The Throw-In: 24 Under 24? Where's the love for the old guys? Here's my XI Over 34
Old guys rule.
As much as I love the annual 24 Under 24 series, it makes me feel a little, shall we say, dated. I speak to MLS players every week, and the past few years have been a steady realization for me that, even if I were a professional player, I’d probably be retired. (Hell, you should see what my podiatrist says about the state of my regrettable left foot.)
But as a Gen X/Gen Y cusper, it gives me great joy to see guys in this league who are still doing their thing – and in some cases, excelling. Therefore, on a week in which we celebrate the exuberance of youth in MLS, I’d like to shine a slightly graying light on my generation and remind everyone that dudes born in the 1970s can still bring it.
Using the same rationale as the 24 Under 24 (with the Dec. 8 MLS Cup final as the age cut-off), here is my XI Over 34:
GK: Donovan Ricketts (37)
OK, we all know goalkeeper is the one place where dudes older than 35 flourish, in any league. And there are a handful of worthy candidates here (tip of the cap to Jon Busch and Jimmy Nielsen). But Ricketts is among the best ’keepers in the league this year, age be damned. His 1.12 goal-against average and save percentage of 71 are both they fifth-best marks among starters in the league, and he’s claimed Save of the Week eight times this season. And the amount of times he’s kept the Timbers in games is beyond count.
CB: Carlos Bocanegra (34), Jay DeMerit (33)
Yes, DeMerit makes the grade on account that he’ll celebrate his 34th birthday four days before MLS Cup. And no, your eyes don’t deceive you: This is half of the US national team’s backline at the 2010 World Cup. Bocanegra has given Chivas USA’s defense credibility since his arrival in July and has been a big reason they’re unbeaten in five of the eight games he’s started. Meanwhile, DeMerit’s steady presence has been missed in Vancouver while he recovered from a torn Achilles. No one will write him off in his return.
RB: Lee Young-Pyo (36)
The old guy dazzled the Whitecaps coaching staff when he came in during 2012 preseason and, although the legs aren’t what they were, the former South Korean international has been one of the most reliable players on the pitch during an up-and-down season in BC.
WATCH: Benítez scores from 50 yards out
LB: Jair Benítez (34)
The Colombian has been a horse for FC Dallas, even as they slowly transition away from that 2010 MLS Cup runner-up team. He still defends well and is a constant threat on the overlap. Sure, the majority of his audacious shots don’t go on frame. But sometimes he tries this (or click on the video at right).
DM: Shalrie Joseph (35)
Tough one here, because 37-year-old Pablo Mastroeni is still contributing at the holding mid position. But I’ll give Shalrie a slight edge based on minutes this season. He’s started eight games across all competitions this year and has gone at least 74 minutes six times (including all 90 three times). He still shows that box-to-box magic of old at times, too.
RM/LM: Brian Mullan (35), Laurent Courtois (35)
OK, these guys aren’t regulars, we’ll give you that. Wide midfield isn’t necessarily a place for veterans. But five-time MLS Cup winner Mullan in particular is one of those guys who impacts a game immediately when he’s on the pitch, a guy who Dominic Kinnear still admires for “making other players around him better.”
Courtois, meanwhile, was an unfortunate victim of the drama at Chivas USA this season after being a reliable hand for the Goats in 2012. His minutes have been scant since moving across the hall in July, but one look at his early dagger Wednesday night against Isidro Metapán and you understand why the Galaxy love having the veteran Frenchman as an option.
AM: Dwayne De Rosario (35)
Seriously, is there a debate? Again, not what he was even during his MVP season in 2011, but there is no single creative player in the league doing more at such a late stage in his career. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do with sheer will as he leads massive underdog D.C. United into Utah for next month’s US Open Cup final.
F: Thierry Henry (36), Marco Di Vaio (37)
Di Vaio is atop the Golden Boot race, Henry is tied for fifth in the league in assists as he’s begun playing further from goal this year. Between them, they’ve scored 27 times and dished up 10 helpers in 2013. No further explanation needed.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.