The MLS all-star game is an annual ritual that pairs a combination of fan-selected and guest-coach selected players from MLS teams with a guest side. In recent years these have been Premier League teams (last year the all-stars beat Chelsea 3-2) but this year sees a change in nationality as FC Roma, replete with Michael Bradley in midfield and recent American ownership, try to make their mark with American sports fans. So who are the players that all-star coach Peter Vermes (coach of host venue team Sporting Kansas City) has at his disposal and why are they here? We run through them below. Do you agree with the selection? Disagree? Have your say in the comments section below.
Goalkeeper, FC Dallas
The FC Dallas goalkeeper arrived from Peru pre-season and settled straight into a Dallas side who, along with Montreal, were the early season pacesetters, in large part thanks to Fernandez's highlight-reel friendly displays as a shot stopper par excellence. Those acrobatic saves may have swayed some of the voters – and if there's a knock on Fernandez it's that he's occasionally seemed less sound on some of the other fundamentals of organizing a defense and commanding his area. But he's still one of the frontrunners for newcomer of the year.
Goalkeeper, Real Salt Lake
The Gold Cup-winning keeper was rarely tested as an attack-minded USA swept to the title, but his double save in the quarter-finals reminded us of what he can do, while his distribution from the back helped the US maintain an aggressive tempo when needed. Good with his feet as well as his hands the RSL goalkeeper has been one of the consistently highest performers in the league despite being small for a goalkeeper at 5'9", and he looks almost certain to be the third goalkeeper for Brazil should the US make it there.
This domestic season has been no less impressive as Rimando has backed up RSL's league-leading campaign with solid stats of his own, including an MLS-leading goals against average. He also remains one of the league's great savers of penalties, and his big frame is offset by great reactions. This is his third all-star appearance after last appearing as a substitute in the 2010 game, but there's a strong case that he should have had more. Other goalkeepers had career years to pass him in catching the eye, but of late Rimando has matured into one of the most consistent top keepers in the league.
Defender, Real Salt Lake
If it's possible to have a quiet career year, this might be Beltran's. He made his first US appearance at the start of the year and has since been an ever present in a Real Salt Lake side that have equally quietly climbed to the top of the Supporters Shield standings, earning himself a Gold Cup call up in the process. He does have an assist this year, against Toronto, but Beltran is largely in the team for his defensive capabilities – and he's pretty inventive when it comes to those.
Defender, Houston Dynamo
When the Dynamo made their run to MLS Cup last year, one of the hallmarks of their run was the overlapping runs of former midfielder turned left back Corey Ashe, who since winning MLS Cup with the Dynamo as a rookie in 2007, has established himself in the side as the player with the second most appearances for the team all-time. Consistent left backs are at a premium in the league, but Ashe has been a mainstay for his side, including this year, where the only interruption to his ever-present role for the Dynamo was his call up for the US Gold Cup squad. He didn't make the field, but that and his call up for his second all-star game (he played in 2011) are just recognition.
Defender, Sporting Kansas City
Collin is both one of the most flamboyant and toughest defenders on the Sporting KC line-up, as likely to show up on the catwalk as in front of the disciplinary committee. As team mate Kei Kamara told me last year, while covering his eyes: "We have this guy, Aurelien Collin and some of the things he does …" We were talking about Vinny Jones at the time.
Collin rarely loses a header, and is one half of the most effective center back pairing in the league with Matt Besler. He's also a big danger at Sporting set pieces, as well as having a way of setting the tone of a game to go just how he wants it. He's due up against Thierry Henry this weekend for their club sides, but even with that battle looming, Collin's club and all-star coach still has him pencilled in for the full 90 minutes in Wednesday night's game. Last year he was also scheduled to go the full 90 but was forced out of the game after a clash of heads with John Terry. Totti awaits.
Defender, LA Galaxy
Since his return from a nasty injury in 2011, Gonzalez's career has been on a steady upward trajectory, that saw him win MLS Cup MVP, score a crucial goal in the final, and finally break through consistently into the US squad (and not only that make one of the center back berths his own), as the national team turned a corner and put themselves on the verge of qualifying for Brazil 2014. He even stepped onto the field for the last five minutes of the 'B' team's Gold Cup campaign last weekend, to defend the lead that gave them the Gold Cup.
It hasn't been totally smooth – in a high stakes position his lapses of concentration towards the end of games have sometimes been costly, most notably in the qualifying loss to Honduras that started the campaign. But he was never going to miss this squad.
Defender, Sporting Kansas City
Besler's another player who only made his international debut in January, but he seized the opportunity to work as the slightly more cerebral, organizing central defender to Gonzalez's physical presence. When Klinsmann's squad rotations finally started to die down as the Hex campaign got under way in earnest, a few eyebrows were raised as Besler repeatedly started key qualifiers, but his solid performances meant that he was never likely to be dropped, and when Klinsmann called him and Gonzalez in to bolster his Gold Cup squad in the knockout stages, it was Besler he threw in alongside Clarence Goodson to ease the US to the title. Now he's back at the stadium where he's made his reputation, to face Roma. He's unlikely to be phased.
