With the Major League Soccer season reaching its midway point, and the 2008 MLS All-Star Game less than a month away, it is time to consider which players should be on the squad that faces West Ham United on July 24th in Toronto.
Considering first-half performance and specific positional requirements for the lineup, here is the starting 11 that should make up the 2008 MLS All-Star team:
GK -- Matt Reis, New England No position is easier to select than goalkeeper, where Matt Reis is enjoying a career year. Despite injuries and various lineup and formation changes, Reis has kept the Revolution in many games. He has a league-best five shutouts and regularly makes jaw-dropping saves to keep the Revs out of trouble.
D -- Gonzalo Segares, Chicago
The Chicago Fire boasts the league's stingiest defense by a wide margin and the Segares is a key reason for that. The Costa Rican left back combines speed, tenacity and skill to frustrate the league's best wingers and allow Chicago's center backs to focus on just one side of the field knowing that Segares can just shut down a side of the field.
D -- Michael Parkhurst, New England
The reigning MLS Defender of the Year hasn't been as dominant this year as last year, but he is still the class of the league's central defenders. His vision, underrated speed and ability to close down would-be attackers makes him invaluable to the Revs, particularly in a season where there has been plenty of changes around him.
D -- Marvell Wynne, Toronto FC When Wynne entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2006, he was a raw prospect with unmatched speed and athleticism. While he is still growing as a player, Wynne has enjoyed a breakout 2008. He still has the speed to catch anybody, but he has gotten smarter with his decision-making, has improved his once-awful touch and has shut down some of the league's best.
M -- David Beckham, Los Angeles Beckham has put to rest any suggestions that he's more style than substance. This season he has been nothing short of dominant, helping to drive the Galaxy's push to the top of the Western Conference standings with his pin-point passing and leadership. He will never lose a fan ballot, but this year he will get votes from everybody because he is just that good.
M -- Sacha Kljestan, Chivas USA
When you talk about players on the verge of a breakout season, Kljestan is on everybody's list. He started the year with some of the best goals of the season and has been a consistent threat for Chivas USA, providing creativity and vision in central midfield. His growth has a player has earned U.S. national team consideration, and he looks like a lock to play in the Olympics.
M -- Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Chicago An MVP candidate two months into the season, Blanco and the Fire have slowed in June, but he still deserves a place on this team. His six assists in 12 matches is a nice number, but would probably be in the double-digits if Chicago's forwards could finish. As important as the assists are, it has been Blanco's leadership, both on and off the field, that has cemented him as one of the league's most valuable players.
M -- Shalrie Joseph, New England
Like Parkhurst, Joseph isn't enjoying his best season but he plays at such a high level that he is still among the league's best. He has helped hold the team, and particularly the New England midfield, together through injuries and the integration of several new players into the squad rotation. Matt Reis is the Revs' MVP so far, but Joseph remains the team's most influential player.
M -- Robbie Rogers, Columbus
Another of the season's revelations, Rogers has gone from prospect to game-changer this year, with his forays down the left flank creating problems for opposing defenses and giving his teammates more room to operate. The results are a Crew attack that is far more dynamic than last year's version and a hold on second place in the tough Eastern Conference.
F -- Landon Donovan, Los Angeles
The league's leading scorer (11 goals) despite playing in just 10 games, Donovan is enjoying a dream season. With Beckham playing well and Edson Buddle emerging as a viable forward partner, Donovan has been nearly unstoppable and will be a key figure for MLS when the All-Stars face West Ham.
F -- Kenny Cooper, FC Dallas There always seems to be a player that U.S. national team fans are clamoring to see get called up. Cooper is that player thanks to a stellar first half, scoring eight goals on an otherwise offensively challenged FC Dallas team that has managed just 10 goals in its past 11 matches. Cooper has used his size and skill to keep the Hoops afloat while also putting pressure on U.S. coach Bob Bradley to give him a call-up.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives and can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.