This weekend Major League Soccer announced the full 26 man roster for next Friday’s All Star game against Arsenal. 11 players were selected via MLS fan vote (one of which by method of scoring goals on FIFA 16), 2 were selected by Don Garber, and 13 were selected by All Star Game coach Dom Kinnear to fill out the roster. As per usual, the selections seem to reflect a desire to sell tickets more than a desire to actually recognize the players that have been outstanding in the first half of the season, and to that end we’ve decided to set things right by selecting the Total MLS Alt Star team.
Here are the rules for selection:
You have to be actively playing in Major League Soccer
You cannot have been selected to the ACTUAL MLS All Star Roster.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way here:
We are very much aware that the All Star Game does not matter. That the voting is a popularity contest and that we shouldn’t take it so seriously. We aren’t. Except,
We totally are. If we’re going to do this All Star thing, let’s give it to players that actually deserve it. We’re picking a team that we think can beat the MLS All Stars. We want to see it happen.
We only picked 18 players for our roster. 26 players is a lot. We get why MLS chose so many, but we only need 18.
Ok, let’s get started!
Brian Rowe & Jake Gleeson
Evaluating Goalkeepers is difficult. Do you look at statistics which can provide quantifiable measurements? Sure that’s helpful, but statistics like clean sheets don’t tell the whole story of a GK’s ability. Do you judge with your eyes? It's always fun, but your eyes tend to favor flashy highlight reel saves. That’s also a good barometer, but would a better GK have been in position to make the save easily? We think there is value in both.
With these two picks we kind of tried to split the difference. Brian Rowe has probably the most solid stat line of any GK in MLS right now. Most people are going to remember him for his one howler against Montreal, but other than that he’s been an extremely effective keeper. He faces a lot of shots on goal and makes a lot of saves. His 16 goals allowed is only beat by Zac MacMath for GKs with over a 1000 minutes. This is especially impressive when you note he has 200 more minutes and faced 30 more shots on goal than the Colorado man. He's third in the league in saves, and he’s tops in the league for save percentage. Excuse that one blunder and it’s pretty clear that Brian Rowe is a very good goalkeeper.
Jake Gleeson came on to the scene following an injury to Portland starter Adam Kwarasey. Since that time he hasn’t glanced back. Boasting some incredible highlight worthy saves, Gleeson is one of the main reasons that Portland are still duking it out for a playoff spot instead of playing D&D in the conference basement with Seattle and Houston.
So who starts? This is a really tough decision and we might just flip a coin before kickoff. This was a deadlock amongst the staff, and frankly we're still not sure which way to lean. We think everybody’s going to have a different opinion but if we had to pick right now we’d put Rowe in the net to start.
Jimmy Medranda, Axel Sjoberg, Matt Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead
The fact that Supporters Shield leaders FC Dallas only got one actual All Star (Mauro Diaz) to the 26 man roster baffles a lot of people. Our team triples the Dallas. Captain Matt Hedges has been a rock in Frisco for some time and has been great in 2016. Oscar Pareja has turned Ryan Hollingshead in to not only a good right back, but arguably one of the best in the league.
You may not know much about Jimmy Medranda but know this, he has been a revelation for Sporting Kansas City. Left back has been a bit of a turnstile for KC recently but the Colombian has solidified the position and at just 22 years old, could be a mainstay for quite some time.
Another youngster on our backline, Sjoberg has helped lead Colorado to their surprising start to 2016. At 6 foot 7, the Swede is a presence in the back and scored his first career MLS goal earlier this year. If he continues playing at his current level, Sjoberg will be a name to remember in Defender of the Year voting at the end of the season.
Alternates: RJ Allen, Jelle Van Damme
RJ Allen was a bit of a curiosity last season, but he started to show signs of improvement towards the end of the campaign and hit the ground running this season. It’s a bit hard to pick anybody from NYCFC’s defense, but we like RJ Allen on the bench for his ability to get forward. He’s already scored one and assisted three so far this season including the pass of the year to David Villa against Portland.
Jelle Van Damme has cemented himself as the rock on which the league's second best defense is built. Not much was known of the Belgian when he arrived, but his consistent, assured performances have made him the first name on Arena's team sheet. While Van Damme's stats may not be eye-popping, they're good enough to earn him a place on this roster. In addition to being tenacious in the backline, Van Damme also possesses surprising ability as a ball playing CB, able to get forward on a quick jaunting dribble and direct defensive clearances to teammates. Los Angeles has been deadly in transition this season, and a big reason is the plays that Van Damme starts from the back.
