In grade school elections, the teacher tells you not to vote for someone because they are popular, vote for them because of what they have done. Unfortunately, Don Garber and Major League Soccer do not follow these same rules when it comes to All-Star Games. After the initial group of all-stars selected by the fans was revealed, Garber, the commissioner of the league, was able to pick two more names to add to the squad. The players he selected, Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy) and Frank Lampard (NYCFC), have a combined zero goals, zero assists, and perhaps most impressively, zero minutes played in the league. The two Premier League veterans have been a part of their respective MLS teams for less than three weeks and their selection for the All-Star game has drawn criticism from fans, commentators and even fellow players.
First, let’s talk about some possible reasons why Garber decided to use his two picks on two players that have never played an MLS game. For a league desperate for global recognition, players like Lampard and Gerrard provide internationally respected names to a roster that is unknown to many fans outside of the United States. Between the two of them they have won six FA Cups, three Premier League titles, two Champions League trophies and have registered a combined 220 international appearances for the Three Lions. These impressive résumés put nearly every other player in the MLS to shame so it may be a fair assumption that these two players are already two of the best in the league before they’ve even played a game.
Now, let’s take a look at the reasons that so many people find these selections frustrating, and for some, laughable. After the fan eleven were announced, there were some pretty notable absentees from the roster. Perhaps the most prominent player not selected was Toronto FC’s Italian superstar Sebastian Giovinco. In his first season up north, Giovinco has exploded as one of the most exciting forwards in the league and he currently sits as the league’s second top scorer with 11 strikes. The latest highlight for his debut came over the weekend as the Italian scored an eight-minute hat-trick against the Los Angeles Galaxy. In addition to these statistics, Giovinco also boasts an impressive résumé from his time with Juventus. His nine-year stint in Turin yielded a Serie A title, and two Italian cups. At the conclusion of his time with the Italian giants, Giovinco had registered 130 appearances and scored 20 goals. Despite being left off the fan roster and being excluded from the commissioner’s picks, the Toronto striker could still be added through the manager’s picks.
The biggest reason these decisions don’t make sense, in my opinion, is the amazing fact that neither one of these players have played an MLS game, and only one of them has even played a single competitive game for his club. As the league tries to improve its reputation on the global stage, this type of move makes the American league look weak because it shows that even the commissioner thinks these aging veterans are better than the best of the best in the league before seeing them play in it. This move is almost a slap in the face to the proven players in the league who have been grinding through the first of the season only to see two players coming off of vacation to be named as league leaders instead.
I understand that Gerrard and Lampard probably would be all-stars had they been playing for the first half of the season, but the fact of the matter is that they didn’t. The All-Star Game against Tottenham gives players in the league an invaluable chance to play against a top-tier team and it’s unfair to take that chance away from them just because of the star power two players have. It’s too late for a change in this decision, but hopefully in the future, Don Garber learns from this backlash and picks proven league players for the game.