Los Angeles Galaxy fans shouldn't have any trouble picking out the men from their hometown team during Saturday's 2004 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game. They'll be everywhere.
The Western Conference roster for the annual celebration of the best players in Major League Soccer -- and the sport in general -- features five Galaxy players who should see action during Saturday's match and a sixth who was selected to participate in the game, but will miss it due to an injury. Also, Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid is slated to coach the West team.
Those apparently are the perks that come with being the best team in the league at the halfway point of the season. With less than three months left in the campaign, only one team is within three points of the Galaxy at the top of the overall MLS standings, and only one comes close to matching their league-leading 35 goals scored.
Leading the way, as he has since joining MLS and the Galaxy in 2002, is Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz. Despite missing six games with a severe ankle sprain, Ruiz is still tied for the league lead in goals scored with 10. That's really nothing new for the three-time All-Star, who led the league in goals in each of his first two seasons. The only real difference between this year and last is that 'El Pescadito' doesn't have to do it all, thanks to an excellent supporting cast.
That cast is led by Austrian midfielder Andreas Herzog, a first-year MLS player and first-time All-Star starter. The long-time veteran of the German and Austrian Bundesligas has made a seamless transition to MLS, using his deft left foot to pick out forwards when they are in perfect position to score and amassing four goals and six assists for 12 points in the process.
Another of the forwards who has benefited from Herzog's presence is Jovan Kirovski, also a first-year MLS player. Kirovski, an American who has spent much of the past decade playing in Europe, has adjusted well to the American league, putting in six goals to complement Ruiz up front. Kirovski, who has figured into Bruce Arena's U.S. national team picture so far this year, will come off the bench in his first MLS All-Star appearance.
The attackers aren't the only Galaxy players who have earned All-Star selections this season. The defenders have gotten some credit, as well, starting with Chris Albright. Albright, who started his MLS career in 1999 as a striker with D.C. United, has made the shift to right back and has grown comfortable. The University of Virginia product, with his overlapping runs and overall desire to push forward, has provided the Galaxy another attacking option on the right -- he is tied for the team lead with six assists -- while still getting back to defend opposing wingers. This year, Albright gets his first All-Star appearance and start.
Joining Albright in the back half of the field is Galaxy goalkeeper and All-Star reserve Kevin Hartman. The 1999 Goalkeeper of the Year is in top form this season, having made several spectacular saves to either keep his team in each game or preserve a victory. Also selected as an All-Star reserve is Danny Califf. The central defender is a rising star in MLS and on the national team scene, but this season he has been hampered by injuries, including a torn meniscus in his left knee that will force him to miss Saturday's game.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.