I’ll be blunt: The selection process for the MLS All-Star Team isn’t fair.
How can it be, with fans, All-Star head coach Veljko Paunovic and even Commissioner Don Garber weighing in from myriad different (and inherently subjective) perspectives on the best of a league that’s steadily growing in both size and quality?
With all those vectors pinging around, deserving standouts are inevitably left out of the big midsummer party every season. It’s part of the deal. But someone has to speak out on behalf of the jilted contenders.
Here, then, are this year’s top five All-Star snubs:
5. Romain Alessandrini
What’s going on here?! What happened to the hoary old gripes about LA and New York getting excess helpings of love and attention in this league? The three teams repping the two largest metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada are represented by just three players on this All-Star squad, David Villa, Giovani dos Santos and Jelle Van Damme.
No one in the big markets has more of a valid gripe than LA Galaxy winger Romain Alessandrini, the all-action Frenchman who has tossed the five-time MLS Cup champs on his back since his arrival over the winter. With eight goals and seven assists in 17 games, the man from Marseille has directly created more than half of the mercurial Galaxy’s scoring thus far, and played a pivotal role in inspiring several more.
He’s been creative, industrious and inspirational, throwing himself headlong into the challenge of his new league amid the scrutiny and high expectations that are unavoidable for a Designated Player at a traditional MLS powerhouse, much less one now underdoing some soul searching.
Perhaps I should phrase it more pragmatically: If you hope to keep pace for 90 minutes with mighty Madrid, the “White Storm” that routinely ravages the world’s best, you need audacious talent that can make big plays at any moment. In that regard, Alessandrini is a member of select company.
4. Victor Vazquez
I’ll admit, it’s hard for me to adequately underline the value of Victor Vazquez to Toronto FC without sounding like some sanctimonious La Liga glory hunter. The silky Spaniard deploys a subtle skillset, using his vision and technique both to spring TFC into fluid transitions and carve open defenses in the final third.
The FC Barcelona product is often the one linking things up, or playing “the pass before the pass,” and that’s easy to miss with all the starpower around him. But even for all that, his MLS-leading 10 assists – as a new arrival on these shores, no less – combined with Toronto’s league-leading form should speak loudly enough for All-Star deciders to hear.
Vazquez has been framed as a supporting actor for TFC’s “Big Three” (Giovinco, Altidore, Bradley) since his arrival in The Six, and that surely doesn’t help his ASG prospects. But he might already be The Cigarette Smoking Man in Toronto, the quiet string-puller who completes an MLS Cup quest.
3. Tim Melia
2. Ike Opara
I’m not just lumping them together here to save paragraphs and cut the word count; the Sporting Kansas City defensive duo of 'keeper Tim Melia and center back Ike Opara have anchored the league’s best back line with a team-first, no-stars-needed mentality. I suspect they might even appreciate the joint recognition – though they might insist on bringing Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic along, too – of what’s been a truly collective effort to limit Sporting’s opponents to a measley 14 goals in 20 games.
That’s tops in MLS, and it’s not close. And it might just turn out to be tops in league history: SKC are currently on a 0.7 goals-against average pace, right within striking distance of the 2010 Real Salt Lake side that allowed 20 goals in 30 games, an 0.67 goals-against average.
Both men have traveled admirable distances to reach this point. Opara fought through a nightmarish sequence of serious injuries over the years – alas, he’s currently recovering from a concussion sustained on a scary play in US Open Cup action last week – and Melia rose from journeyman to pool goalkeeper to Best XI-caliber performer on the north side of age 30. Both flash equal parts intelligence and endeavor as they snuff out danger in Sporting’s high-risk, high-reward pressing system.
No, they're probably not household names, not yet. They're just elite 2017 performers who deserve a shot at Real Madrid.
1. David Accam
With Johan Kappelhof, Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger already on the squad, it would be understandable if All-Stars coach Veljko Paunovic felt that picking a sixth Man in Red was showing a bit too much host-club pride. But the case for Chicago Fire attacker David Accam is just too strong.
The jet-heeled Ghanaian international has carried a disproportionate share of the load in Chicago since joining the Fire ahead of the 2015 campaign, banking 19 goals and seven assists in his first two seasons despite the team’s generally woeful results.
Now that he’s finally got some help, he’s having a career year, with 10 strikes and seven helpers at the halfway point – and most of those plays have been truly electric to watch.
For perspective, peruse the league’s statistical leaders, and note that only one name appears among the top five scorers and assist-getters: "King David."
Agree? Disagree? Let us know who we snubbed from the snubs!