I’m hitting pause for a week on the All-Region MLS XIs. We’ve still got CONMEBOL, UEFA, AFCON and AFC/OFC to go, with all-time figures like Becks, Pibe, Big Mama, El Diablo, Keano and the Atomic Ant ready to take their places among the greats.
Instead, I’m taking the current crop of MLS coaches and putting them back between the white lines. No reason really, other than I’ve been watching matches and clips from the good-old days more than ever before thanks to Extratime’s Mount Rushmore series and Wednesday’s MLS Classics: Remix from 1996 between the MetroStars and the Mutiny, a game that included no fewer than five future MLS head coaches (six if you include Steve Ralston’s interim tag with the Quakes).
This is no All-Time MLS XI. I’m going for the best possible team here. I’d put this group up against most, even if there’s not really a right back, goalkeeper is a bit thin and we’ve got so many central defenders, central midfielders and strikers that inevitably someone is going to feel slighted. It’s hard for the manager to please everyone, as I’m sure these guys know!
There’s only one goalkeeper in the bunch. The decision makes itself. We’re throwing it way back to the mid-1970s, to Nassau Community College, Cornell and, briefly, the Tacoma Tide and US men’s national team. I can’t wait for Arena to start barking orders in his Brooklyn accent. Fact is, you can’t keep sideburns like these out of the team.
LWB: Greg Vanney (Toronto FC)
No round pegs in square holes at left back. We’ve got one, and a damn good one. Vanney can play center back, too, but I want him getting into midfield to provide a wide option for Henry, Almeyda and Armas. Defensively, there are no worries.
CB: Robin Fraser (Colorado Rapids)
A glut of quality in the back means I’m going back three, with Fraser on the left. Chemistry won’t be an issue on the left side of defense. Fraser and Vanney are already tight, both from their days with the Galaxy and on the sidelines together in Toronto (and elsewhere). Precise and composed on the ball, clean in the tackle and a step ahead of everyone else on the field, I won’t lose a wink of sleep thinking about him.
CB: Frank de Boer (Atlanta United)
For any manager, it’s nice to have world-class players, and de Boer is certainly that. I’m happy to let him feel the game and basically do whatever he wants, whether that’s lacing 60-yard diagonals, carrying the ball into the midfield to start the attack or claiming any and all lefty free kicks. He can take some defensive risks. He can read the game and ball hawk, using his instincts to snuff out opposing attacks and his technical ability and pace to start our own. Fraser, Vermes, Almeyda and Armas can cover without him anyway.
CB: Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City)
Pretty incredible that Vermes can be considered for minutes at forward or center back. I’m taking year 2000 Vermes: All-Star, Best XI, Defender of the Year for the double-winning Kansas City Wizards. Yes, he was more of a classic sweeper, but what’s one more position to learn?
RWB: Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
I didn’t have a right back, but I did have someone who could play on the right side. We’re running Olsen ragged. He just needs to give the team width, be a willing crosser and recover defensively. It ought to come naturally, as long as the ankles hold up.
CM: Matias Almeyda (San Jose Earthquakes), Chris Armas (New York Red Bulls)
Beware all those who dare try to mix it up in the center of the park with this duo. I don’t think I need to say much more. Almeyda and Armas are going to ruin a lot of days for a lot of opposing midfielders.
Here’s a quote from German playmaker Andreas Moller after a late-90s matchup with Armas that applies to both: “No one with kids should have to play against that man.” That about sums it up.
A-MID: Thierry Henry (Montreal Impact)
You probably think of Henry a little closer to goal. He may get there as the game progresses. To start, he’s dropping into midfield to pull the strings, as he so often did during his days with the Red Bulls. Heath and Alonso are going to be willing runners, and the Frenchman will be the attacking brain of the team. Whatever we need, he can give the team. Like de Boer, I’m ready and willing to let Henry shape the game however he sees fit.
A-MID: Adrian Heath (Minnesota United)
Run Inchy, run. Find space in behind on the counter. Drop in to combine with Henry. Alonso will stay high to create space underneath for you. When we advance the ball in wide areas, find the soft spots in the penalty area. The ball will find you, as it so often did at Everton. Your instincts won’t lead you astray.
FWD: Diego Alonso (Inter Miami)
This was a tough one. Alonso or Savarese? I’m not looking forward to telling Gio he’s starting on the bench, I can tell you that. I want Alonso to stay high, engage the opposition center backs, make near-post runs and create space for Heath and Henry to operate. He was never a consistently prolific goalscorer, but there are going to be plenty of opportunities in this team so long as he holds the ball up then plants himself in front of goal.
BENCH: [N/A]; Raphael Wicky, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Gio Savarese, Jim Curtin, Oscar Pareja, Tab Ramos
We don’t have a backup ‘keeper. Whatever.
It killed me to leave so many talented players out of the starting XI – those conversations are going to be contentious – but just about every possible sub situation is covered, so that’s good.
With Ramos and GBS available, I can add creativity late in games and also push Henry up front. Savarese is the ideal super sub striker. Curtin’s got the back three covered, Wicky and Pareja provide fresh legs in central midfield (and versatility, too).