Commissioner’s picks: The Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Before Monday night’s Gold Cup match, MLS Commissioner Don Garber unveiled his traditional two picks for the MLS All Star team.

The MLS All Star team, for those new to the party, is a squad that is evenly split between “guys who the league thinks will draw TV ratings” and “guys who are just hanging out in the city where the game is being held.” (For category 2, see Farfan, Michael, in 2012.)

This team then takes on a European club team in the middle of its preseason. The game is usually entertaining. No matter the result, it will exactly confirm your preexisting opinions about the relative quality of MLS and the importance of the match. Everybody wins.

Given this background, I found it hard to get too worked up about the commissioner’s selections of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. Sure, they’ve played exactly zero minutes in MLS, and it does make the league look pretty silly. Ridiculously silly, even.

Union picks

But, in fairness, I do think I could have done better than the commissioner. So, if I were Don Garber, here are the three (Union-only!) pairs I would have considered:

Antoine Hoppenot and Dzenen Catic
Between them, they have appeared in four minutes of MLS action so far this year, making them perfectly qualified for the team. And — unlike Gerrard and Lampard — they’re relatively unknown. Tottenham might overlook them, a decision that will prove costly when Catic notches his first, second, third, and fourth professional goals.

Rais Mbolhi and Andre Blake
If what the league wants are monster ratings, then it needs to set up a game where a lot of goals will be scored. In that case, there can be only one choice for MLS goalkeeper.

Blake, meanwhile, qualifies under the “has not played any MLS minutes” provision of the All-Star Roster Rules (which, incidentally, are 246 pages long and subject to change by the league office at any time).

Chaco Maidana and Vincent Nogueira
No jokes here. Just look, one more time, at the gorgeous third goal against Portland. (I doubt I have to do much to convince you to click.)

Nogueira and Maidana are the Union’s two best players, and they’re in the top of the class in MLS. They should be All Stars.

Challenged by Jim Curtin to score more goals, Nogueira has responded in a big way in 2015. His five goals are, already, the second most goals scored by a Union midfielder in a season. (Someone named “Gabriel Gomez” scored six in 2012. Not sure where I’ve heard of him recently.) And among those five goals is perhaps the most important goal of the season — the late winner against NYCFC that pulled the team out of its early-season tailspin.

Of course, the goals tally is almost secondary to Nogueira’s primary skill-set as the Union’s engine. His pesky defense, efficient distribution, and intelligent movement have been key to almost every Union victory this season.

Maidana, meanwhile, ranks merely second in the league in assists, and he’s done it in fewer minutes than anyone else in the top ten. A player whose fitness and form has frustrated at times, Maidana has grown into a tactical role that suits him. Combined with his tremendous understanding of the players around him, his silky passing has sparked the Union assault. (Not to mention his divine free kick goal against New England.)

As these two go, so do the team. And so would any team in MLS, if they were gifted with this midfield tandem.

Respect the fans, respect the players

Has this exercise all been somewhat silly? Yes. All-Star games in every sport are basically silly, and they’re an excuse for fans to spend some time arguing over the relative merits of players.

The shame of picking Lampard and Gerrard is that it destroys even the pretense that selections for the game are based on merit. That’s a disservice to the fans, and to the players.

While Steven Gerrard was getting red-carded in 45 seconds and blown out by Stoke City, Nogueira and Maidana were performing admirably, game after game, while the rest of their team struggled to keep it together around them. Now, off their best performance of the season, their reward is to have two spots on the All Star team sucked up by English interlopers.

If the league is going to keep growing healthily, MLS needs to better balance the desire for All Star spectacle with respect for its fans and players.

The league used to have an “Inactive Roster” for the game. Made up of players chosen by their fellow peers, this group was seemingly announced as an afterthought — the players weren’t even invited to the game itself.

Maybe it’s time to bring that back, with a bit more prestige.

Anything to give deserving players — like Chaco and Nogs — the recognition they deserve.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    While I stand by my comment that based on his selections, it’s hard to tell Don Garber from Bozo the Clown, I would prefer that no Union players are on the all-star roster. Who wants to fly from DC on Sunday to Colorado midweek and then back to Philly? Much better would be to have some pink cows fly to Colorado prior to the game at PPL Park on August 1.

  2. The Lampard and Gerrard selections are a joke. Are they likely among the top 18 or so MLS players? Decent chance that’s a yes, but 0 minutes played to date. Recognize the guys who have been putting in solid performances over 20 games IN MLS. Just when all-star games couldn’t get any more ridiculous….

  3. The NE free kick goal was nice, but watching its replay brought back some unpleasant memories of that game’s second half.

  4. I’ve paid less and less attention to the All-Star game every year. This just seals the fact that it’s a complete joke. They should just get rid of it. They can do their exhibition game at the end of the season, like the NFL Pro Bowl. Then you know who are the best players for the season. Plus you don’t have to worry about anyone getting injured.

  5. Nogs and Chaco deserve to be in the converstion, but I’d rather let them rest. As for Gerrard and Lampard being selected it’s just a joke. Like, I don’t care because the All Star game means NOTHING, but it’s just another chance for fans and non-fans, to take more shots at the league. So stupid.

  6. It is a disgrace that Frank Lampard and Steven Gerard are MLS All Stars. If they had a shred of MLS dignity, not human character….they would tell Don Garber to take the honorary selection and stick it in a Glory Hole.
    One way or another in 2 to 5 years it will be MLS Allstar Euros versus Some random Premiership team anyway. I get that the game is pomp and circumstance but that doesn’t mean it needs to look so amateurish.

  7. I for one have no intention of watching this farce.

  8. If I were Frank Lampard, I’d insist on passing my selection to Giovinco. It’s the right thing to do.

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