As Atlético Madrid prepare to take on an MLS All-Star XI in Orlando, it feels like the perfect time to look back at some of the previous stars of the game.
The 2019 edition will see big European names like Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimović joined by American prospect Paxton Pomykal and league top scorer Carlos Vela as the All-Stars chase a first victory since 2015.
The MLS select XI have seven wins from their 14 meetings with European opposition, so it’s also a chance to edge ahead after last season’s penalty shootout defeat to Juventus.
With more than a decade of MLS v Europe games to choose from, plus other games such as the early East v West clashes, there’s plenty of competition for a spot in our all-time MLS All-Star XI.
Were there better goalkeepers? Sure. Were there better goalkeeper-strikers who designed their own kit and wore number nine while playing between the sticks? No.
Not only has Zusi been called up for seven separate All-Star games, but he’s successfully rocked an Alice band while being named Graham. And we know which of those is the bigger achievement.
My editor insisted I include a player who represented the New York/New Jersey MetroStars because it would feel like a waste to write a whole article about the early years of MLS without committing that name to print. We’re unable to confirm rumours that black smoke was released from Grand Central Station when Pope was traded to Real Salt Lake.
Not necessarily the best centre-back to play in this fixture, but surely the most American. Football’s equivalent of a deep-fried squirrel on a skewer at a Fourth of July parade. Both in terms of performative patriotism and the dual threat of being unpalatable and nauseating. Are we talking about his music career? No comment.
You could tell me DaMarcus Beasley was any age from 29 to 55 and I’d believe you. It’s impossible to conceive of a time when he wasn’t playing professional football, and yes, he’s still going in 2019. A winger for PSV, where he played alongside Euro 96 veteran Johann Vogel, he has most recently been seen in Houston Dynamo’s defence alongside Alejandro Fuenmayor, who wasn’t even born when Euro 96 took place.
Feels like a waste not to include a guy who started out as an indoor soccer player. Preki banged in more than 300 goals on the indoor pitches for teams with names like San Jose Grizzlies, before trying his luck with the equally creative Kansas City Wizards. Imagine trying to parse any of the sentences above before 1970.
El Pibe was in his 30s by the time he made it to Tampa Bay, making his nickname at best ironic and at worst plain cruel. The Colombian produced a delightful pass to set up Tab Ramos for the first ever goal in an MLS All-Star game, and gave the league everything he had as he wound down his career.
Dwayne De Rosario
De Rosario scored multiple All-Star Game goals, so merits a place in here for that reason, but we’re including him for the best free-kick ever scored in North America and one of the best scored anywhere.
Sure, he might have spent his entire career looking 18 or 45 years old with no middle ground, but Donovan could play. A man for whom the often-ostentatious All-Star kit felt like a second skin. The player Freddy Adu never became.
Some of the players who looked to take advantage of MLS’ ‘retirement league’ reputation struggled to give as well as take, but no one will ever say that about Villa. He played in three successive All-Star games, scoring against Tottenham in 2015, and averaged two goals every three games during his time with New York City FC.
Living legend McBride played in the first ever MLS All-Star game and was back playing in the league more than a decade later. Also, he seems like the kind of clean-cut All-American preppy kid who is in the background in teen movie prom scenes but never gets an actual line. Yes, even now, when he’s in his mid-40s.