Mike Grella, Diego Valeri, Osvaldo Alonso, Fabian Castillo
Major League Soccer left us a pretty solid midfield on the board and we were all too happy to oblige. Mike Grella has been a solid two way threat this season scoring six goals and assisting three, and his high press ability forces defenders into mistakes. While we do everything in our power to hype Mike Grella here at Total MLS, he still hasn’t reached that superstar status that one requires to get included in the ASG. No worries, he’ll enjoy playing in this midfield.
On the other side, we’ve picked up arguably the best winger in Major League Soccer, and quite possibly the league’s most exciting player. He started off the season slowly, but in the last two months he’s provided some of the most electrifying moments in the league. We might not have this kid in Major League Soccer for much longer so we wanted to get on the team while we still could.
Nagbe has a little more shine about him due to his youth and status as the future of the USMNT, so we understand why the fans chose him over Valeri. That doesn’t stop us from capitalizing on their mistake however. Valeri is having another incredible season with nine goals and five assists so far despite missing a few weeks due to injury. Ask any Portland fan, and they’ll probably tell you that while Nagbe gets most of the attention, Valeri is the guy that really gets things done in that midfield.
Valeri needs a partner, and let’s go ahead and do a pairing that we’d otherwise never get to see. A Timber and Sounder in the center of the park? Let’s do it. Ozzie Alonso is one of the most talented ball winning midfielders in MLS history, and despite the Sounders flailing in the standings, he’s quietly having the best season of his career. MLS can have Pirlo and Kaka. Valeri and Alonso are going to absolutely dominate that midfield.
Alternates: Micheal Azira, Tommy McNamara
Micheal Azira is having a breakout season for the Colorado Rapids. Since being acquired in the re-entry draft this offseason, Azira has found a home in Commerce City. The Ugandan midfielder has been ever present for the Rapids so far in 2016 playing in all but EIGHT possible minutes. Colorado has the best defense in the league and the back line starts with their midfield destroyer. Without his presence, Colorado wouldn’t be the surprise success story that they are now.
Are we picking Tommy McNamara just to appease the massive following of the cult of McNamara? Sure, but not JUST for that reason. Tommy's gone from being the guy that's pretty good at soccer even though he looks like a Judd Apatow character, to a legitimate offensive force. Three goals and eight assists is a great return for the 25 year old and he's been a big reason why NYCFC is scoring as many goals as they are. NYCFC have really been on a tear the last few months and Tommy can take a lot of the credit.
Juan "Burrito" Martinez, Fanendo Adi
Yes, Burrito is a one man highlight reel. He does at least one thing during every game that makes you gasp. But there’s more to this Burrito than flair. His pace and creativity have helped turn Real Salt Lake’s offense into a must watch entity. He has added goal scoring to his repertoire in 2016 with 6 goals in 18 appearances.
Adi is third in the league with 10 goals and is a constant threat in the box. There have been rumors that he may be leaving the pacific northwest but while he’s here in MLS, he deserves a place on this team. With Burrito providing the magic and Adi poaching around the penalty spot, our team will have no problems scoring goals.
Alternates: Joao Plata, Ola Kamara
Joao Plata started the season in absolutely astounding form. His name may not appearing on the scoresheet as much as it was early on, but the diminutive Ecuadorian has still had a wonderful start to the 2016 season. In addition to being a scoring threat, the Real Salt Lake forward has also been happy to contribute creatively as well by providing five assists so far this year as well.
Ola Kamara really only stepped into the spotlight following the rather high-profile departure of teammate and namesake Kei Kamara, but now that he's on stage, he's performing to the rafters. The Norweigan born striker has taken on the goal scoring mantle of his predecessor, tallying 9 times in just under 900 minutes for Columbus. If he's able to keep up anywhere near this kind of pace he'll easily be a favorite for "Newcomer of the Year" come awards season.
This team needs a good manager, and the Colorado boss has earned it. He took last year's punchline and turned them into a legitimate Supporters' Shield contender. He turned Seattle castoff Michael Azira into one of the league's best defensive midfielders and gave Jermaine Jones new life as an attacking creative midfielder. They currently have the second best record in the league and their defense has only given up a league leading 13 goals.
So there you have it! That's our team. Could we have made some different choices? Certainly, there are a lot of players that we wanted to include, but ultimately it's impossible to please everybody. Could this team beat the actual MLS All Stars? We'd like to think so, but honestly it's impossible to say without an actual match happening. Maybe next season instead of hosting a fancy European team we can have MLS All Stars vs Total MLS Alt Stars. That feels unlikely. I will say this about the Total MLS Alt Stars, this team feels like a much better representation of the league than the actual MLS roster does. There is no doubt that you probably have a different lineup in mind, so let's see your best alternate XI in the comments section.