Six players who could make a name for themselves in the MLS All-Star Game
Thursday's MLS All-Star Game between the U.S. domestic league's best and perennial Premier League contender Arsenal might be a glorified friendly, but it still provides lesser-known members of the home team -- the guys who don't boast the name recognition of Didier Drogba, Clint Dempsey or Giovani Dos Santos -- with a rare opportunity to face one of the world's most iconic clubs and benefit from the added exposure that comes with it.
What that's worth is up for debate. It's no secret that the money at stake in the sport, especially in Europe, means that scouts leave no stone unturned these days when it comes to scouring leagues around the world for new talent, and that includes MLS.
"A team that is interested in a player will scout him over a number of club games -- they're not going to look at him in an All-Star Game playing with guys he hasn't [played with] before in his life," Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid told ESPN before parting ways with the club on Tuesday.
But Schmid, the winningest manager in league history, conceded that a strong showing in the midsummer classic "Might pique their interest, might draw attention."
Take the 2009 All-Star Game against Everton, which proved to be more than a shop window for Landon Donovan. Playing the All-Stars gave then-Toffees boss David Moyes a front-row seat to watch Donovan's blistering pace and attacking instincts up close. Less than six months later, Moyes was introducing Donovan at Goodison Park after signing him on loan from the LA Galaxy.
The odds of any member of this year's All-Star crop ending up in Arsenal red in early 2017 remain slim. But, as the saying goes, you never know who's watching. Here are six players worth keeping an eye on in Thursday's match.
GK David Bingham, San Jose Earthquakes
Despite the Quakes' struggles this year -- they're in eighth place in the 10-team Western Conference -- Bingham was probably the most consistent keeper in the league during the first half of 2016. He was also good in his maiden season as Dominic Kinnear's starter in 2015, reason enough to earn him a first cap with the U.S. national team in February: a 1-0 clean-sheet win against Canada. Bingham didn't make the U.S. roster for last month's Copa America Centenario. But at 26, he's only going to get better.
DF Steve Birnbaum, D.C. United
Birnbaum, 25, has already drawn interest from Europe this year. Teams in Germany and the Netherlands were rumored suitors for the center back, and D.C. reportedly turned down bids from Israeli clubs Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv earlier this summer. He also became a U.S. national team regular this year, starting a crucial World Cup qualifier against Guatemala in March and making two appearances off the bench in the Copa.
GK Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union
Blake is having a breakout season, his first as a starter in Philly after being drafted at No. 1 by the club in 2014. The Jamaican is an otherworldly shot-stopper and, at 25, is beginning to come into his own in MLS and with his national team; Blake was the Reggae Boyz starter in the Copa, an assignment he is expected to keep when World Cup qualifying resumes in September.
DF Keegan Rosenberry, Philadelphia Union
Much has already been written about the rookie out of Georgetown, who has played every minute for the surprising Union this season. He's far from the finished article -- the skillful right back still gets pulled out of position too easily -- but he's a quick study and, at 22, has shown maturity beyond his years. He's also well aware that scouts will be assessing his performance against Premier League opposition in San Jose. "I think it crosses your mind," Rosenberry told ESPN last week.
FW Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC
The 21-year-old Canadian international striker was the league's runaway rookie of the year last year after bagging a record 17 goals in his debut professional season. Six-foot-2 Larin, who was the top pick at the 2015 draft, has 10 goals for the Lions so far in 2016. But rumors of interest from Portuguese titan Benfica appear to be nothing more than that.
"As far as I know, there has been no contact at all," Larin told reporters in Florida last week. Still, he remains one of the league's most prized young assets.
MF/FW Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact
At 31, Piatti would seem to be on the downslope of his career. But the Argentine's name is continually linked to moves away from Montreal, with Mexico and South America often discussed as potential destinations. The fact that he's having an MVP-caliber season for the Impact isn't going to quiet that chatter anytime soon, even if he is hoping to remain in Canada through the final year of his contract in 2017.
"A lot of clubs are interested in my services, but I have one more year," Piatti told ESPN earlier this month. "I'll talk to [Impact owner] Joey Saputo at the end of the season."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.