It’s quiet at first. Then it starts playing louder and louder. The noise grows until you’re forced to acknowledge it.
Is that… Smash Mouth?
You’d better believe it. To be more specific, it’s “All Star" by Smash Mouth – because it’s voting season for the 2023 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target.
Voting is now open! Which players belong in the squad that will meet English Premier League powerhouse Arsenal on July 19 in Washington, D.C.? Let’s dive into the top three candidates at every position.
- Roman Bürki, St. Louis CITY SC
- Steve Clark, Houston Dynamo FC
- John McCarthy, LAFC
I’ll admit: I was skeptical of St. Louis’ decision to sign former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Bürki and make him the highest-paid player at that position in MLS (per MLS Players Association salary figures). While he struggled at the end of his Bundesliga career, Bürki has been fantastic in MLS this season. He’s been the best shot-stopper in the league among regular starters, saving his team 0.35 goals more than expected per 90 minutes. Bürki should be in the squad, without a doubt.
- Matt Miazga, FC Cincinnati
- Jack Elliott, Philadelphia Union
- Miles Robinson, Atlanta United
There are a number of worthy center backs to pick from for this year’s All-Star team, but these three Eastern Conference defenders deserve plaudits for their work in 2023.
Matt Miazga is the anchor at the center of FC Cincinnati’s back three, helping power their Supporters' Shield-leading pace. His mixture of passing range and mobility makes him a force in Pat Noonan’s defense. At this point in his career, Jack Elliott has grown into a reliable presence in a vertical, front-foot team that puts a lot of pressure on its defensive unit. Miles Robinson, even during Atlanta United’s up-and-down season, has consistently impressed with his recovery speed and physicality.
- Richie Laryea, Toronto FC
- Juan Mosquera, Portland Timbers
- Alex Roldan, Seattle Sounders FC
Things haven’t exactly been… stable in Toronto this season. Even with some turbulence around him, Richie Laryea has been phenomenal in 2023. According to FBref, the Canadian international is in the 80th percentile or higher among FBs in MLS this year in:
- Expected assisted goals (xAG) per 90
- Progressive carries per 90
- Successful take-ons per 90
Lareyea has pinched in at center back and on the wing, but he's been a genuine difference-maker at fullback this season. If he’s still in Toronto – his loan from EPL side Nottingham Forest is reportedly scheduled to end in June – he’s an All-Star shoo-in.
- Álvaro Barreal, FC Cincinnati
- Andrew Gutman, Atlanta United
- Jon Gallagher, Austin FC
It’s not often we see a team’s outside back as one of their creative hubs, but that’s certainly the case for Álvaro Barreal and FC Cincinnati.
At this point in the 2023 season, Barreal leads FC Cincinnati in xAG (yes, that means he has more xAG than Luciano Acosta), per FBref. He’s also first on the team among regular starters in xAG per 90 and is in the 99th percentile in that metric among fullbacks this year. He can stay wide to provide accurate crosses into the box or pinch in from left wingback to get involved in quick combinations with Acosta. He’s as close to must-see TV as an outside back in MLS.
- Andrés Cubas, Vancouver Whitecaps FC
- César Araújo, Orlando City SC
- Ilie Sánchez, LAFC
There are a ton of talented defensive midfielders in MLS, but I’m handing the top candidate spot at the No. 6 position to Andrés Cubas. With his incredible work rate and mobility, the Paraguayan international doesn’t get nearly enough credit around the league. He’s almost always near the ball in defensive moments, which is a huge asset for a Vancouver team that pushes so many numbers forward in the attack.
- Eduard Löwen, St. Louis CITY SC
- Julian Gressel, Vancouver Whitecaps FC
- Héctor Herrera, Houston Dynamo FC
NOTE: This position technically isn't on the official ballot, but we still wanted to shout out these 'tweeners who have been fantastic in 2023.
It’s impossible to find another player with Eduard Löwen’s combination of size, physicality and technical ability in MLS. He’s been the key midfield cog for the surprise team in MLS in 2023. He creates chances, finds his own chances, progresses the ball and wins the ball more than the easy majority of central midfielders.
While Vancouver haven’t had as much success as St. Louis, Julian Gressel’s unique (and effective) interpretation of the No. 8 role makes him a worthy All-Star. For Houston, Héctor Herrera has been a breath of fresh air this year. He’s provided necessary forward thrust for a team that, in some areas, is arguably still at a talent deficit relative to most of the league.
- Thiago Almada, Atlanta United
- Carles Gil, New England Revolution
- Luciano Acosta, FC Cincinnati
MLS is known for being the league of attacking midfielders, but these three are clearly above the rest of the pack so far this season.
Thiago Almada has been brilliant for Atlanta. He dictates his team’s attacking rhythm, finds space off the ball and destroys opposing defensive shapes with his gravity and technique.
For New England, Carles Gil’s elite passing range still makes the Revs tick. According to American Soccer Analysis, Gil has provided more passing value per game than every No. 10 in MLS outside of Almada. Do you know who’s third on that passing value list? Luciano Acosta. Playing as the No. 10 in Cincy's 3-4-1-2 formation, Acosta constantly demands attention from opposing defenses.
- Dénis Bouanga, LAFC
- Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders FC
- Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Minnesota United FC
I don’t have enough space to describe all of the ways Dénis Bouanga has improved LAFC. Sure, he’s massively over-performing his xG (4.2 xG, 10 goals). But he's still in the 90th percentile or higher in non-penalty ×G, xAG, successful take-ons, progressive carries and progressive passes received among MLS wingers on a per-90-minute basis. He's the real deal. folks.
Jordan Morris, playing as a narrow winger (or even as an emergency No. 9) for the Sounders, has been a lethal goalscorer this year. He hung four on Sporting Kansas City and picked up a proper forward’s goal on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls. He has nine goals through 15 league games.
Finally, Bongokuhle Hlongwane is the under-the-radar pick here, but he absolutely deserves this nomination. He’s second in xG among wingers this season, according to ASA. The South African international doesn’t get as much love as various other players because Minnesota’s style isn’t the flashiest, but he’s having a quietly excellent season. With four goals so far this year, he’s popping up in dangerous spots for the Loons and keeping opposing defenses honest in transition.
- Giorgos Giakoumakis, Atlanta United
- Hany Mukhtar, Nashville SC
- Christian Benteke, D.C. United
Giorgos Giakoumakis has been incredible in his time on the field for Atlanta United this season. He’s missed a chunk of the season with an injury, but he’s scored eight goals in just 594 minutes. I’m not trying to sound hyperbolic here, but there is at least a little Erling Haaland in his game. Giakoumakis loves to run in behind, mostly making diagonal runs from right to left to set up his left foot for a hard shot towards goal. He’s so much fun to watch
Hany Mukhtar… well, you know who Hany Mukhtar is. He’s not a proper striker, but he’s not really a No. 10 either. Ultimately, though, Mukhtar is a goalscorer. With nine tallies so far this year, Mukhtar leads Nashville in goals and continues to be the dominant force in Gary Smith’s team.
Christian Benteke, like Mukhtar, is the dominant force in his team, too. With seven goals, Benteke is one of the league’s leading goalscorers. His physicality is unmatched in MLS, as is his ability to hold up the ball against even the most aggressive defenders. Even if the All-Star game wasn’t at Audi Field, Benteke would be a worthy participant.