The MLS All-Star Game, a fun intense summer game between the very best players in North America’s top two rival leagues that expands the deepening soccer relationship between both nations.
That introduction’s not working for you? Let’s try again:
The MLS All-Star Game, a greedy cash grab as MLS desperate for fans and Liga MX desperate for the American market, risk the health of their players in a meaningless game no one takes seriously, that only further shows how out of touch we are with the rest of the soccer world.
Not that one either? Okay, one last time:
The MLS All Star Game, an opportunity to speculate and vote for lineups based off of the USMNT’s best interests.
If none of those work for you, then I don’t know what will.
Regardless of your perspective on the MLS All-Star Game, though I’m willing to bet many of you identify with the second introduction, it presents something of an opportunity. Outside of an official USMNT game, there will be more national team players taking part in the All Star game than any other individual contest this year. The only national team eligible player who took part in last year’s edition and hasn’t received a cap in the subsequent year switched national teams to Mexico. While I generally don’t make a habit of knowing Gregg Berhalter's location at any given time, I’m willing to make a fairly substantial wager he will be in St. Paul on August 10th. On the other hand, odds are only around a third of the All Star roster will be national team eligible, and no individual player will receive significant minutes.
So how should we view the game then? At the end of the day it’s 30-45 minutes for some of our guys against an opponent roughly resembling a national team’s quality. What’s really important however is that it’s a chance to engage in a national team fan’s favorite pastime: constructing lineups. This time though, the lineups we write on the internet actually have an impact (albeit a small one) on how an actual lineup will be created. All that said, here are three recommendations on how to vote in this year’s All-Star game in the USMNT’s interest, depending on your perspective.
*All ballots based on available options voting options
The Practical Ballot:
FW: Paul Arriola, Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Morris
AM: Djordie Mihailovic, Cristian Roldan
DM: Kellyn Acosta
LB: John Tolkin
CB: Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman
RB: DeAndre Yedlin
GK: Sean Johnson
Out of the players listed above, 10 of them were given call ups in the last window. The only one who wasn’t, John Tolkin (not to be confused with the creator of Middle Earth) was name dropped by Berhalter as a player who almost made the roster. A significant majority of these players will likely be on the plane to Qatar, so why not try to give as many of these players as possible one more opportunity to gain some experience against a quality opponent. Most of these players are liable to be coming off the bench come the World Cup, so there could be value in seeing how they perform in 30-45 minutes of work. If the game ends in a shootout, as it has in three out of the last four all star games, the national team could benefit from seeing if Sean Johnson can replicate his MLS Cup performance should the need arise.
The Diamond in the Rough Ballot:
FW: Jeremy Ebobisse, C.J. Sapong, Brandon Vazquez
AM: Keaton Parks, Paxton Pomykal
DM: Alfredo Morales
LB: DeJuan Jones
CB: Henry Kessler, Sean Nealis
RB: Brandon Bye
GK: Stefan Frei
Gregg is watching this game, that much is certain. What’s also certain is that every roster Gregg calls up is met with frustration. Berhalter clings to his stalwarts, sometimes to the national team’s detriment. If there are better options out there, let’s find them. Now while many of the players we as a community wish would get an opportunity are playing overseas, there are some options at home that may be preferable to some of the regulars. Former youth starlett and fan favorite Paxton Pomykal has remeregred as a strong player, Stefan Frei’s CONCACAF Champions League heroics has revitalized calls from him to get a call up from Seattle fans which seem to emerge every couple of years. Why not vote for top scorers Jeremy Ebobisse or Brandon Vasquez, see if they can impress in a game that has no national team consequences. Or perhaps someone else who isn’t getting serious consideration but might be capable of showing Gregg what they are capable of if given the chance.
The Let the Kids Play Ballot:
FW: Cade Cowell, Ferreira, Vazquez
AM: Ben Bender, Quinn Sullivan
DM: Frankie Amaya
CB: George Campbell, Jack Maher
RB: Nathan Harriel
GK: Gaga Slonina
If you’re over 23 in MLS, odds are this is it as far as your career goes. There are exceptions of course, but while MLS has steadily increased the players it's exported to Europe, those chances of a move abroad decreases the older a player gets. So vote for the kids, some of them are already on the radar, maybe a good performance here can get them the national team chance they’ve been starving for. Quinn Sullivan has been brutalizing CONCACAF up with the U20s, could he take the opportunity to show he’s ready for the senior team? Perhaps wunderkind Slonina could benefit from some higher competition, or Nathan Harriel can demonstrate that he’s capable of replicating his league performance against Liga MX’s best.
Now I’m not necessarily recommending watching the All-Star Game, though I plan to. Frankly if it’s not for you then it’s not for you. I get it, I’ve listed some of the issues with it above. However, I do strongly recommend voting for a simple reason. For all the posts we make about ideal lineups, all the clips we retweet of our favorite players’ highlights, the All Star Game is the rare opportunity, one very few other fanbases get, where we as fans can actually affect, even in a small way, what Gregg sees. If you have that one player you feel is getting overlooked, vote. If one of these three perspectives appeal to you, vote. If you're completely indifferent to MLS and don’t think anyone in the league should be part of the World Cup roster, then vote for a ballot entirely made up of international players. Just don’t waste the chance, cause at the end of the day between now and November this is the only opportunity to have an impact that you’re going to get.
The All Star Game ballot closes this Friday, July 1st at midnight.