An All-Star Game pick 'em

not to mention his size at 6-foot-1 -- has opened the eyes of people all over MLS. Perhaps even those of national team head coach Bruce Arena.

Midfielder: Amado Guevara, MetroStars

Even though he's missed a few games to play with Honduras, the attacking midfielder is tied for second in the league with 14 points (5 goals, 4 assists). His tactical awareness and ability to create scoring opportunities out of nothing has allowed Eddie Gaven and, at times, Joselito Vaca, to flourish as his running mates in the midfield.

Midfielder: Dema Kovalenko, D.C. United

Has played well for his former teammate in Chicago, Peter Nowak. When you watch D.C. United play, Kovalenko always seems to be involved in every attack, making dangerous runs out of the midfield, or by starting the play with a hard tackle, and quick pass on the counter. The former Indiana University standout is also third on the team in points with two goals and three assists.

Midfielder: Andy Williams, Chicago

The Jamaican international is currently enjoying his best season to date in what has been a very up-and-down and well-traveled career in Major League Soccer. His work ethic has improved, as has his level of consistency, which has always been something his former coaches bemoaned. His excellent vision and creative passing has earned him five assists, which ties him for second place in the league.

Striker: Alecko Eskandarian, D.C. United

I'm bypassing guys like Jeff Cunningham and Pat Noonan, who both have more goals than Esky, but it's hard not to be impressed with his level of play and productivity (four goals, 2 game-winners) in limited time. Last year's top selection of the MLS SuperDraft has played just under half of his team's total minutes and has only garnered seven starts, but that will change now that Ronald Cerritos is gone.

Striker: Damani Ralph, Chicago Fire

The Jamaican international has picked up right where he left off last year when he burst onto the scene with 11 goals as the league's Rookie of the Year. In just 11 games, Ralph has amassed six goals, including the type of highlight-reel material he was known for in '03. There might not be another player in MLS who can turn an average play into a goal-scoring chance the way Ralph can.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Goalkeeper: Joe Cannon, Colorado Rapids

Has allowed a league-low 10 goals in 12 matches, despite not having a powerful juggernaut playing in front of him. Without Cannon, head coach Tim Hankinson might be out of a job right now, as several of the team's six ties could easily have been losses.

Defender: Jeff Agoos, San Jose Earthquakes

So what if he's 36 years old. The longtime MLS standout can still flat out play, which he's done in a variety of roles this year for new coach Dominic Kinnear. Injuries to several players in the back have called for Agoos to turn back the clock and play like he did in 2001, which he has been able to do most of the time. He's also been a fine mentor for rookie Ryan Cochrane since the two became the starting center back duo in mid-May. In addition, Goose has tallied three assists, and scored one of the best goals of the year when he bent a free kick past Zach Wells in a 3-1 victory over the MetroStars on June 12.

Defender: Chris Albright, Los Angeles Galaxy

Sigi Schmid's decision to use Albright as his right back after Arena tried it out with the national team over the winter has panned out nicely, both for Albright and the Galaxy. His attacking instincts out of the back has given L.A. an added element to its offense, and has opened up the park more for the team's playmakers. Albright's five assists tie him for second place in the league, and the most among all defenders.

Defender: Jimmy Conrad, Kansas City Wizards

This 27-year-old centerback was once known more for his humor and hairstyles than his defending, but that has changed since his move to the Midwest on draft day in 2003. In playing all 1260 minutes of his team's 14 matches, Conrad has helped lead the back four into an impressive unit that has allowed only 13 goals, and is one of the biggest reasons behind the team's 6-4-4 mark. His partnership with second-year back Shavar Thomas has quickly become one of the best in the league.

Defender: Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids

It's no wonder that Hankinson didn't want him to play for the national team on June 13, as Mastroeni is not only the finest player on his side, but also the backbone of the team now that his leadership has improved. Once a quiet type who showed up and did his job, Mastroeni has become a player who pushes his teammates and demands their full effort in both matches and practices. On the field, he's developed into one of the best central defenders in the league since making the move from holding midfielder last season.
Midfielder: Landon Donovan, San Jose Earthquakes

Remains the best player in the league, whether he's playing up top or as a playmaking midfielder. Even though he's missed two matches this year due to national team duty, the 22-year-old has scored two goals and dished out five assists. Donovan has also become the player that his side plays through, which hasn't always been the case on a consistent basis over the past few years. He's more of a complete player this year, which has been seen just as much on the international level, as well.

Midfielder: Andy Herzog, Los Angeles Galaxy

Jurgen Klinsmann's old teammate at Bayern Munich has been a force for the Galaxy this season. Without Preki or Marco Etcheverry around, there might not be a more lethal left-footed talent in the league than Herzog, whose incredible touch and playmaking instincts have been on display since his first game in L.A. His four goals and four assists through 15 games is one of the biggest reasons why the Galaxy have rebounded from an off year in 2003 to jump out to a 7-5-3 start to lead all teams.

Midfielder: Chris Klein, Kansas City Wizards

The 28-year-old out of Indiana University leads the league with six assists, and has been one of the best players in MLS this year. He not only covers a lot of ground and adds a defensive presence to the midfield, but he's also one of the best, and most underrated, crossers of the ball. His form as of late certainly has had to have grabbed Arena's attention.

Midfielder: Ronnie O'Brien, Dallas Burn

Simo Valakari could easily be penciled-in here, as both players have enjoyed strong seasons for the Burn this year. O'Brien gets the nod since he's played every minute of all 12 matches, and is usually the hardest-working player on the field no matter how well he or the team is performing. He's only struck for one goal despite taking 36 shots (fifth most in the league), but he's registered a team-high five assists, and has been a menace for opposing midfielders to deal with.

Striker: Brian Ching, San Jose Earthquakes

Has started only eight games due to his continued rehab from his Achilles tendon tear from last summer, yet he leads the league in scoring with seven goals and one assist (15 points). Ching's instincts around the goal and strong aerial presence in the box will soon earn the 26-year-old a call-up to the U.S. national team.

Striker: Jovan Kirovski, Los Angeles Galaxy

It's a toss-up between he and fellow national team standout Josh Wolff, but Kirovski gets the nod since he's been one of the forces behind L.A.'s turnaround this season after many people whispered about whether he was a good signing for the league when he returned home from Birmingham City over the winter. The 28-year-old from Escondido, Calif., is sixth in the league in points with 13 (6 goals, 1 assist), and has given sniper Carlos Ruiz a true striking partner up front that complements his skills.

Four Quick Ones

Questions for San Jose midfielder Ronnie Ekelund

Smartest advice from a coach you ever received: "Let the ball do the work, because it never gets tired."
Most underrated player on your team: Eddie Robinson
Most underrated player in MLS that's not on your team: Freddy Adu
Best nickname on your team: "Shampoo" -- Arturo Alvarez. He scored a goal with his head against Dallas last year, and that had never been seen before.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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