Rather than tell you that after criticizing Toronto FC a few weeks ago and pointing out that they’re six points out of the playoff spots or otherwise going through highlights of the Americans in MLS this last week, let’s celebrate the MLS All-Star Game. So, let’s have a fun thought experiment and pretend that the MLS All-Star game had a different format and think about what would that look like.
I’m basing the player pool on American players in MLS vs. the actual All-Stars with the presumed starters those picked by Matt Doyle and Bobby Warshaw below. The only rule is that I won’t overlap starters. That shouldn’t be too hard as the only American players they picked aside from Steffen were defenders and one of them was Graham Zusi. If there is one thing the US player development system can give us, it’s a defender.
Anyway, here’s what I came up with:
Goalkeeper - Luis Robles: The Red Bulls have allowed the least goals in the league so far this year of any playoff team and Robles has been one of the best MLS keepers since he’s been a consistent starter in the league.
Right back - Reggie Cannon: At the tender age of 20, Cannon has claimed a starting role on FC Play the Kids and will be a player to watch at the position in coming seasons. Cannon is quick and physical, something that will be needed as this team will, well, need to resort to being Concacafy to get a result.
Center back - Tim Parker: This year Tim Parker got to answer the question, “what if Tim Parker was on a good team?” The answer is that he and fellow Yank Aaron Long would form one of the best center back pairings in MLS.
Center back - Matt Hedges: After taking a collective step back with the rest of FC Dallas last year, Hedges seems to have found the form that made him a regular national team bubble player over the years. He is physical and tall and will be needed on set pieces.
Left back - uh, Anybody?: The three candidates here are Colorado Rapids left back Edgar Castillo, Ben Sweat of NYCFC, and DaMarcus Beasley. It’s hard to leave out Castillo, he’s been the one real bright spot for the Rapids this season and he’ll know what it’s like to get lit up by the best players in the league and I think that will come in really handy when Josef Martinez scores a hat trick in the game.
Central midfielder - Wil Trapp: If the guy can help keep France to one goal in a friendly he can probably shield the backline against the real MLS All-Stars. Plus, when it comes time for a player to send a hopeful lazer beam of a shot toward goal, he should probably be on the field.
Central midfielder - Tyler Adams: Should he count even though he’s on loan to New York Red Bulls from RB Leipzeig? He better, who else do you want to see here, Michael Bradlely? Hopefully Chris Durkin can keep up the quality he’s shown this year and step in for Adams in the 2019 American MLS All-Stars.
Right wing - Paul Arriola: After struggling along with the rest of DC United after coming to MLS last season, Arriola has seven assists and four goals in 15 games, 13 starts, heading into the All-Star break. DCU brought him into help rebuild the team and, in the attack at least, he’s helping to do that.
Attacking midfielder - Um, well then. Look at that. Let’s discuss American no 10s who play in MLS and could provide some creativity in this game.
Or how about....
Wait, I know...
Oh, well, it looks like we’ve got ourselves a little problem here. Uh, can we just call this a tie between Lee Nguyen, and Benny Feilhaber? Forced to choose I’d go with Nguyen who has been chronically underrated in his career in MLS, the mind of Brad Freidel, and on the US Men’s National Team.
Left wing - The options here are interesting - and by interesting I mean makeshift. There’s Fafa Picault, Sebastian Lletget, Kelyn Rowe who Brad Freidel doesn’t think very much of, some guys you could play out of position, say by moving Nguyen over, or there are hot shot young players who haven’t played much in MLS so far like Andrew Carleton. None of these players are consistent and Carleton just has one start in MLS. I’m going to do something Tata Martino won’t and trust Carleton in front of the home crowd in Atlanta.
Striker - Gyasi Zardes: Everyone doubted Zardes when he was traded to Columbus for Ola Kamara and he’s had a superb season with 13 goals. Jozy Altidore is healthy again and is a more dynamic player as far as passing and opening things up for his teammates, but given what Zardes has done this year he gets the nod.
Manager - Gregg Berhalter: He managed to beat Atlanta United’s Tata Martino in a big game before thanks to getting something useful out of Adam Jahn, so why not? Plus, Berhalter seems to have his system down to be able to move players in and out of the lineup that find success when it’s unexpected (see Zardes, Gyasi) and it seems like he’d get his - sometimes pressing, sometimes fun to watch in the attack, sometimes cohesive in defense style to at least be competitive in the game.
How would this play out against the lineups given by Doyle and Warshaw? Forced to choose, I’d go against the one that Doyle set out since it has one center back on it and that player is Francisco Calvo, and let him try to stop Zardes - so my hopes aren’t all that high.
The roster reveals some interesting things about MLS and the players in the league. There is a total of one American designated player on the list, Paul Arriola. Compare that to seven and five designated players on the lineups that the MLS writers created and you can see what kind of work the Americans in MLS have to do in the game to hope to get a result.
Also, this exercise shows the kind of problem that the US has at producing a specific kind of player - the kind that you need to create and score goals. This isn’t anything new, the US has been especially bad at producing no. 10s, adding to its striker depth, developing wingers, and finding a manager who will trust them to play internationally. How and why that is the case is the subject of much debate, but American attackers are fairly thin in the league. That may be changing with Christian Pulisic poised to shatter the record for a transfer fee paid for an American one day and Tim Weah having a pre-season that should be getting him in the conversation for getting more minutes at PSG, but for now proven attackers are few and far between and aren’t playing left wing in MLS.