Americans at home took a little break you may have noticed. There was the Gold Cup where, presumably, the Americans worth discussing in MLS were with the national team, then Americans at home took some time off and had to move down the great spine of the Eastern United States of America. Now we’re back and it’s time for the All-Star game, the thing American sports leagues have to have in order to be a serious sports league in America.
Typically, the ASG pits a team from MLS with a team prepping for their season complete with un-fit players, random guys from their academy, and stars who would rather be in Ibiza than visit America in the summer. This time it will be Atletico Madrid making the trip to play in the intellectual and cultural center of this great country, Orlando! That means that a manager who won the second division championship in Louisville, but has an 11-9-44 record since taking over soccer powerhouse Orlando City Soccer Club, will take the helm as James O’Connor and 10 forwards take on the Spanish giants.
So let’s take a look at the Yanks on the roster and for fun see how the ones that weren’t selected would do against the All Stars and Atleti.
Meet your American All-Stars (most of them are defenders and goalies)
Chris Wondolowski - F - San Jose Earthquakes: It seemed like Wondo was done. He was inching towards Landon Donovan’s all-time MLS goals record but by mid-May had only made 11 appearences and was as likely to be out of the 18 as he was to get some minutes off the bench. It looked like it was a sad end to a truly amazing career. That changed on a May afternoon in the Bay Area when the forward banged four goals against the Chicago Fire. Since then he’s added five more and is on the cusp of his 10th season in a row with 10 goals. It’s a pretty solid run for a guy who went to Chico State. Plus, the leading American scorer in the league should be here!
Paxton Pomykal - M - FC Dallas: The teenager has already had a great summer representing the U-20s in Poland and his season with FCD is being recognized with an All-Star call-up. Dallas is in 6th place three points out of second or 9th in the West right now and if they can avoid fizzling again down the stretch, Pomykal will be a big reason why. Not only that, but with clubs outside of MLS reluctant to release players for Olympic qualifying, the midfielder might find himself leading the U-23s in short order.
Matt Hedges - D - FC Dallas: Huh? That’s a funny way of spelling Aaron Long. Hedges always seemed like a player who would step up to the national team and establish himself as a starter. Instead, the best he’s done is regular at January camp. He’s a solid option at centerback for FCD but the holes in his game keep showing up at random and unexpected times. His inconsistency definitely limits his effectiveness and that’s shown across his career.
Walker Zimmerman - D - LAFC: Zimmerman is currently anchoring the best defense in MLS as LAFC continue to roll toward having a record breaking season in just about every way imaginable. Still, Zimmerman’s former teammate Hedges seems to share a lot in common with the centerback. It will be interesting to see if he can turn a corner with LA and step up his game to establish himself with the national team.
Graham Zusi - D - Sporting Kansas City: (Stop laughing) Zusi fulfilled his destiny after becoming a right back for SKC after Sporting decided to use their new allocation money to buy good attackers. As an outside back, Zusi is very attack minded though and his long range passing and crossing is still top notch. Plus, as the best American in MLS according to WhoScored last year, Zusi might have some low key skills that aren’t always apparent.
Brad Guzan - G - Atlanta United: Ok.
Nick Rimando - G - Real Salt Lake: Huh?
With Zack Steffen headed to Germany via Manchester... they needed someone? Atlanta has allowed 18 goals in the last 8 games and Nick Rimando is letting in 1.3 goals a game (that’d be 45 goals in a 34 goal season which is OK but not great). Rimando is retiring and has been a great story for the league so recognizing that makes sense, Guzan is more of a puzzle but in a popularity contest I guess playing for Atlanta goes a long way.
America vs. the World or Atletico or something...
Let’s see what it might look like if we did the USA vs. the World for this round of the All-Star game. Short of Pomykal, who I don’t think is going to start over someone like Maxi Moralez, Ezequiel Barco, or Alejandro Pozuelo, I can’t say that I agree with the Americans on the All-Star roster, so I’m going to pick my own XI, hopefully this is a roster that would make Alketas Panagoulias smile.
