I’m just going to say it. Fans can’t be trusted with the MLS All-Star vote. While yes, I am a
little pretty peeved that only one player from what’s arguably the best team in MLS made the cut (which also happens to be my team, the Colorado Rapids), that’s beside the point. Only six players from the top five teams in the Supporters’ Shield standings were selected, and some of them aren’t even the best players from said teams. In fact, the team with the most representatives (Montreal has three) sits smack in the middle in the of the Supporters’ Shield standings, while Houston doesn’t have any representatives.
To be fair, I can’t put all of the blame on the fans. Don Garber gets two commissioner picks, and the remaining 24 spots are technically chosen by the coach, taking fan and player votes into consideration.
But let’s back up a step and ask ourselves … how did we get here in the first place?
It’s no secret that all-star voting in all major sports, across the board, is flawed. Look at the recent MLB All-Star game, for example. The fans chose the starting field players, leading to the National League fielding the entire Chicago Cubs infield.. Yes, the Cubs are a solid team this year, but really their second baseman is the only one you could make an argument for being a starter in the All-Star game.
In the NBA, fans choose the starting lineup for each conference’s team (10 players total) and then the head coaches fill in the reserves, but aren’t allowed to choose players from their own team. This is pretty similar to MLS, and usually results in a major snub or two.
Anyone following the NHL heard about the John Scott joke vote debacle and the ensuing PR nightmare with how the league tried to block the vote for their All-Star game earlier this year. Because of this, the NHL essentially guaranteed that no major sports league is going to go against fan votes again. The fans choose the starting team of three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. The Hockey Operations Department chooses the remaining 48 players (including 12 rookies) to form a pool. Then the players elect two captains, who then pick players from the pool for their teams schoolyard-style. In hockey, the turnover between lines going on and off the ice is so quick that allowing the fans to choose the starting team doesn’t usually have that much of an impact…except this year.
Surprisingly, it seems that the NFL is the only major sports organization that at least kind of has it right. Players who make it to the Pro Bowl are voted on by coaches, players, and fans, with each group having an equal third of the vote.
Clearly, MLS is trying to take a page from the other major sports’ leagues, and while the fans should absolutely have a voice in the voting, it shouldn’t be for an entire 11-man roster. Many soccer fans know two things: the big names and who scores goals (and maybe a goalkeeper or two). And even then, they don’t always get it right.
Look at Matt Besler, for example. He likely made the All-Star roster because he is a recognizable name on the U.S. Men’s National Team. He’s not a bad player, but he can’t even get on the field with his MLS team, and he gets voted in as an all-star? Yet Axel Sjöberg, one of the best defenders in the league, doesn’t get picked.
I will say that I agree with the fans on most of their choices of forwards, even though I still think there could be some name recognition (Sebastian Giovinco, David Villa, Giovani dos Santos). But let’s talk about Clint Dempsey for a minute. He’s got the name recognition, and most people would probably nod in agreement that of course he should be there. But Dempsey has just three goals this season (all at home) and one assist. Ola Kamara, on the other hand, has nine goals in just 879 playing minutes for Columbus Crew. That’s a .92 goal average per 90 minutes.
Then there are the players who straight up shouldn’t have been picked because there are others who could have easily taken their place. The fans picked Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. Yes, he is an athletic goalkeeper (he’s been nominated for Save of the Week eight times this season already), but that doesn’t mean he’s an all-star this year. There are not just one or two, but a handful of other goalkeepers who could have been there instead. Brian Rowe, for instance, or either of last year’s all-star keepers, Nick Rimando or David Ousted.
After you go through all of the fan choices, there are still 11 players left. Eleven chances for the commissioner and head coach Dominic Kinnear (from San Jose) to make things right. And they blew it, too. Nat Borchers should have represented Portland’s defense over Liam Ridgewell (although Borchers may be out anyway, due to an injury picked up last weekend). There are better choices in defensive midfield than Wil Trapp from Columbus. Perhaps Colorado’s Sam Cronin, or maybe LA Galaxy’s Jeff Larentowicz, who play the same position on the two teams with the lowest goals against in the league.
And why were Portland Timbers’ Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, two of the best players in the league, left off the list? Valeri scored two goals and Adi put in another the same weekend the list was released. And they were snubbed. Oh, the irony.
As much as I want to blame the coach for not overriding the fans’ votes (though he technically has the power to), that was never going to happen (and never will). Can you imagine a coach not only telling the fans they made a bad choice, but also essentially saying a player isn’t good enough? Not. Going. To. Happen. Here are a few alternative options:
- Instead of allowing the fans to choose 11 men, let them choose six players – a forward, two midfielders, two defenders and a goalkeeper.
- Go with the NFL method and have the fans’, players’, and coaches’ votes all weighted equally. Garber can still have a couple “honorary” picks.
- Fans can only vote for players on their team. They should know their players better than anyone else, and it would reduce the amount of “name recognition” voting. When you sign up to vote (logging in with email), you designate a team, and you can choose or rank your players. This would also ensure that each team has at least one representative.
Maybe it will take a player like Nigel de Jong getting voted in for MLS to realize that the fans might have a little too much power when it comes to voting. Or maybe after some of the big snubs this year, Garber will realize something needs to change. Although, the MLS All-Star game consistently sells out year after year, so why change anything as long as the money keeps coming in?
The games brought in plenty of fans even before 2005, when the format permanently changed to MLS All-Stars vs. “Guest”. Since then, the “Guests” have all been European teams, usually from the Premier League. MLS is obviously looking to attract international attention, and perhaps views the game as a means to legitimize American soccer. Maybe if Arsenal blows us out of the water this year because we’re missing some of our best MLS players (though coach Arsene Wenger announced that they aren’t even bringing some of their biggest names, as they need to prepare for the upcoming season), Garber will consider revising the voting process. Then maybe next year we might actually get more actual all-stars in there.