With anticipation growing every day for the 2016 MLS All-Star Game in San Jose, the league on Saturday announced the first eleven selections to the MLS roster as determined by fan voting conducted online and through EA Sports FIFA 16. Known as the "Fan XI," the star-studded cast will include World Cup winner David Villa, former Chelsea FC legend Didier Drogba, and Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo for the game against Arsenal FC on July 28 at Avaya Stadium.
Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe, the rising U.S. international, made the sqaud, as did a pair of young talents from the Philadelphia Union, goalkeeper Andre Blake and defender Keegan Rosenberry. Former FIFA Player of the Year Kaka joins the team, as does 2015 MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco and Mexican superstar Giovsani dos Santos. Defenders Matt Besler of Sporting Kansas City and Laurent Ciman of the Montreal Impact round out the elite eleven.
The Fan XI was determined through online voting from a pool of 160 eligible players as selected by the media. The San Jose Earthquakes candidates included such choices as Chris Wondolowski, Victor Bernardez, Simon Dawkins, and David Bingham. And while some of the Quakes collected significant numbers of votes early in balloting, none was able to crack the top-ten overall and advance to the Fan XI.
Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear will manage the 2016 MLS All-Star Team against Arsenal, and he will be tasked with filling out the lion's share of the remaining roster slots. The game day squad will consist of 22 players -- 20 selected by Kinnear and two appointed by MLS commissioner Don Garber -- that will be assembled from the Fan XI and a pool of MLS players chosen by their peers.
But not all eleven fan selections will necessarily make the 22-man game day roster, as that decision is up to Kinnear. In addition, he will be constrained from adding just anyone from the rest of the league -- to be added to the pool, players must receive at least two votes in player-only voting. Still the mechanism allows for the Earthquakes to be represented on the field against Arsenal, as Wondolowski and Bingham are favorites to make the final roster.
Notable omissions from the Fan XI and likely selections come match day are LA Galaxy and 2014 MLS MVP forward Robbie Keane and Colorado Rapids designated player and U.S. men's national team goalkeeper Tim Howard. Toronto FC midfielder and USA captain Michael Bradley could also make the squad if he can recover from an injury he suffered in the third place game of the recently concluded 2016 Copa America Centenario.
Garber's two picks to the game day roster have come with mixed results over the years, especially as he has picked players primarily on name recognition rather than merit. Last summer, the commissioner picked English superstars Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, even though at the time neither had played a minute in MLS. And despite their selections, both were not available to play in the match against Tottenham Hotspur anyway.
In 2012, as the Earthquakes were dominating the league on their way to the Supporters' Shield for best overall record, Garber added San Jose legend Ramiro Corrales to the team. The last player to have played every season of MLS from its beginning in 1996, Corrales came in as a substitute against Chelsea FC in a 3-2 that also featured a goal by Wondolowski.
The official 2016 MLS All-Star Team game day roster will be announced on Sunday, July 17. The Arsenal FC roster is expected to be released ahead of the Premier League giant's preseason training trip to the U.S. in the next two weeks.
The 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Team Fan XI
Goalkeeper: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
Defenders: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union)
Forwards: Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC)