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MLS Stats Zone: Who deserves to be an All-Star?

The MLS All-Star Game is just over a month away, but with the regular season halfway through, it's a good time to start evaluating and predicting who might play against the Liga MX All-Stars in Columbus, Ohio on July 24.

In last year's All-Star Game, Arsenal FC, coming off a second-place finish in the English Premier League, arrived in Washington DC and played the All-Stars off the pitch in a 5-0 demolition.

This time around, it should be a much closer and more entertaining game. Neither team will have much chemistry as both will be filled with players from different clubs, and that should lead to plenty of offense which is exactly what fans want to see from an All-Star Game in any sport.

With that out of the way, let's get into who should represent Major League Soccer at this showpiece event at the home of the reigning champion Columbus Crew.

Goalkeeper: Drake Callender

Club: Inter Miami

Inter Miami is far from being known for its defense, but Drake Callender is responsible for ensuring the Herons don't get into a high-scoring shootout every match.

Callender has prevented 4.0 goals above expected, meaning that he has faced shots on target worth 27.0 post-shot expected goals (which accounts for where a shot was taken and how hard it is to save), but he has allowed just 23 actual goals.

The 26-year-old 'keeper has been called up to the United States Men's National Team once but did not appear in a match. His efforts to keep Inter Miami atop the Eastern Conference and in the middle of the pack in terms of goals allowed deserve some recognition.

Right Back: Brooks Lennon

Club: Atlanta United

Brooks Lennon is becoming a complete fullback as he enters the prime of his career at age 26.

He has four assists in 18 matches this season, and he has played the fourth-most total crosses and the second-most crosses into the penalty area this season.

Plus, Lennon is a more-than-capable defender as he averages 3.22 tackles plus interceptions per 90 minutes plus 2.94 clearances. He has played every minute of every game for Atlanta United this season.

Center Back: Michael Boxall

Club: Minnesota United

Yes, 35-year-old Michael Boxall has a good argument of being the best center back in MLS.

No one expected much from Minnesota United after the team missed the playoffs in 2023, but they sit fourth in a jam-packed Western Conference thanks in part to the fact they allow the fifth-fewest shots per game.

That stingy defense starts with the veteran CB Boxall. He wins 80 percent of his attempted tackles, he makes 4.9 clearances, 4.7 ball recoveries and 1.2 interceptions per 90 minutes, and most importantly, his team outscores its opponents by 2.23 goals per 90 minutes with Boxall on the pitch.

Center Back: Aaron Long

Club: Los Angeles FC

Another veteran center back, 31-year-old Aaron Long has been a big presence for Los Angeles FC ever since he joined in 2023 to play alongside legendary Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, who has since retired.

Long hasn't missed a beat as LAFC are fourth in the West halfway through the 2024 season.

Long wins 66.2 percent of his duels for possession, and that rises to 84.8 percent in aerial duels. He gets dribbled past 0.27 times per game, meaning attackers get the better of him only once every four matches. Crucially, his team outscores its opponents by 1.14 goals when he's on the pitch.

Left Back: Kai Wagner

Philadelphia Union left back Kai Wagner is 12th in MLS in shot-creating actions per game with 5.7, and he's first among all defenders in that statistical category. That, paired with his one goal and four assists from defense in 18 matches, should get him All-Star consideration.

But Wagner is also a solid defender who holds his own for a struggling team that uses a system that doesn't prioritize defensive structure. He wins 1.6 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per game, and he makes 5.4 ball recoveries per match as well, and all of that gives him the edge over Inter Miami's Jordi Alba for this spot.

Central Midfield: Sergio Busquets

Club: Inter Miami

Another Inter Miami player, holding midfielder Sergio Busquets has continued to be, well, himself even in his mid-30s in MLS. He keeps things ticking for Miami, and he has attempted and completed the second-most passes in MLS so far this year.

Busquets attempts 79.2 passes per game, and he completes them at a 87 percent rate. He completes an impressive 72.5 percent of passes over 30 yards, and he averages 47.0 ball carries and 2.2 fouls drawn per game. Defensively, he averages 1.5 tackles won, 0.8 interceptions and 7.3 ball recoveries per game.

Central Midfield: Riqui Puig

Club: Los Angeles Galaxy

Riqui Puig, like Busquets, was molded in the FC Barcelona academy and he has brought its philosophies to MLS with the LA Galaxy. No one in the league has attempted more passes than Puig, and he has six goals and five assists from central midfield in 16 games.

Puig completes 78.9 percent of passes longer than 30 yards, and he averages 2.1 key passes, 2.9 passes into the penalty area, 11.3 passes into the attacking third, and 6.5 shot-creating actions. Plus, he makes 2.2 successful dribbles per game and has his team firmly in the playoff places.

Attacking Midfield: Luciano Acosta

Club: FC Cincinnati

Reigning MLS MVP Lucho Acosta has brought his MVP form into the 2024 campaign. The FC Cincinnati dynamo has nine goals (from 6.3 xG) and 13 assists in 18 matches, and he leads MLS in shot-creating actions, key passes, and successful dribbles per game among players to play more than 180 minutes this season.

Acosta has his FC Cincinnati team on the heels of Inter Miami, who lead them by two points in the Eastern Conference. Even better: Cincy has two games in hand. Cincinnati creates 0.38 more xG per game than their opponents when Acosta plays, so he's a huge reason for the team's success.

Right Wing: Lionel Messi

Club: Inter Miami

Who else? The GOAT has 12 goals and 10 assists in 12 matches. He averages 1.91 goals plus assists per 90 minutes. Messi has five games with multiple goal contributions, including a one-goal and five-assist outing against the New York Red Bulls.

Miami has dropped points in just four of Messi's 12 matches played this season, and only one of those games was a loss. Trophies and awards aside, the only thing he has yet to do in an MLS game is score a hat trick.

Left Wing: Lewis Morgan

Club: New York Red Bulls

The New York Red Bulls are third in the Eastern Conference, and Lewis Morgan is the biggest reason why. The Scottish forward has nine goals and two assists in 16 matches, which is a great first half of a comeback campaign after a hip injury held him to just five MLS appearances in 2023.

Morgan hit a Messi-less Miami team for a hat trick in a 4-0 Red Bulls win in March, he had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win over the New England Revolution, and he has scored game-winning goals against the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas.

Striker: Cristian Arango

Club: Real Salt Lake

Cristian Arango is the leading goalscorer in MLS with 16 goals in 19 matches, and he has led his team into first place in the Western Conference. More impressively, those 16 goals have come from chances worth a total of 11.7 xG.

Arango's finishing has been excellent as his 0.12 xG per shot doesn't indicate he gets clear-cut chances regularly. He averages 1.8 shots on target and 4.2 shot-creating actions per game, and he his younger teammates who play on the wing - Diego Luna and Carlos Gomez - have truly raised each other's games.

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