Defender, Seattle Sounders
Maybe Commissioner Don Garber was excited about a homegrown product breaking through in such eye-catching fashion when he selected DeAndre Yedlin as one of his two picks for the squad. Maybe he just liked his style – from his debut for Seattle earlier this year, the sight of that confection of hair sweeping down the wing in gravity defying style has been one of the most memorable sights of what's been a drab year so far for the Sounders, by their standards.
From his introduction as a full back, Yedlin has been fearless in the tackle and getting forward – scoring a dramatic goal in Seattle's quarter final against Tigres in the Champions League, that sparked the Sounders' unlikely comeback. Fast and brave, Yedlin looks to have a bright future ahead of him, even if, just like fellow defensive newcomer the Revs' Andrew Farrell, he still has a fair amount to learn about decision-making on when to go forward. So Yedlin is raw, but there's a clear signal in his selection by Garber – who last year selected veteran Ramiro Corrales, the last player in the league to have appeared in every season as his pick. Having honored those who secured the future, he's looking forward now. Yedlin is part of the new guard who grew up with the league and in his case, within its development structure. Just by setting foot on the field professionally he's part of a modest success of this stage of the league's growth.
Midfielder, Chicago Fire
Magee has had a busy year. He started in the kind of form we've come to expect from him in recent playoffs, as "Mr November" led the goalscoring charts early and helped lead an LA attack missing Landon Donovan and the supply of David Beckham. But with LA lacking width and looking to the returning Robbie Rogers to provide it, Magee made an emotional farewell to the champions and returned home to Chicago, where he has been very much "the man" in the Fire's turnaround from a dreadful start to the season. Magee scored seven goals in as many games to mark his return, helped his team into the semi-finals of the Open Cup and generally demonstrated that after his years in the supporting cast, now his time to shine. And now he's an all-star.
Midfielder, Sporting Kansas City
In Donovan's absence, the principal beneficiary at international level has been Graham Zusi, who has become a first team regular and the dead ball specialist he had consistently been for his club. In some ways Zusi is the archetype of the Sporting KC ideal – turned up low in the draft, only to exceed expectations; willing to run and run for the team, and capable of transitioning play on the counter with either quick and accurate crossfield balls or running at players. He's still improving, which is good news for both his teams. And we'll see him improve in the US for now – Zusi just signed a new contract with Sporting that will allow Peter Vermes to build the next phase of the club around him, or at the very least, if and when Europe does come calling, he should have a nice pot of allocation money to play with to replace him.
Midfielder, Montreal Impact
If there's a player in the league you'd call "cultured" it would be Bernier. The Impact's first expansion signing has been hugely influential at the heart of the Montreal team, especially when they settled from a 4-4-2 into something more like a 4-2-3-1, with Bernier pulling strings from deep. This year the team's movement has become more nuanced, again prompted by the clever Bernier, who as a student of the game is relishing the chance to go up against a technical Italian team (though he has faced Roma before, in the UEFA Cup). That mix of natural curiosity about how best to prompt the game combined with a conservative respect for his duties to the team make Bernier an excellent deep-lying midfielder and a deserving choice for this squad.
Midfielder, Houston Dynamo
Having used the adjective "cultured" about Bernier, it might be necessary to dust it off again for the left foot of Brad Davis, who's dead ball prowess for the Dynamo is one of their most potent weapons. Not that that's the only aspect of his play – though the nickname "the left-footed Beckham" has stuck. Davis is an energetic presence in the Houston midfield and the last year saw him drive them to their second successive MLS Cup final only to come up just short. Speaking of which, Davis has never quite broken through at international level, though he's currently still in the mix with the national side, and has consolidated his standing with his club fans during a home stand that saw Houston surpass RSL's unbeaten home record en route to the third-longest such run in American sporting history.
Midfielder, Portland Timbers
When Johnson was traded to Portland in the off-season he looked like the casualty of Real Salt Lake's cap-enforced houseclearing rather than the catalyst for new Timbers coach Caleb Porter to implement the necessary bite needed for his "Porterball" revolution to succeed. But Johnson saw the chance to become a leader for his new team and has been the heart of a Timbers side who are no longer pushovers on the road and who remain formidable at home. His tendency to get involved in running battles all over the field has landed him in bother on occasion, but it's not something that's easy, or perhaps desirable to remove from a player whose tenacity is so much a part of his play.
Midfielder, Real Salt Lake
When I spoke to Kyle Beckerman this week in Kansas City he was lamenting RSL's two late losses in consecutive games against rival Supporters Shield challengers: "I've got to get back to my team!" When I asked him which out of the national team 11-game winning streak or RSL topping the standings, in what was widely seen as a transitional year, surprised him most, he pointed out the extraordinary national team run, and pointed out he'd always known the foundation was there with RSL. Beckerman's a big part of that foundation, working as the defensive midfield heart of that team in their past few seasons of extraordinary consistency from a small market base. Yet he's played his part in that national team run too – just emerging with a lot of credit from the Gold Cup campaign (hence his absence from RSL) where he helped balance a US side whose weight was tilted towards attack. And in an All Star squad whose first fan-selected round is always weighted in similar fashion, you can bet he was one of the first names pencilled in to win the ball by coach Peter Vermes.
