A Major League Soccer player of some distinction was musing about the league's selections for Wednesday's All-Star Game against Manchester United in Harrison, N.J. (ESPN2 and TeleFutura, 5:30 p.m. PT).
“What'd you think about it?” he asked, then turned his thumb down, toward the ground. “Four guys from Houston?”
The analysis is spot on. How do four players from a mediocre Dynamo side that has underachieved make it to the All-Star Game? Only New York, a very fine side that has underachieved even more violently than Houston, has as many players available to Red Bulls coach Hans Backe, who will guide the MLS side.
In all, 32 players have been accorded All-Star status, and 21 of them will play, or at least be available to play, against Man United. (Five pulled out because of injury or conflict; six were non-roster selections required in the collective bargaining agreement.)
There were a lot of very good players enjoying very good seasons left out. Here's our MLS No-Star XI, the best of those who were snubbed:
Stefan Frei (Toronto FC): We thought Frei could have been the starter for MLS, although there are other very good options (including expected starter Faryd Mondragon from Philadelphia) and, really, Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando ought to be on the field rather than on the CBA list. Nobody sees as much action as Frei, whose sensational saves have kept Toronto from losing, 8-0, every week.
Jan Gunnar Solli (New York Red Bulls): Why would Backe leave off MLS's best right back -- when it's his own player? Our guess is Solli told him he'd rather have the night off. Or Backe didn't want too many of his guys exerting energy and risking injury in a game that doesn't matter.
Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew): The big center back from Riverside has been close to the form that won him two MLS Defender of the Year awards and is probably the No. 1 reason the unfancied Crew are even on points with Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia.
Carlos Valdes (Philadelphia Union): The Colombian center back has unexpectedly been one of the elite newcomers in the league, teaming with Orange's Danny Califf and Mondragon to anchor a defensive unit pivotal to the Union's surprise success.
Todd Dunivant (Galaxy): The mild-mannered veteran has never been better: He has been MLS's best team's most consistent player, excelling both ways. If any L.A. backliner belongs in the All-Star Game, it's Dunivant.
Jackson Goncalves (FC Dallas): The speedy, slippery winger has been in stunning form the past six weeks, maybe more -- one of big reasons the Hoops responded so well to David Ferreira's injury.
Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City): We've been seeing hints of the third-year midfielder, a teammate of Galaxy defenders Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza with NCAA champ Maryland. He was Player of the Month for June, with good reason.
Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution): The attacking midfielder from Irvine has added a dimension for the Revs, who have too many problems elsewhere to compete for anything meaningful.
Mauro Rosales (Seattle Sounders): The Argentine winger's pedigree -- with stints at Newell's Old Boys, Ajax Amsterdam and River Plate -- predicted the kind of impact he's had in Seattle, where (sorry, Fredy Montero) he's become the pivotal attacker.
Charlie Davies (D.C. United): The feel-good story in the league is Davies' return from a deadly car accident that cost him a World Cup roster spot -- and, for the time being, a chance to play in France. He's been quite good, but you have to wonder how costly were his dives for penalty kicks.
Andres Mendoza (Columbus Crew): The edgy Peruvian striker made few friends by refusing Jeff Cunningham a penalty kick and storming off following substitutions, but the initial assessment -- this guy's a DP? What for? -- was off base. When he's tuned in, he can take over games.