WASHINGTON – D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen does not seem too concerned with the lack of D.C. players in the MLS All-Star Game Fan XI, the crowd-sourced group of players honored as part of All-Star coach Caleb Porter's squad that will take face Bayern Munich in Portland on Aug. 6.
"I don’t even really understand how the voting for this thing works, honestly,” Olsen quipped after his team’s training session on Wednesday morning. "I think we have guys who deserve to go for sure, but I don’t read too much about it. I don’t put too much stock in it. It’s not my concern."
Olsen – who earned five All-Star nods during his time as a player for United and coached the All-Star team in 2012 – treads a line that many MLS coaches do, suggesting that they have little concern with the event. Some go as far as to suggest they would rather their players get a bit of rest instead of traveling to play a midweek friendly.
To most players in MLS, however, an All-Star Game appearance carries plenty of weight. United’s players are no different, and a few likely still have a chance to be selected by Porter or by MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
"It’s definitely important; anybody who says they don’t want to be there is lying,” United center back Bobby Boswell told MLSsoccer.com with a chuckle. "I think it’s a collection of guys that you play against and you respect and want to play with.
"The opponent is also always pretty high-caliber – it doesn’t get much better than Bayern Munich. You can’t ask for a better team to play. You want to be a part of stuff like that. It’s a fun group, and it’s a good opportunity. You get to play one of the best teams in the world with some of the best players in your league.”
Hovering near the top of the Eastern Conference and riding a three-game road winning streak, you’d think that United’s roster would have its share of shoo-ins. But a deeper look explains why they may not.
Of D.C.’s eight current All-Star nominees, four stand out: Boswell, defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen, Argentine forward Fabian Espindola and Homegrown goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Boswell’s solid play in central defense is not exactly a surprise – the former Dynamo defender has been one of the league’s most consistent performers over the years and starred in the 2006 All-Star Game against Chelsea.
Kitchen suffers the effects of playing at a position that is particularly deep in the way of league-wide name recognition. While the Akron product may indeed deserve a nod, some likely find it hard to see past the likes of Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley and Osvaldo Alonso when it comes to finding a defensive midfielder.
Espindola would seem to be the most egregious omission, though he may yet earn a nod as a bench player. Prior to suffering a knee injury that would likely preclude him from appearing in the game, Espindola was dominant. Involved in nearly 70 percent of his side’s goals, Espindola still comfortably leads United in both goals (7) and assists (8).
Yet Espindola and Boswell are perfect examples of players who sometimes find themselves overlooked for this type of honor. Despite strong performances on the field, they lack the mainstream name recognition of US national team stalwarts like Landon Donovan, Bradley or international icons like Thierry Henry.
It’s a reality that Boswell is keenly aware of: In professional sports, your name can often precede you.
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“As a teammate and a friend of Fabi, yes, [it would frustrate me to see him excluded],” said Boswell. "I think I understand how that works, though – there’s no point in getting mad over the things you can’t control.
"But a lot of those guys who get votes have been there before or are on the national team have earned that. There’s a reason people recognize their name and are voting for them. You can obviously talk about their play, but this game isn’t always about the play on the field. It sometimes involves personalities off it as well.”
Before retiring to his office on Wednesday, Boswell’s current head coach admitted that his All-Star appearances carried a bit more weight than he’d let on. But he did so with a smile on his face, still playing his cards close to his chest.
"I had a bonus in my contract,” Olsen said. “So it was important in that sense. I think one year my mom punched a ballot several thousand times to get me in."