have the MLS coaches and players pick the team and see if there would be a change. If not, I'd enjoy Paul Gardner's idea on how to do it.

  3. Glenn Auve, July 10, 2012 at 7:20 a.m.

    C'mon, everyone knows the "All Star" game is a joke and a complete waste of time. Does it really matter who gets picked? It would make me happy to have my players not get picked so they can get a little rest for matches that have some meaning.

  4. Walt Pericciuoli, July 10, 2012 at 8:08 a.m.

    Who cares really?It's meant to be just a run around the park anyway.It's something that is uniquely American.Real fans will probably have other things to do on the day.

  5. George Gorecki, July 10, 2012 at 8:21 a.m.

    Looks like Paul Gardner took an extra-strength curmudgeon pill again. Why take this fan vote so seriously? And then bring the racial aspect into the discussion for no good reason.

    BTW, this format was part of the collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners. Previously, the All-Star Game was an in-house affair involving only MLS players, 36 of whom were chosen for the two rosters. Under the current format, where a group of MLS players competes against a foreign club, there are fewer than 36 players selected. Because some players get paid bonuses for making the All-Star team, the players' union thought it unfair that the number of All-Stars was being reduced. Thus, 36 players are ultimately selected as All-Stars so that no one misses out on a potential bonus. Included are the players in this fan vote, plus the coach's and Garber's choices for the roster.

    If the players and the owners are happy with the system, no reason why Gardner and the rest of us can't go along with it also. Lighten up, it's just a friendly game staged for commerical purposes.

  6. Kent James, July 10, 2012 at 11:06 a.m.

    I look forward to the All-star game, but PG is right about the selection process; if this can be "corrected" by Ben Olsen, then no harm is done. George provides some great background (which seems like the sort of stuff PG usually provides). I think an all-star selection should have meaning; I'd like so have just the players vote; each player gets to pick their top 11 players, identified by position (with the players allowed to determine the formation). Then we'd get to know who the players respect the most, which I think would be interesting.

  7. Kenneth Cabral, July 10, 2012 at 11:20 a.m.

    As I recall, the on-line voting consisted of a list to choose from. I had some other players in mind but they were not on the list. If fan voting is going to choose the all stars it should be open ended and allow for write-ins. I assume that MLS management made with the list. Certainly not a democratic process.

  8. Carl Walther, July 10, 2012 at 11:57 a.m.

    I've got enough 'good' games on my DVR to watch, won't waste my time on this fiasco.

  9. Rudy Espindola, July 10, 2012 at 12:14 p.m.

    Same with me, Carl

  10. Robert Simpson, July 10, 2012 at 12:31 p.m.

    This "starting XI" is a pathetic joke. Seattle FC, IMHO, would be LOST without our Latin players and I suspect that the same case could be made for MLS. To not include any is, to me, a sign that the League wants only to cater to advertisers and not to the fans.
    Thanks a lot. I know that we need more money, but this "list" is ridiculous. And so is Beckham's play, this season.

  11. beautiful game, July 10, 2012 at 4:14 p.m.

    Perhaps if Henry would have a couple of solid players with average soccer IQ, he'd be more productve...when Richards and Ballouchy, i.e., take the pitch, it becomes painful to watch.

  12. Ramon Creager, July 10, 2012 at 4:22 p.m.

    I generally give the All-Star game a pass, for many of the reasons given here, and more (my team is usually under/un-represented; the match-up against EPL teams in their preseason seems grasping and really irritates me). And this online voting is for the birds. This first XI in particular is a bad joke, with few exceptions (Donovan, De Rosario, Wondo). In addition to the unrepresented teams, DCU, a seriously good team in first place in the East (and who can remind a little of Spain--60% possession in their last game), is only represented by 1 player, De Ro. Andy Najar is going to the Olympics, but is not good enough for the ASG. Are you kidding me? If the league seriously wished to pick fan favorites they should give the vote only to fans who actually put their fannies in seats (1 ticket, 1 vote). Or, as long as we're in this silly format of playing EPL teams, let the coach pick the players. He'll pick the ones he thinks he can win with, popularity be damned. My vote? Kill this whole All-Star thing.

  13. J B, July 10, 2012 at 7:06 p.m.

    The author goes and talks about the lack of hispanic (proper term,Latino?) players in the first XI BUT MISSES THE BIGGEST PART of the argument. He fails to discuss why the omitted players deserve to be there.

    Ill play devils advocate and discuss the selections or lack of selections. Saborio production to ASG levels occurred recently by the time most voting had been done. Morales and Feriera are 2 first XI quality players but have been hurt all year. Olave a top 2 CB but hurt for most of the year. Perez has suffered injuries woes. All first XI worthy when healthy. To me that seems to be the bigger issue as opposed to the selection process.

    For the GK position you say Neilsen yet make no argument. Its a 3 way sprint between him, Kennedy and Rimando, another Latino you fail to discuss.

