ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: We're almost three months into the 2017 season, and it's time to take stock of the best and brightest in MLS. Cast your MLS All-Star ballot via the MLS app while you listen to the guys reveal their own choices. Subscribe now so you don't miss an episode!
Voting for the 2017 MLS All-Star Fan XI presented by Target begins on Tuesday, and the only place to cast your vote is the MLS app. There's no poll tax; it's free to download!
The rules are simple. You'll choose 10 players – one goalkeeper, three defenders, four midfielders and two forwards – with the 11th picked via FIFA 17. Fans can vote once per day and everyone who submits a ballot is entered to win a VIP trip to the 2017 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, a star-studded clash against Real Madrid on Aug. 2 at Soldier Field in Chicago (Ticket info).
Here's my official ballot, in case you were wondering.
Casting your vote is the easy part. Figuring out which stars deserve your vote? Much, much harder. That’s where I come in. Because I’ve watched just about every MLS game this season – yes, that’s a whole lot of soccer – I put together a cheat sheet to help you narrow down the field.
What you'll find below is my MLS Best XI thus far, as well as players who’ve been great but just missed the cut. If you agree, consider it a crib sheet to consult if you need a little guidance while voting for the 2017 MLS All-Star Fan XI presented by Target. If you disagree, do your own thing, then pan my team in the comment section.
GK: Tim Melia (Sporting KC)
Melia’s story is straight out of a Disney movie. The man was an MLS pool goalkeeper less than three years ago, and now he’s the no-doubt pick to start between the posts against Real Madrid. The 31-year-old backstops the league’s best defense, leads the league in shutouts (7) and is the only day-in-day-out ‘keeper with a goals-against average under 1 (0.71).
RB: Steven Beitashour (Toronto FC)
Beitashour isn’t going to pile up assists. He isn’t going to make many highlight reels. That’s OK. The Iranian international has hardly put a foot wrong this season. If Toronto FC make another MLS Cup run, it’ll be because reliable cogs like Beitashour, who chip in with something special every now and then, provide a solid foundation for Greg Vanney to build upon.
Perhaps the two easiest decisions on my ballot. Need central defenders? Cherry-pick the best from the league’s best defenses. Opara is darn near irreplaceable for Sporting KC, using his athleticism and knack for ball winning to snuff out attacks before they truly threaten Melia. Hedges is pushing his way into the US national team for a reason: he’s as reliable as MLS center backs come and puts opposing forwards in his pocket just about every week.
LB: Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders)
If you watch MLS Matchday Live or listen to ExtraTime Radio, you know it took a lot for me to keep Raheem Edwards off this ballot. That’s how good Joevin Jones has been this year. He’s the league’s most dangerous defender going forward, and the Sounders might be in even more trouble had the Trinidad & Tobago international not taken on a significant chance-creation burden this year.
DM: Alexander Ring (New York City FC)
So … Sunday wasn’t kind to Ring or NYCFC. That’s just bad timing, since I put this team together Saturday night. No matter: Ring has still been a game-changer for Patrick Vieira, providing the defensive shield the blue side of New York so desperately needed. There will be blips – hey, we want teams to play out of the back, right? – but Ring’s tireless midfield work is the foundation on which City are built.
CM: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas)
A 21-year-old Homegrown player has been the league’s best box-to-box midfielder. That feels good to write. More importantly, it’s true. Acosta’s ability to cover ground defensively was no mystery, but now he’s added goals and taken on the mantle of responsibility with one of the league’s best teams. US national team call-ups and All-Star nods are the future for this one.
CAM: Victor Vazquez (Toronto FC)
Given a mulligan, I might have switched this pick to Almiron following Sunday’s demolition of NYCFC. No shame in taking MLS’s top assist man, however, and Vazquez deserves all the praise coming his way. He’s not a traditional No. 10 – more of a deep-lying playmaker who creates quality chances rather than raw quantity – and it helps to play in Toronto. But it’s clear two months into his first MLS season that the Spaniard is a big reason why the Reds have been dominant even without Sebastian Giovinco at his MVP-caliber best.
RW: Romain Alessandrini (LA Galaxy)
Money. Well. Spent. The Galaxy couldn’t miss with their big offseason signing, not with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane leaving gaping holes in the roster. Not only did LA get it right, they may have acquired the top winger in MLS, a livewire of a attacker who makes both scoring and assisting look easy. It looks like the Frenchman and Giovani dos Santos are just getting started.
CF: Nemanja Nikolic (Chicago Fire)
Strikers have one job: score as many goals as possible. OK, so that’s not quite the whole story, but Nikolic is dispelling any doubts about his pedigree by pacing the Golden Boot race with 11 strikes – and he could be ahead by an even bigger margin with some better finishing from open play and the penalty spot. Can he hit the 20-goal mark? It looks like a shoo-in with more than four months left in the regular season.
LW: Justin Meram (Columbus Crew SC)
If Alessandrini isn’t the best winger in MLS this year, that title goes to Meram, who’s come into his own as Crew SC’s primary creator after years of slow and steady improvement, quite a feat on a team with Federico Higuain, Kekuta Manneh and Ethan Finlay. His numbers are eye-popping. Don’t believe me? Here’s some light reading for you.