Now that the 2018 MLS All-Star Fan XI presented by Target is out, Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino needs to fill out the rest of his roster for the 2018 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target on Aug. 1 (7:30 pm ET | ESPN, UniMás, TSN, TVAS) as he will be coaching the team against Juventus.
He gets to pick 11 additional players to get the squad to 22, with Commissioner Don Garber making the last two selections.
I took a stab at who I think they should pick. I can tell you… choosing the best among the best is both an amazing and stressful task.
|Fan XI: Brad Guzan (ATL)|
|Tim Melia (SKC)
Melia gets the nod for two reasons. One, he deserves it: Sporting are currently tied for the lead league in goals against, and have only conceded five times in the last nine games. Two, even if others have a solid claim to it as well, Melia gets a bump for getting robbed after not making the All-Star team last year.
My other GK contenders: Matt Turner (NE), Zack Steffen (CLB)
|Fan XI: Laurent Ciman (LAFC), Michael Parkhurst (ATL), Graham Zusi (SKC)|
|Milton Valenzuela (CLB)
It’s a down year for left backs, but Valenzuela has been a nice addition to MLS. The Argentine is part of a Crew SC defense that set a club record for shutout minutes, and he’s also contributed to the attack with 17 chances created, most among left backs in the league.
|Keegan Rosenberry (PHI)
Right back was the toughest position to choose from. There isn’t much between Harrison Afful, Steven Beitashour and Rosenberry. Rosenberry has more passes per 90 than the others but less chances created, goals and assists. The tiebreaker goes to the fact that Rosenberry has played next to two teenagers, Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, and Philly’s defense has still performed within the top half of the league.
My other right back contenders: Steven Beitashour (LAFC), Harrison Afful (CLB), Reggie Cannon (DAL)
The Red Bulls have conceded just 16 goals this year, tied for the fewest in the league, and stifled high-powered offenses like NYCFC and Atlanta. And few teams’ playing style put as much stress on their center backs as the Red Bulls’. Long’s center back partner, Tim Parker, would be just as deserving, but Long has been slightly more consistent and can play either outside back position, an important bonus given the unpredictable nature of the game.
There hasn’t been a standout performer at center back this year similar to Ike Opara in 2017, but Hedges has been the best of the bunch. He’s anchored an FC Dallas team who have conceded the third-least amount of goals and are in Supporters’ Shield contention. Solid arguments could be made for Tim Parker, Auston Trusty or Lalas Abubakar, but they each have teammates in the squad already and I don’t want to put club coaches in a position in which they have multiple guys in similar positions getting extra minutes.
My other center back contenders: Tim Parker (RBNY), Ike Opara (SKC), Matt Besler (SKC), Auston Trusty (PHI), Mark McKenzie (PHI), Lalas Abubakar (CLB)
|Fan XI: Miguel Almiron (ATL), Darlington Nagbe (ATL), Ezequiel Barco (ATL), Diego Valeri (POR)|
The German World Cup winner doesn’t have many stats to his name, but his experience and versatility have held Chicago together this year. He’s played center back, defensive mid, attacking mid and helped the Fire morph between a 3-5-2 and 4-3-3. This isn’t an honorary selection for Schweinsteiger; he’s worked his butt off to keep the Fire in playoff contention.
Perhaps the best way to acknowledge Chara’s contributions is that you can’t nail it down to any one thing. He covers the ground but also protects his defenders; he facilitates the game but also charges into the box. Chara has been crucial to Portland’s resurgence after a slow start, and any team would be better with him in it.
My other d-mid contenders: Wil Trapp, Alex Ring, Artur, Roger Espinoza, Jonathan Osorio, Jeff Larentowicz
Adams has been the engine of a young Red Bulls team that is pushing for the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings. He probably deserves the selection on the merits of his performance, but he’s also the player U.S. national team fans would most like to see.
There were questions early in the year about how well Kaku would be able to jive with the Red Bulls' system, but those questions seem to be answered. Kaku leads the league with 10 assists and has bagged three goals to go with it, while also contributing defensively to RBNY's high-intensity pressing.
My other attacking mid contenders: Maxi Moralez, Mauro Diaz, Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, Diego Fagundez
|Fan XI: Carlos Vela (LAFC), Josef Martinez (ATL), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA)|
BWP leads the league with 16 total goals and assists. He’s not soaking up all the glory, either; the Red Bulls as a team are tied for the league lead in goals scored.
My other contenders: Teal Bunbury, Gyasi Zardes, Danny Hoesen, David Villa
Piatti got off to a scorching start before cooling off a bit lately. He’s still notched eight goals and six assists on the year, and he’s almost single-handedly dragged Montreal within touching distance of the playoffs. Perhaps more than anyone else on this list, Piatti gets the “Just, have you seen him play this year?” selection.
My Commissioner's Picks
With USA and Canada getting awarded the 2026 World Cup, a “torchbearer” pick for a domestic player likely to be at the tournament makes perfect sense. Davies is the face of Canadian soccer moving forward and he’s been the best player on his MLS team so far this year. Plus, I’m still hyped over the speech he gave at the World Cup bid.
My other contender: Tyler Adams
I didn’t have Pipa on my original shortlist, but then I went through the numbers and saw a clear picture of his contributions. He’s tied for third in the league in assists, second in expected assists and first in chances created (by a large margin). Mauro Diaz (2G, 8A) and Giovinco (3G, 7A) would be the big competition for this spot, but Diaz hasn’t been first choice for Dallas at times this year and Toronto has struggled in MLS play; it doesn’t feel right putting either of them in the All Star team. Plus, in terms of sentimental value, I want to watch some Higuain-on-Higuain (brother Gonzalo plays for Juventus) tackles in midfield.
My other contender: David Villa
- David Villa: Because he’s David Villa and because he’s contributed eight goals and four assists to the second-best attack in the league. But if his name wasn’t David Villa, I wouldn’t pick him ahead of Tyler Adams this year.
- Julian Gressel: Every All-Star team needs the guy who can fill in at multiple spots depending on minute restrictions on players, or if a player decides midgame he wants to play more or less. I was tempted to pick Gressel at right back – he’s been fantastic getting forward for the Five Stripes and offering pinpoint service to Josef Martinez – but there were too many other options. Still, Gressel deserves to make the team and offers the perfect utility player for an All-Star game. He can play right back, right wing, left wing, or center mid at a high level. Unfortunately, though, Atlanta fans already filled out their quota.
- Alberth Elis: Elis has bagged a nice number of goals and assists (8G, 5A) and he may actually be more effective against Juventus than some of the other selections given his transition abilities, but someone has to miss the cut. The team already has four players who can play winger – Barco, Valeri, Piatti and Davies – and it says more about the quality of the position around the league than anything Elis has failed to do.