Tuesday, July 17, 2012

MLS All-Stars Have Serious Chance of Winning

Article by Luke Lohr

Ben Olsen's selections have rounded out a surprisingly strong side for the MLS All-Stars to take on Chelsea.  It's never quite clear exactly what criteria will be used in order select the All-Stars, particularly when taking on a foreign power. Sometimes selections are made in order to take on the opponent and other times they are made to simply reward those who have had a great first half of the season. With his selections to round out the First XI, Olsen has seemingly shown that he plans to go for the win against the Champion's League winners. 

The complete MLS All-Star Gameday Roster is as follows: 

Goalkeepers: Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA), Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)

Defenders: Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes), Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Ramiro Corrales (San Jose Earthquakes), Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps), Heath Pearce (New York Red Bulls), Carlos Valdes (Philadelphia Union)

Midfielders: Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders FC), David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Dwayne De Rosario (DC United), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Pontius (DC United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Accomplished with this roster is likely the most complete and competitive All-Star roster in recent memory; perhaps the one best suited to defeat its opponent as well. With exception of only one or two players on this roster, this group looks competent to perform against a quality side such as Chelsea. 

Starting in the back, Dan Kennedy's heroics this season make him the perfect choice to face Chelsea FC. Not only is saving the ridiculous something of the norm for Kennedy, but he's used to being in a shooting gallery, something that is to be expected against such a high profile opponent. Jimmy Nielsen is certainly a quality veteran, but playing Kennedy for the entire match gives the All-Stars their best chance for consistency and quality goalkeeping.

The defenders are the "weakest" of the chosen sets of players and still they are impressive. Only having a healthy Omar Gonzalez or the recently departed Geoff Cameron would have made this group stronger. Steven Beitashour has been remarkable for San Jose and Heath Pearce has injected new life into his career with New York. Jay DeMerit brings with him strength and pedigree, as well as the experience of playing in Europe against such powerhouses like Manchester United, Arsenal and of course Chelsea FC. 

Commissioner pick's Ramiro Corrales and Carlos Valdes are understandable. Corrales is a league veteran and leader for the undeniable best team in MLS at the moment. Rewarding him is a classy move for a player with only limited time left. The selection of Valdes might puzzle some as the Union have been sub-par all season. That said, Valdes is talented and the captain of the host team so his selection makes sense, if perhaps his play does not. 

The crowded midfield may be the only area where shouts for "snub" may be in order and even then those shouts will be drowned out by the obvious quality of the selected group. David Beckham, Dwayne De Rosario and Landon Donovan all have fantastic creative experience against high level opponents and anyone who has watched them play this season has seen them produce highlight reel moments in their own right. Beckham is fresh off his rejection for the Olympic team and playing with a vengeance. 

Defensive midfield destroyers Kyle Beckerman and Osvaldo Alonso are accustomed to being rivals and attacking one another when their regular season teams face on another. On the night the All-Stars take the field, they'll likely share the middle at some point together and will need to be in sync to handle the quality midfield that Chelsea will put out. Each has the talent to disrupt play and will need a night of no mistakes to give the All-Stars a chance. Especially important will be their work rate to free up guys like Beckham and Donovan to spring the forwards. 

Graham Zusi's selection is a deserved one, but the pick might have been better served for Chicago Fire midfielder Marco Pappa (or even Pavel Pardo) who has been in good form of late. Pappa's creative, dynamic attacking style would be an unknown quality and add variance to the All-Star offense, giving Chelsea something to think about. Nonetheless, Zusi's youthful movement and habit of being in the right place at the right time could serve the squad well.

The forward line is imposing but for the selection of Eddie Johnson. Supporters of Johnson can rightfully point to his 8 goals in seventeen matches as justification. While he is enjoying a great recovery season, he has proven time and again his inability to perform at a high enough level to make any impact on a defense of the quality that Chelsea is likely to put out. Alvaro Saborio or Saer Sene would have been more worthwhile picks to do more damage offensively. Danny Koevermans as well but reports are that his season may have ended with a knee injury.

Remaining chosen forwards are still impressive though. Chris Wondolowski has been incredible this season with 17 goals in eighteen matches, a strike rate that puts him on par to shatter Roy Lassiter's record of 27 in a season. Thierry Henry has scored nine this year but also brings a pedigree of proven success against such high caliber defenses. Most exciting of the forward line though would be Chris Pontius. To say that Pontius has potential to achieve success at the highest level is an understatement. He is back in form and looking very sharp for DC United. His selection makes perfect sense and it will be interesting to see how he stacks up against the Chelsea back line. 

Overall this group looks poised to give Chelsea FC a run for their money. By no means will this match be easy and if the past few years is any bit of evidence, the group will have to be at the top of their game to stand toe to toe with the foreign power. In previous years, the All-Stars have shot themselves in the foot early and then made questionable changes for the sake of getting players on the field. If the players can start well and Olsen decides to make only necessary changes as opposed to simply getting players on the pitch then the MLS All-Stars just might shock naysayers. 

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