Voices: Joseph Lowery

MLS All-Star voting: 7 bubble players who could meet Arsenal


You know the obvious stars – or in this case the obvious All-Stars. Players like Hany Mukhtar, Thiago Almada and Dénis Bouanga will receive their fair share of love before voting closes on June 14 for the 2023 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target.

But who are some under-the-radar players who could meet Arsenal at Audi Field on July 19? Let’s dig into a group of players who aren’t obvious choices, but who still deserve some love (maybe via a Commissioner’s pick or selection from All-Star manager Wayne Rooney). 

Remember, here’s the voting breakdown:

  • 12 players determined by a combined vote of fan, media and players
  • 12 players selected by MLS All-Star head coach Wayne Rooney of the host team, D.C. United
  • 2 players selected by MLS Commissioner Don Garber

Let’s start right off with a possible manager selection, shall we?

Tyler Miller has been an average shot-stopper for D.C. United this season. He’s not an obvious All-Star selection based on his defensive contributions this year, but Miller has stood out with his distribution. Rooney doesn’t ask Miller to play a lot of delicate passes out of the back. Instead, he’s asked to boot the ball upfield to Christian Benteke or any of his attacking teammates on near repeat.

It’s a pragmatic, effective strategy. So far this year, Miller has added more value with his passing than any other goalkeeper in MLS, according to American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric. That’s not nearly as important as stopping shots, but hey, All-Star games are about having fun! If Benteke gets picked up front, I’m all for replicating one of their Miller-to-Benteke long patterns in the All-Star Game.

I’m just going to keep shouting it from the rooftops: the Vancouver Whitecaps are pure, unadulterated fun this year. They have an attack full of free-flowing, creative players – and they cap off that attack with the space-hunting Brian White.

Playing at the top, or occasionally in the attacking midfield line, of Vanni Sartini's 4-3-2-1 formation, White is constantly searching for little seams between opposing defenders. His ability to identify and expose gaps in defenses has helped him wrack up both goals and expected goals this year. White has six goals in MLS and, per FBref, is in the 95th percentile among forwards for non-penalty xG per 90 minutes (0.66).

With proper service, White has shown he’s a quality striker.

Even after touching the ball more than any Crew player in 2022, there were very real questions about how Steven Moreira would adapt to life under Wilfried Nancy. Where would Moreira, who played as a right back under Caleb Porter, fit for a manager who prefers to possess in a 3-4-3?

Without elite speed, the wingback position wasn’t a real option for the 28-year-old Frenchman, so he’s moved to the center back spot under Nancy. And it’s worked well. Very well.

Moreira’s on-ball comfort has made him an asset as the right-sided center back in Nancy’s back three. He can stride into central midfield, break lines with his dribbling and his passing, and add an extra number in attacking areas to help Columbus overload opposing defensive shapes. Similar to how Andy Najar adapted to an outside center back role with D.C. United a couple of years ago, Moreira has truly made that position his own in 2023.

There are times when a high-priced signing doesn’t quite live up to the billing. That’s not the case with Andrés Gómez. After Real Salt Lake broke their previous club-record number for an incoming transfer fee to sign Gómez from Columbia, they’ve benefitted from his on-field ability in a bunch of ways. 

Per ASA, Gómez is 28th among MLS regulars in expected goals plus expected assists per 96 minutes (0.53) this year. That number puts him ahead of Sebastián Driussi (Austin FC), Facundo Torres (Orlando City SC), Karol Swiderski (Charlotte FC) and a whole host of other notable names. With his technical ability, speed and strength, Gomez excels at getting into high-value scoring positions. Using his dribbling ability and developing vision, he can also provide for his teammates.

At just 20 years old, there’s still plenty of room for Gomez to improve. But he’s clearly one of the most talented young players in MLS.

It’s really hard to make it into an All-Star roster as a midfielder when you’re not a No. 10, but Jack McGlynn still deserves credit for his work on the field with Philadelphia this season.

He wrestled a starting spot away from Leon Flach on the right side of Jim Curtin’s 4-4-2 diamond before heading off to the U-20 World Cup down in Argentina. McGlynn helped lead the United States to a quarterfinal finish while pulling the strings from midfield in a 3-4-3 shape. In MLS, McGlynn has continued to show elite vision and passing from deep midfield areas. According to ASA, he’s added more value with his passing per 96 minutes than all but four deep midfielders who start regularly in MLS.

Now that the US U-20s’ World Cup run is over, getting McGlynn back will be a big boost for the Union. A few strong performances before the All-Star Game could see the 19-year-old get some of the All-Star buzz he deserves. Maybe as a Commissioner’s pick?

Don’t look now, but Julián Carranza is tied for third in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race. 

Mukhtar and Bouanga both have 10 goals in MLS play, but Carranza (along with Seattle’s Jordan Morris, Atlanta’s Giorgos Giakoumakis and DallasJesús Ferreira) all have nine so far this year. After breaking the double-digit mark for the first time in his career last year with the Union, Carranza is on pace to score nearly 20 goals this season. 

Playing up top as part of a two-striker frontline with a No. 10 underneath, Carranza is finding strong scoring positions all the time for Philadelphia. Per FBref, he’s currently in the 91st percentile among forwards in non-penalty xG, averaging 0.52 per 90 minutes. Carranza moves well off the ball, makes smart runs in transition and is a reliable option in the box for the rest of his Union teammates. 

There’s no shortage of big-name attackers in MLS, but the first half of Carranza’s 2023 campaign warrants recognition.

The Earthquakes have fallen off a bit over their last five games – they’ve gone just 1W-2D-2L in that stretch. Still, Cristian Espinoza has been a difference-maker in the attack for Luchi Gonzalez’s team. 

Espinoza just missed the cut for my top All-Star candidates last week, but he absolutely deserves a mention here. He not only leads San Jose in goals, assists, xG and xA this year, but he also leads the entire league in xA. His vision and creativity on the right wing make him a genuine threat for the Quakes. Espinoza is a nightmare to stop in the open field, but his creativity and comfort on the ball help him threaten opposing defenses even when they’re deeper and in more compact blocks.

It can be difficult to shine when you’re stuck in a talented pool of forwards, but Espinoza and his cultured right foot would bring plenty of quality to this year’s All-Star festivities.