Forward, New York Red Bulls
Like Di Vaio, Henry no longer has the raw pace to outstrip defenders consistently, but he still has a sublime touch and when the mood takes him, he is still unplayable in this league. But while that could in theory lead to indifference, Henry remains too competitive to take any superiority for granted and is one of the best-informed foreign players in the league about the players and teams he faces each week – for example he retains a public soft spot for the small market RSL team his New York side narrowly beat last week. New York fans love him for his insistence of wearing a captain's armband in red and black to honor the team colors of the one-time Metrostars, but they love him more for the goals he consistently conjures for a side he's had to put on his back more than once this year.
Forward, San Jose Earthquakes
"Wondo" is in the all-star squad in large part due to his extraordinary goalscoring feats of 2011, where he matched an MLS single season record that had stood since the inaugural year of the league. An excellent poacher and the type of forward whose constant movements make him horrible to mark, Wondolowski is a player who persisted when he was consistently overlooked in MLS and finally earned his reward as one of the most consistent goalscorers in the league and now a Designated Player at San Jose Earthquakes.
The Earthquakes' form has dipped since winning the Shield last year and with it Wondolowski's goal ratio, but he made up for it at international level in the Gold Cup as he finally got off the mark for his country in emphatic fashion this month, with six goals in three games. He scored in last year's all-star game against Chelsea. Don't be surprised if he does it again.
Forward, LA Galaxy
After the last few weeks Gold Cup performances, it seems absurd that at one point we were expecting an all-star game without Landon Donovan – breaking a run of 12 consecutive experiences. But until Robbie Keane withdrew through injury, that's exactly what we were faced with. Donovan's extended post MLS Cup sabbatical had lost him his automatic US starting place, and his club return had taken time to reignite, and for a brief moment it looked as if this was going to be a quiet season for Donovan. But a run of seven international goals and as many assists in recent weeks has once again put him on record-breaking form, and when media showed up in Kansas City this week, there was Donovan, straight from the Gold Cup final to all-star duties – as in demand as ever on his 13th appearance. Hard to believe now that his presence was ever in doubt.
Marco Di Vaio
Forward, Montreal Impact
The speed has gone but the technique and runs and finishes off the final man remain intact. Marco Di Vaio's goals have ensured that Montreal Impact's second year in MLS has not been one of consolidation, but of contending for the Supporters Shield, as a neat footballing side works the ball to the man who is still a truly dangerous finisher. His style of game and the number of years he has been playing it mean that inevitably Di Vaio leads the league by far in the number of times he's caught offside, given that in playing the percentages his aging legs need every start they can get on younger defenders. But those percentages still favor Di Vaio when he's as ruthless as he is when the flag doesn't go up. He ran in nine goals in nine games earlier this year, and just as Montreal were slumping, there he was again last week to see off fellow challengers Sporting Impact in stoppage time. Now he'll be up against his old friend Totti, keen to show him and Roma that there's life in him yet.
Forward, Philadelphia Union
The young Philadelphia forward has accelerated his development this season, though he has always had undoubted promise since being drafted in 2010 at just 17 years of age. McInerney was one of the few highlights in a tough season for the Union last year, as his goals livened up a campaign disrupted by Peter Nowak's departure. This year though, McInerney was one of the quickest out of the gates in leading the MLS scoring charts early on and making a strong case for an all-star call-up and possibly an accelerated track onto the edges of the international team.
The Gold Cup call up duly came, though McInerney didn't see the field and was mainly included to gain experience in the camp for the future – though Chris Wondolowski's six goal reminder that others had trodden this path before him, probably told "Jack Mac" all he needed to know about the step up, as did the initial announcement of the All Star squad which did not include him. McInerney is unlikely to be phased by those delays to an accelerated trajectory, or by his late call up to the all-star squad when commissioner's pick Tim Cahill withdrew via injury. When he was likened to an "American Chicharito" earlier this season, McInerney just shrugged: "I play like Jack."
Forward, Vancouver Whitecaps
The Whitecaps looked to be struggling earlier in the season, especially when they let a Champions League spot slip through their fingers against Montreal. But they turned things round with a comeback win in New York that set them on a sustained unbeaten run, principally characterized by the goals of Camilo. The Brazilian's free kicks were already known in the league, as was his support play for his speedy front men – but it's his ability to chip in with vital goals that has set his play apart this year. And not just chip in – he has 13 goals so far this season, placing him squarely in Golden Boot territory. Look again at Vancouver's early season struggles and the picture becomes clearer. Camilo was a peripheral sub in those early games and a constant ever since. No wonder that when he mused last month about possibly opting to play for Canada, a beleaguered national team support were so thrilled. Ten goals in nine games leading into the all-star break, including a five game scoring streak, tells its own story. Camilo is the form goal threat in this squad.