Allow me, for a moment, to argue that the real fun surrounding an MLS All-Star Game presented by Target isn’t the game itself. No, the real fun surrounding an All-Star Game is the set of arguments we have about the All-Star roster along the way. After all, All-Star season is nothing without a score of roster disputes.
Today, I’m here to add fuel to the 2022 MLS All-Star fire by running through five players who, based on their performances so far this year, absolutely should’ve made the squad for the Aug. 10 showdown vs. the LIGA MX All-Stars in Minnesota.
But by the numbers, here are my top five snubs for the 2022 MLS All-Star roster.
He’s been quiet about it, but Diego Rubio is one of the leading scorers in MLS this season. He has eight goals so far in 2022, which puts him in the top 12 in the league. It’s not just goals for Rubio, though. On their own, those eight goals probably aren’t enough to get Rubio a place in this squad.
No, it’s all of the playmaking that Rubio does before and after scoring goals that should’ve pushed him over the line.
Looking at American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, Rubio is sixth in the entire league in goals added per 96 minutes among regular players. He adds so much value to Robin Fraser’s attack. Per FBref, Rubio is in the 99th percentile in completed passes under pressure among forwards in MLS this year. He’s an elite shot-creator and helps progress the ball with his dribbling, passing and movement in possession.
The Colorado Rapids are struggling right now, but Rubio deserved an All-Star spot. It’s really tough that he didn’t get one.
Let’s hang out in the forward group for a little while longer, shall we? Brandon Vazquez should be on this All-Star roster. He’s been one of the biggest faces and best performers on the most improved team in MLS this year. FC Cincinnati aren’t hanging out about the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line if Vazquez isn’t leading their attack.
He’s a top 10 goalscorer in MLS this year. He’s also great at holding the ball up: Vazquez averages the fifth-most hold-ups per 90 minutes in the league, according to Second Spectrum, and his quick feet help get his team out of trouble in possession. He’s also a willing presser when Cincinnati steps high up the field to try and pin back the opposition.
Comparing Vazquez to the strikers that did make the All-Star squad (Taty Castellanos, Jesus Ferreira, Chicharito and Raul Ruidiaz), Vazquez has more goals than two of them, more goals per 90 than one of them, more xG per 90 than two of them, and more combined xG+xA per 90 than three of them. Vazquez is a big miss here, in my opinion.
Moving back a line into the attacking midfield group, there’s no doubt that the No. 10 spot is one of the deepest position groups in MLS. There are a bunch of quality attacking midfielders in this league…but are there really five of them that have been better in 2022 than Houston’s Darwin Quintero? Because that’s how many made it into the roster over Quintero.
If we count Hany Mukhtar as a No. 10, there are only two 10s in MLS who are averaging more xG+xA per 90 than Quintero this season (Mukhtar and Luciano Acosta). Quintero does a little bit of everything in the Dynamo’s attack. He scores goals (seven so far in 2022), finds good spots (87th percentile in xG per 90 among players with at least 1,000 minutes), and creates chances (98th percentile in xA per 90 in that same group of players).
We won’t get to see Quintero at the All-Star Game, but at least we’ll get to watch him combine with Hector Herrera in Houston for the rest of 2022.
There isn’t a single, true box-to-box central midfielder in this All-Star squad: the only two non-No. 10s in midfield are Darlington Nagbe (Columbus Crew) and Ilie Sanchez (LAFC). Even if we set the positional details aside, LAFC's Cifuentes has totally earned a spot on the team.
Per American Soccer Analysis, the 23-year-old is first in the league in goals added per 96 minutes among players with at least 1,000 minutes this year. First! That means Cifuentes has been the most valuable player on the absolute best team in MLS this year, at least according to goals added. The Ecuador international breaks up plays in midfield, drives the ball forward on the dribble, plays progressive passes, and makes a ton of runs into the box. Cifuentes’ FBref scouting report chart is pretty much all bright green, folks.
If we were trying to build a balanced roster with players at every position that could compete on a weekly basis in MLS, Cifuentes would be one of the first names on the team sheet in central midfield.
It’s not that the goalkeepers that ended up on the All-Star roster are bad. Andre Blake (Philadelphia), Sean Johnson (NYCFC), and Dayne St. Clair (Minnesota) are all having great seasons for their respective teams. It’s just that Drake Callender is having an even better season for Inter Miami.
With his shot-stopping ability, Callender is the biggest reason that Inter Miami are closer to the playoff line than they are to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. According to FBref, Callender has been the best goalkeeper in MLS this year when it comes to stopping shots. He leads the league in their goals saved above expected metric on a per-game basis, and he also leads the league (both goalkeepers and outfield players) in goals added per 96 minutes among players with at least 750 minutes in 2022.
Callender has been standing on his head for Miami this season and he deserves some recognition.