    As for the Najar Olympian argument. Hypothetical that US had qualified, would MLS players MacMath, Akugo, Adu, Sarkodie, Stephens, Valentin, etc be ASG worthy simply based on their selection to the Olympic Team.
    Marco Pappa is the player that you should have mentioned and failed to do. A top notch Latino player who has been fabulous for the Fire. He is the most worthy of being included yet you failed to mention him.
    In terms of Beckham, would he still be mentioned in the article if his last name was Valderama who many ASG during his older years. This is the one I might concede.
    As for Henry and production, he avgs the most fantasy pts per game. Its a statistical number but justifies why he is there.
    Are there no players from Chivas because they are a Mexican themed team...not likely. Its more has to do with their bottom 1/3 of the league record and terrible inability to score goals especially at home.

    Also note,3 players of "minority" decent in DeRo(Guyana), Beitashour(Iran),Henry (Guadaloupe/Martinique).

    You speak of current form and selections, that is why Ben Olsen will get to select the players that start the ASG. When the roster is chosen, I expect several Latino players to make the team. Ben Olsen's competitive nature is 2nd to none. Saborio, Pappa, Rimando, Olave, Castrilion, Najar (ASG coach bias) will probably make the team. Morales may make the team not for the year he is having but for his extraordinary skill set). The commissioner will name his 2 picks, both from the Union opening the door for a possible addition Latino selection in Pajoy, Valdes, Farfan(s).

    I wrote this response because I am concerned that writing articles that imply racial inequity must be based in fact and not half-truths or for the writer to say he wrote a "controversial piece". Writing articles such as this dilute the public's response when the true issues of racism arise and need to be stricken from the game. Feel free to talk about the selection process and online voting. Online voting is used in all the major sports leagues.PLEASE do not make it out to be something that it is not.

    Feel free to respond to this on twitter, follow 90Strong

  14. R2 Dad, July 11, 2012 at 12:56 a.m.

    No one would care, except for the fact that the AGS is played against a pre-season Chelsea team that will, while not jammed packed with stars at every position, be bound to make the look bad.

  15. Carlos Thys, July 11, 2012 at 7:52 a.m.

    For starters I completely dislike and resent the implication of this article's title. Maybe Mr. Gardner did not create this title; often editors adjust or just create an article title of their own choosing. Lets keep the "R" word of racism out of this; this has nothing to do with it. Mr. Gardner, I guess you are happy again because I'll be the 16th commenter and this somehow translates to readership or activity on this web site. Please don't infer this. I am writing because you need to apologize -- for this article. For a number of obvious reasons. It is okay to disagree with the MLS ASG player selection process as done in May/June 2012. That's fine. Air your concerns and SUGGEST specific ways to do it better. Your article never refers to anything specific. Yet you have a name that would open doors at all offices and levels of the MLS. Call up or make a visit. Ask those in charge of the MLS All Star Game as to how this process is done presently and any thoughts they might have on future modifications. Mr. Gardner, you are supposed to be a journalist. This is what journalists do. Gather facts. Present facts. Then air concerns and make concrete suggestions/recommendations. Then we could all appreciate better what you do because you'd be providing a useful service. Including words like "sordid" and "scandalous?" in the last sentence, your conclusion. Really? "Sordid?" You're better than this. Go back and do-over. Last: So, only those who can go live to the MLS stadiums are qualified to cast an internet vote? Really? So what does an enthusiastic fan in St. Louis, Nashville, Phoenix, Baltimore, Miami, San Antonio, Reno, or Cleveland do? THe MLS is shown on TV. There are games posted on ESPN3. Game highlights are posted on the web. Not everyone is graced with the freetime, money, and living in a MLS city, BUT they are still fans. Don't assume that the fan who is living in Cincinnati, Sacramento, Madison, Orlando, Omaha, or Oklahoma City is clueless, inept, or in some way biased. Sure, there can be other ways perhaps to do online voting. But -- own up to it; that was a stupid line of reasoning at the opening of your article. Compliment: I very much like J.B.'s comments above.

  16. Jack Niner, July 11, 2012 at 1:07 p.m.

    I look at the MLS All-Star game similiar to MLB and the NBA's All-Star games - It's pure theatre meant to sell tickets and generate ratings amongst very casual fans - Not to far different from professional wrestling. In this contect Mr Gardner, I can't fault MLS.

  17. Ramon Creager, July 13, 2012 at 2:36 p.m.

    J B, the US didn't qualify. Honduras did. So no, on McMath, Akugo, Adu, etc. ;) But seriously, Najar does produce. I don't know many MLS mids who have his skill set. (Olsen won't pick him though, not for a meaningless game 2 days prior to the Olympics.) Also, pointing out that there are Latino players that were not mentioned in the original article in no way undermines its original premise. Marco Pappa was not elected to the ASG, but arguably belongs there. Point for Mr. Gardner, even if he fails to mention Pappa.

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