Jay Bell is lurking SKC. He’s out there. He files this report.
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The Major League Soccer All-Stars are set to take on AS Roma at Sporting Park in Kansas City tomorrow night, but it is more than a game. It is an event, especially the way KC is representing this year.
The MLS All-Star game is a showcase for the best talent in the league. It is even better for MLS when those stars include some of the best young talent in the league.
When they play on Wednesday, Jack McInerney and DeAndre Yedlin, both are 20 years old, will be the league’s two youngest all-stars to represent MLS since Freddy Adu in 2006 (remember all that confetti?). Robbie Rogers had been the youngest selection since Adu, getting the nod in 2008 at 21.
“It is amazing. It is such an honor and such a blessing. There’s such good players on (the Seattle Sounders) that I think probably could be here also. For me to get chosen it is a pretty amazing experience. I’m very blessed,” Yedlin said.
The 2013 all-star team boasts players from six different countries and they have played all over the world. When a guy like Thierry Henry has won all of the most significant trophies and honors in the world, an all-star game isn’t that big of a deal any more. To the young guys, it can be the highlight of a blossoming career.
“It is kind of just something that has happened so fast,” McInerney said. “I’m just taking it all in one day at a time. I never even really dreamed of being here.”
J-Mac came up through the US Soccer youth teams and is now in his fourth (yes, fourth) season in MLS with the Philadelphia Union. McInerney scored 12 goals in his first 60 MLS matches, including 24 starts. Philly’s young striker has now scored 10 goals in 18 starts and one substitute appearance in the 2013 season.
Yedlin is a Seattle Sounders rookie after playing two seasons at Akron. He has made 15 starts and one substitute this season for Seattle in MLS, only recently scoring his first league goal. He also scored a peach of a goal for Seattle earlier this season in the CONCACAF Champions League.
“You always dream of it,” Yedlin said of playing in an all-star game. “It is something that you watch on TV and see the all-star team playing Manchester United or whatever team they may play and you always dream and say, ‘Man, I want to be in that position.’ Now that that time has finally come — a lot earlier that I thought it would — now that it has finally come, its incredible.”
It is even more impressive considering the league’s growth to 19 teams and an improving quality of play.
“There’s guys that are not here that are very deserving and it is getting more and more competitive,” Landon Donovan said. “I think that is a very good thing for our league.”
McInerney and Yedlin are the only representatives of their respective clubs, but they both say they feel like they are not the only ones on there teams that could have been selected as all-stars. The competition was arguably tougher this year than ever before.
The all-star team is filled with veterans that have spent careers in MLS (Donovan, Nick Rimando, Mike Magee) or abroad (Henry, Marco di Vaio, Patrice Bernier). Graham Zusi, a leader for Sporting Kansas City, will turn 27 in August. I asked him if he felt like a younger player again on this team. He laughed and looked around to see Donovan and Kyle Beckerman talking to members of the media while Henry was still practicing tricks after practice.
“Yeah, I am kind of one of the younger guys,” Zusi said. “It’s a little different with the quality of guys and the experiences they have had really all around the world.”
Neither McInerney nor Yedlin were originally selected for the all-star team. Yedlin was selected by Commissioner Don Garber. McInerney was the final inclusion to the roster when he replaced Garber’s other selection, a recently injured Tim Cahill.
“I would really like to thank (Garber) for that selection,” Yedlin said. “It is a huge honor that he thinks that highly of me. It’s incredible.”
McInerney said his experience with the US team in the Gold Cup has made it a simpler transition for him this week.
“Obviously it is a little different, but when I was with the national team a lot of those guys were there too,” McInerney said. “I got to know them pretty well then and it has been an easy transition into this. I’ve grown some new friends and hopefully I’ll stick with them.”
McInerney and Yedlin said the veterans have been very supportive of them, but Zusi said the varying levels of experience are not much of a factor within the team. That can especially be the case when it is business as usual for guys like Henry and Donovan.
“I’ve used this line before, but when I’m on my deathbed, I’m not going to look back and say, ‘Yay, I made 13 straight all-star games,’ but it’s a nice feeling and I’m very proud of it. I really am and I like to be a part of this group of guys,” Donovan said.
At the other end of the spectrum, Yedlin is only about halfway through his first MLS campaign. He has seen action in CONCACAF Champions League elimination matches and was a member of the US Under-20 World Cup team earlier this summer, but he said the all-star game is the biggest event so far in his young career, even if just based on the level of players he will be playing with and against. When I asked him how he prepares for that, Yedlin cracked a huge smile.
“Honestly, I’m not sure yet,” Yedlin said. “It’s my first time around so I’m not exactly sure. I guess I will just kind of go along with it and see how it goes.”