As well as your average MLS fan, Roma fans and indeed football fans from all around America and Europe will be tuning in tonight. Our MLS writer Tom Bateson explained to you the history of the All-Star game, now it’s my job to introduce the All-Stars!
The MLS All-Star selection process is a simple one. A select media panel ballotted and picked at least 6 players from every MLS side that were deemed worthy to be considered. The fans were then allowed to select a fan XI, with the top 10 receiving entry in to the squad.
This year the league came up with the interesting idea of putting number 11 to the FIFA public. Every goal scored by a select MLS player on FIFA 13 whether it be career mode, online, ultimate team, etc, counted as 1 vote for a player. In the end, Marco Di Vaio secured spot 11, as FIFA players scored an incredible 73,838 goals with Di Vaio.
The squad was then decided by manager Peter Vermes, also manager of Sporting KC, picking from players put forward by MLS Commisioner Don Garber, any player that received 2 or more votes from fellow MLS professionals and the MLS Fan XI.
Some names you will know and some you won’t, but don’t make the mistake of thinking the likes of Henry and co are heads and shoulders above the original MLS contingent, because they aren’t. So, who made the team?
Guarding the net we will have Raul Fernandez of FC Dallas and Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake. Just your average MLS goalkeepers, right? Wrong.
Fernandez is a Peruvian national who is currently Peru’s number one goalkeeper for the 5th year running, including a full campaign in Copa America 2011 in Argentina. Fernandez has been quickly noted for his speed of reaction, and superb shot stopping abilities. Rimando, arguably the best goalkeeper in MLS, is a US International. Rimando made some stunning games for the USA throughout their Gold Cup winning campaign in the month of July, and rounded the tournament off with a clean sheet in the final against Panama.
Corey Ashe of the Houston Dynamo has also played at International level, being well capped for both the US Under 17 and US Under 23 sides. Ashe has played an impressive 177 games for the Dynamo. Ashe has picked up four winners medals in MLS and will be competing in his second All-Star game.
There’s a good chance the starting defensive partnership in KC is that of Sporting KC’s. Matt Besler, also a recent starting defender for the USA, has formed a formidable partnership with Aurelien Collin in MLS. Collin, the eccentric Frenchman, owns his own fashion company off of the pitch, and started his career as a younger player with a dodgy spell at Wrexham!
Also bidding to start in defense with either of the KC stars will be three more US International in DeAndre Yedlin, Tony Beltran and Omar Gonzalez. Yedlin is a sure contender for rookie of the year at just 20 years old, whilst MLS veteran Tony Beltran got a well deserved call up to the recent Gold Cup squad. Omar Gonzalez has lifted the MLS Cup two years in a row, and he’s the center piece of the best defense in the MLS (LA Galaxy).
Breaking in to the midfield, the MLS All-Stars have unfortunately lost Tim Cahill to injury. The star attraction for fans in KC will be their very own Graham Zusi and guess what? He’s also a US International! Zusi has spent several seasons in KC, racking up 117 appearances, and the 26 year old is in to his second year as a US International.
Along side him? You guessed it – 3 more internationals. Will Johnson, recently dubbed the ‘heart beat’ of Portland’s MLS side by their manager, is a Canadian international. Johnson is enjoying his best ever season. His new role with the Timbers – despite being a central midfielder – has seen him score 6 times in his first 17 starts. Impressive considered he scored 9 in 114 for Real Salt Lake.
Brad Davis and Kyle Beckerman make up the rest of the US International contingent in the midfield. The 31 year old pairing have racked up 46 US International appearances between them, with Beckerman lifting the Gold Cup with the USA this month.
The 33 year old veteran Patrice Bernier is also (guess what?) an International. Bernier started his International player career with Canada u17′s 19 years ago, and since then has progressed up the ranks to one of the most valued first team players, making 74 International appearances since 1994. Bernier is – for me – unarguably the best CAM in MLS on his day. Bernier is joined by one of the current top scorers in MLS, Mike Magee. Magee opened the season with 5 in 5 for LA Galaxy, before trading to Chicago and scoring 7 in 7.
And finally – the strikers. And the ones you’ll all undoubtedly already be aware of.
Marco Di Vaio, Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry just to name a few. This trio needs no introduction. Henry, a legend of football, has played hundreds of games at the highest level including long stints with Arsenal and Barcelona. Marco Di Vaio scored 195 goals in Serie A and forced a 3 year stint in the Italian national side. Landon Donovan is the scorer of 128 MLS goals, and has played for Everton, Bayern Munich and LA Galaxy. He currently has 56 goals and over 50 assists in 151 International appearances, which would make him a legend in any country.
Finally, the lesser known contingent amongst Europeans of recent US Internationals Chris Wondolowski and Jack McInerney, and MLS’ young Brazilian star and top scorer, Camillo Sanvezzo. Sanvezzo has 13 goals and several assists in just over half way through the MLS season. Wondolowski equalled the MLS goalscoring record last season, whilst Jack McInernery has cheekily been called the ‘American Javier Hernandez’ in recent times, and will be an International for years to come. Robbie Keane will also miss out through injury.
All in all, the All-Star contains sixteen (16) full International players, including a World Cup winner. If people expect AS Roma to turn up and have it all their own way, think again. The MLS All-Stars have only on the odd occasion been seen off in this event, and last years dramatic 3-2 win over a full strength Chelsea side showed why.
US International Michael Bradley will be looking forward to his stateside return when he anchors the AS Roma midfield, and one battle worth seeing is the physical play of Pablo Osvaldo against the even rougher style of Aurelien Collin. If the All-Stars chooses to do so, they could quite easily field a near USA International XI at some point this evening that would certainly be good enough to beat Roma.
The game is live in the UK on ESPN at 2AM.