I don't need to tell you the MLS All-Star electoral system needs improving. For those who don't know, MLS fans can only vote for their All-Star XI by selecting players from a pool that is pre-determined by a committee of MLS media members. These media members elect 8 players from each team to be eligible for the fan vote. The fact that the MLS sees it necessary to limit the player pool from which fans can vote is a disservice to passionate fans of the league on so many levels.
The league's sentiment here is, "We don't trust the fans to pick the right players, so we'll nudge them in the right direction." I understand that line of thinking may have been more relevant a decade ago when MLS television coverage was near impossible to come by, and there weren't very many sports media outlets dedicated to covering soccer in the U.S. But times have changed. It is much easier now for fans to consume MLS soccer via television, and statistical data regarding team and player performance is more easily accessible. MLS fans are more informed as a whole than ever before, and are thus more capable than ever of assessing which MLS players deserve All-Star considerations. Just let the fans vote for any player from any team. I can guarantee you we are capable of electing Sebastian Giovinco to the team without your dogmatic endorsement.
That being said, I understand that this is the system in place and we must abide by it, for this year at least. The eight players chosen to represent the Colorado Rapids in the All-Star XI fan vote are: Zac MacMath, Axel Sjoberg, Micheal Azira, Sam Cronin, Jermaine Jones, Shkelzen Gashi, Kevin Doyle, and Luis Solignac. You can make the case that most of the aforementioned players are worthy of an All-Star roster spot, and you should absolutely be able to cast your vote for any of them.
Be that as it may, after week thirteen of the MLS season the Colorado Rapids are first in the Supporters' Shield standings, setting the pace with an even two points per game. They boast the second largest goal differential in MLS, thanks in large part to their defense, a unit allowing a league-low 0.71 GA per game. I may be biased, but only nominating one member of our back four – the best back four in MLS, on the best team in MLS – is laughable. If we were allowed to vote for any player on any team we wouldn't have this problem. But I am assuming MLS media members are aware of the Rapids success on defense and as a whole so far this season. I would expect that to be reflected in their selections.
I commend the committee for nominating Sam Cronin and Micheal Azira. The defensive midfield duo has been able to consistently control the middle of the field game in and game out. Azira has impressed in nearly every game this year, coupling his awesome work rate with his ability to help the Rapids transition from their defensive third going forward. He has been incredibly disruptive in his role as a CDM, ranking first in blocked passes (1.7 per game) and interceptions (3.6 per game) among defensive midfielders league wide. He has also excelled helping the team transition from defense to offense. He ranks third among defensive midfielders with 4.1 accurate long balls per game, and has been dispossessed less than once per game on average, despite playing the second most minutes (1252) of any defensive midfielder in MLS.
And where Azira has excelled, Cronin has been even better. He is the only defensive midfielder who has logged more minutes than Azira this season. In addition, Cronin ranks first among CDMs in accurate longballs with 4.6 pg, and is the league leader in key passes. Needless to say, these two are certainly deserving of an All-Star roster spot, and I applaud the committee for getting these two correct.
On to the back four... I still haven't quite gotten over the fact that I couldn't vote to send Bobby Burling or Mekeil Williams to San Jose. My eyes tell me Williams has suffered a dip in form over the past two games, most often just falling asleep on defense at the wrong times (see the stoppage time goal against Philadelphia Union.) However, he has been consistently potent going forward, as evidenced by his two assists, and he has been very solid defensively over the course of the season. He is first in the league among fullbacks with 1.5 blocked passes per game, in addition to leading the league in blocked shots, with 1.7 per game. He is number one again in tackles per game with 3.7, and is one of only two full backs in MLS with more than one assist this season. He has been a massive contributor in a demanding role on the best defense and winningest team in the league, and he should be a lock for the All-Star game starting XI, let alone a nominee fans may vote for.
Bobby Burling has been equally impressive manning the center back position adjacent to Axel Sjoberg, the only All-Star nominee from the Rapids back four. With Williams and Marc Burch having the freedom to push forward up the flanks, Burling is often left with clean up duty if an opponent can counter quickly enough to get behind either of the full backs. He has handled these responsibilities with aplomb, leading the league among CBs in blocked crosses with 0.5 per game, and blocked passes with 1.2 per game. Having a CB that can come out and meet opposing wingers on the edge of the box, and make consistent tackles without being detrimental to the defense's shape and organization is invaluable in modern soccer. Burling's proficiencies give the Rapids flexibility going forward, as well as some additional reassurance should the opponent ever get behind our full backs or defensive midfielders on the counter.
Burling is one of three Rapids that WhoScored.com has in their comprehensive top 10 defensive player ratings. Burling is tenth, while Azira is ninth and Williams is third. All three are key contributors on what is this season's best defensive unit in the league, and all three are among the strongest All-Star candidates at their respective positions. The fact that Burling and Williams are not eligible for the All-Star XI fan vote is a disservice to well-informed fans across the league, to Colorado Rapids fans that want to see the players responsible for this magical start to the season recognized for their efforts, and of course to both Bobby Burling and Mekeil Williams. Hopefully the MLS moves away from this convoluted voting process and we can avoid any similar situations in the future.
Until then, make sure you vote for Sjoberg.