SANDY, Utah — When Major League Soccer released its selection for the July 31 AT&T All-Star Game against AS Roma, it came as no surprise to see three Real Salt Lake players on the list, as goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and defender Tony Beltran were selected to represent the Supporters' Shield leaders.
And though RSL, along with Saturday opponents Sporting Kansas City (10 pm ET, watch FREE on MLS Stream of the Week), co-lead MLS with three representatives on Sporting and All-Star manager Peter Vermes' gameday roster, is there reason for other key contributors in their run to the top of the table to feel slighted?
"No, not at all," said RSL defender Nat Borchers, part of one what has been the top backlines in the league despite four different center backs starting next to the veteran. "I feel appreciated on this team and by you guys [the media] of course. That is all that really matters. I'm really happy for Nick and Kyle and especially Tony. I think he has been underrated for the past two or three years that he has been a starter. I think he is really deserving this year."
RSL head coach Jason Kreis had no doubts about the worthiness of his three selectees, all of whom are with the US national team in the Gold Cup, but also raised questions about some of the players – namely Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy – who were not selected.
"Absolutley. Absolutely," said Kreis after training on Tuesday, asked if he felt the three selected were justified. "To see those three guys go, you are kind of left scratching your head about some of the other ones that should have gone. I think Morales and Grabavoy in particular, those two players have had unbelievable seasons for us and been vital, vital players in everything we've done. You feel good for the three, you feel a little sad for the other two — and then I hope none of them play."
The last part may have been said half in jest, but Kreis was definitely serious about the fact he wouldn't mind if none of his players even see a minute on the pitch. It was only two years ago that Kreis saw one of his best defenders in Jámison Olave head off to the All-Star game against Manchester United only to return home injured with a left knee sprain.
"I'm hopeful for a conversation at least," Kreis said about talking with Vermes about playing his guys. "I will come out and say that if those three players [Rimando, Beckerman and Beltran] play the rest of the way in the Gold Cup, I'm hopeful that we can at least have a conversation about whether that is the right thing to be playing those guys in the All-Star game right on the back of that tournament."
Should the US reach the Gold Cup final on July 28 in Chicago, it would only give the players a three-day turnaround prior to the July 31 All-Star game, and then another four days before RSL are schedule to play in Colorado on Aug. 3.
Naturally, Kreis would rather get his players back healthy and ready to help his squad in the final edition of this year's Rocky Mountain Cup, with RSL needing nothing less than a win to claim the annually contested trophy.
And as for the snubs, there is still a good chance that Morales, Grabavoy or both could be named as All-Stars. A provision in the collective bargain agreement means 12 more players, selected by their colleagues, will be designated as inactive All-Stars, meaning they will not participate in the game.
If that is the case, the pair might get the recognition Kreis and many RSL fans feel they deserve after all, and without any risk of injury ahead of a grueling playoff push.