Shrader: All-Star snub actually a blessing
It's amazing what an odd couple perception and reality can be.
There are six FC Dallas players and five from New England on the roster of 18 MLS players for the Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, in which they meet English Premiership team Fulham. There is not one player on the roster from San Jose, nor is there one player from Chicago - two of the teams challenging Dallas and New England for the best record in Major League Soccer.
To be sure, the number of all-star spots available was reduced in half this year when the league invited Fulham (and its former MLS stars Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra) to play the exhibition game in Crew Stadium.
Yet, there are those in San Jose and Chicago, as well as Colorado and Chivas USA who were also left out of the party, who are wondering why every team doesn't get a spot on the All-Star roster.
While the All-Star "oversight" may not be so good for the ego, it'll be great for the 12 game stretch drive, says five time All-Star midfielder Mark Chung, who was thrilled when he learned that Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear had given the team a full week off.
"I've been in this league 10 years and I've never had a break like this," he said. "I can't tell you how much it is needed. It is a long season. Just to be able to go on that break, and get away. It's more mental than anything else."
Kinnear says though the team is playing very well right now he doesn't think they'll lose any of that edge they've gained in the last six weeks. He says he's sure the players on the team will enjoy a few days off, but they'll be ready to get back to work next weekend.
"Even though you look forward to the break," he said, "the locker room is a good place to be right now and you don't want to be away too long."
After five games this season the Quakes were 1-1-3 and had allowed 11 total goals. In the 15 games since, they've gone 8-3-4 and have allowed that same number of goals (11).
"We always knew we were a pretty good team," said forward Alejandro Moreno. "It was just a matter of getting a couple of breaks here and there, and focusing on key parts of the game. We've done that and we've gotten important results."
Going into the All-Star break, which is more like two-thirds of the way into the season and ends for the Quakes with an Open Cup match against the Portland Timbers on Aug. 3, the Quakes were battling FC Dallas for first place in the conference and were assured of being ahead of rival Los Angeles in the standings.
As for the All-Star snub, you can add that to a growing list of examples of how the players and their fans feel like the Quakes are treated by the American soccer establishment. Moreno, for one, isn't losing any sleep over it.
"This is a pretty blue collar team and we just keep coming and keep working," he said. "We work for each other and we don't care about individual stuff. We just care about winning games."
With 12 games to go in the regular season (seven of which are at home), the Quakes have already matched the number of wins from 2004, nine. And they expect to add a bunch more of them.
"Guys can rest now and focus on the second half of the season," said midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, playing every bit like an All-Star since being inserted into the midfield as a full-time starter a half-dozen games into the season.
Whatever the perception is of the fans who voted for the All-Star team or the coaches and players in the league, the reality is this: the Earthquakes are in championship contention.
"I knew we had a good team," Kinnear said. "We played well in the beginning of the season and were not getting the results." Late goals and mental breakdowns were replaced by better luck and more intelligent play. "The guys are just playing well and are really enjoying what they're doing," said Kinnear.
And what they're doing this week is taking a rare one-week, in-season vacation. And while many of the league's "stars" are sweltering in Columbus, the Quakes will all be resting up for what they hope is a run at a third title in five years.
San Jose and a championship: no odd couple at all.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.