Major League Soccer is no stranger to the pageantry, pomp and circumstance of the American sports tradition that is the All-Star Game, and after taking a Covid-19 induced hiatus, the game returns on Aug 25 (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, Banc of California Stadium), with a twist many have long coveted: MLS vs. Liga MX.
Whether the Seattle Sounders are as interested as the suits in New York is up for debate.
MLS unveiled the selection process for the midseason exhibition on Wednesday, which is a bit different than previous iterations and seemingly designed to make it less of a popularity contest. The selection for the 26 MLS All-Stars breaks down as follows:
- 12 will be determined by a vote of MLS players, fans, and media. Each of the three voting groups will represent one-third of the combined vote.
- 12 will be selected by MLS All-Star head coach Bob Bradley of host team LAFC.
- 2 will be selected by MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
MLS has made some additional changes to the roster formation based on performance metrics from the current 2021 season to categorize players in the positions where they are most utilized, according to a release from the league. Players can be selected in seven specific positions: goalkeeper, right back, center back, left back, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, and forward/winger. The old method essentially allowed fans to pick 11 players who were almost always a goalkeeper, three centerbacks and seven attack-minded players.
Fan voting concludes on July 21 at 11:59 p.m. PT. Every player in MLS will be provided a special link to vote for their peers, and approximately 350 members of the media who regularly cover MLS will also make their picks for the league’s top players.
The All-Star Game falls at the end of a grueling stretch for the Sounders, which will see them play 10 matches in five weeks, including a Leagues Cup contest with Liga MX side Tigres. With the Sounders’ depth already stretched thin for the foreseeable future, Brad Smith said most of the team focus remains on the regular season matches ahead.
“It’s a chance to test yourself,” Smith said. “It’s difficult because we’ve got a lot of games already.”
Head coach Brian Schmetzer said he appreciates that the All-Star Game provides some recognition for players having outstanding seasons, but that comes with a cost: Those selected will have to leave training for upwards of four or five days to travel and play in an exhibition game, risking injury among other things.
Balancing that is the fact players have egos and incentives to be recognized in these exhibition games. That said, Schmetzer said the character and culture of the team means the players put the team first.
“What I would say is that locker-room and the locker-rooms past have put individual goals secondary to team goals,” Schmetzer said when asked how players balance recognition against schedule congestion. “Every player in our locker room thinks it would be a nice feather in their cap and they’re proud of their accomplishments. But they all want the team to be more successful than them individually.”
Either way, given the unbeaten start (8-0-5) to the year, it is likely there will be some Sounders representation on the All-Star squad. Raúl Ruidíaz is tied for the Golden Boot lead, João Paulo has been arguably the top defensive midfielder, Cristian Roldan has received some MVP buzz and Yeimar Goméz Andrade is an early contender for Defensive Player of the Year.
“My players and their performances speak for themselves,” Schmetzer said. “If [fans and media] don’t know quality, then maybe they shouldn’t be voting.”
Of course, when reminded that he could end up losing multiple players, Schmetzer jokingly changed his tune.
“We don’t have enough players,” he said with a smile. “You guys vote for everybody else.”