Jozy Altidore - F - Toronto FC: Yeah, Jozy is on here. The leading American goal scorers are Wondo and CJ Sapong, but it’d be a shame to not give Jozy a chance at flubbing a shot in a big game.
Brian White - F - NYRB: I’m not going to not invite a Duke grad who may or may not be the soccer version of Grayson Allen, but NYRB are basically the Duke of MLS and I can’t say that I’ve ever seen both Allen and White in the same place at the same time, so it’s possible they’re the same person. White has 8 goals and that’s second best for Americans in MLS so he’ll be joining the squad. Can he play left wing forward thing? I don’t know, it’s an All-Star game and the other option out wide is Jordan Morris.
Paul Arriola - F - DC United: Arriola is a solid player who can get up and down the wing and play on both sides of the field. He does a lot of things well but isn’t necessarily amazing at any of them and that’s enough to be one of the best American attackers in the league. This also gives me a chance to snub Fafa Picault, but he probably deserves a look at this role also.
Joe Corona - M - LA Galaxy: I’m as tired as anyone at seeing Michael Bradley on the list of best American players at anything. Corona has established himself as a solid central midfielder who usually lines up deeper than his center mid counterpart Jonathan dos Santos for the Galaxy. The other LA is a solid contender in the West for when LAFC inevitably doesn’t live up to expectations in the playoffs and Zlatan fulfills his destiny of winning MLS Cup.
Paxton Pomykal - M - FC Dallas: He’s being stolen because the FCD man probably won’t start and that’s a shame. The All-Star game probably isn’t a showcase for European scouts, but it couldn’t hurt I guess if he has a good showing against Madrid in a friendly.
Cristian Roldan - M - Seattle Sounders: I was on the fence between him and Memo Rodriguez and went with Roldan. He’s decent with the ball, can win it back and sometimes connects with a lucky shot from distance, that’ll be key against Atletico because I don’t know where else the goals are going to come from. Help. If nothing else he’s pretty versatile and if the score gets ugly maybe I can ask him to play centerback until 90 minutes are up.
Edgar Castillo - D - New England Revolution: Yeah, you better believe the American with the most assists in MLS is on this team!
Miles Robinson - D - Atlanta United: Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez might get most of the attention and yellow cards in Atlanta, but Robinson is emerging as a solid defender. Centerback is a position the USA is amazing at producing, but Robinson seems to have the tools that could push him into the national team. He’s solid on the ball, his passing is great, and his positioning is improving... Well it was until the Gold Cup wrapped up and Frank de Boer’s team stopped playing defense. We’ll see how the next 1⁄3 of the season wraps up for the Five Stripes and their young CB.
Aaron Long - D - NYRB: I really enjoy watching Aaron Long play soccer. He seems bigger than his 6’1” frame, has swagger, likes to get forward and try to score, and is just an overall solid defender. Plus, we need someone with an interesting haircut in the defense to balance out Arrola’s style up front and Long is that guy.
Reggie Cannon - D - FC Dallas: The guy who made the biggest impact on the Gold Cup for the USMNT despite not being in the initial roster, Cannon is emerging as a good MLS right back and decent option internationally. He’s got size, speed, and strength can cross and even try a tricky dribble here and there. Cannon gets the nod over Tommy Thompson and Nick Lima, both who have a solid claim at either outside defender spot.
Tyler Miller - G - LAFC: Is he good actually? I don’t know, he’s not letting in a lot of goals and that’s the goalkeeper’s job. Bob Bradley is doing the simple soccer, which is the hardest thing to do in soccer, thing pretty well and his system doesn’t ask a lot of a goalkeeper. Still, Miller will need to be on his game if Team America is going to come out on top against Madrid.
No doubt this team would do great against Diego Costa, Saul, Joao Felix, Kieran Trippier, and Jan Oblak...