What Could Have Been: The 2016 NWSL All-Star Game That Wasn’t

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All-Star games are a part of most major sports. A way to see the best of the best in that league square off against each other on two super teams.

Some leagues, like Major League Baseball, put some importance on the game by using it to award home field advantage in the World Series. Some leagues, like the National Football League, use it to give their players a vacation to Hawaii each year. Now, I’m not saying that a hypothetical NWSL All-Star Game should be used for either of those purposes, but with the proper attention given, it could make a great televised promotion (just an idea for next season). However, with no actual all-star game taking place, I am forced to imagine one for myself.

For the purposes of making two all-star teams, I’ve decided to split the NWSL into “East” and “West.” And while I use “West” loosely, there are few better ways to get two groups of 5 teams that make sense.

East Teams: Western New York, Boston, Sky Blue, Washington, Orlando

West Teams: Chicago, FC Kansas City, Houston, Portland, Seattle

There are may ways to pick two all-star teams from these two groups. But before teams can be picked there must be coaches. The simplest way I’ve found is to use the coaches from the top-ranked teams in each of the two “conferences” created for the all-star game. The number-one ranked Washington Spirit’s Head Coach Jim Gabarra would coach the East, while number-two Portland Thorns’ coach Mark Parsons would coach the West.

Once you have the “conferences” and the coaches, it’s time to create the rules. I’ve gone with a set that limits the number USWNT and international players to try to give a platform to players who have been outstanding in the NWSL.

1) There will be 18 players on each team: 2 goalkeepers and 16 field players.

2) Each of the 10 teams must have at least 1 player represented.

3) No team may have more than 4 players represented.

4) No team may have more than three current USWNT players.

4a) A current USWNT player is one who was named to the 18 person Olympic roster.

5) No team may have more than three current international national team players.

5a) A current international national team player is one who was named to the 18 person Olympic roster for their country.

5b) If a player plays for a national team that did not make the Olympics they do not take up an international spot

6) The NWSL will be broken up into “East” and “West” conferences, from which the all-star teams will be formed.

6a) East Teams: Western New York, Boston, Sky Blue, Washington, Orlando

6b) West Teams: Chicago, FCKC, Houston, Portland, Seattle

7) The game shall be 90 minutes with two 45 minute halves.

7a) If the game is tied after 90 there will be 30 minutes of extra time split in to two 15-minute halves.

7b) If the game is still tied after both halves of extra time, the game will go to penalty kicks.

8) There can be up to 7 substitutions.

The only rule that might be unexpected is the 7 substitutes rule. That is simply a functional way to let each of the 18 all stars on each team play if the coach wishes. Though the coach can decide not to play a player if they wish.

Now that pesky things like rules and coaching are out of the way, we can move on to the team rosters. There are many ways to pick the team: fan voting, appoint two captains and let them pick, have the coaches pick, some combo of either, etc. But since I have to power to pick the rosters, I’m going to create two teams that I most want to see play in the context of the rules I set out. (If you don’t like my picks, make your own all-star teams.)

The way I set it up, only 6 out of 18 players can be USWNT or international Olympians. Leaving two thirds of the NWSL all-star team to be NWSL players. While players like Heather O’Reilly are classified as NWSL players, not USWNT players because she didn’t make the 18, I think it’s fair to say over the last 8 months most of the minutes she has played are in fact NWSL minutes anyway. And players like Jess Fishlock, a Welsh international, are excluded because Wales was not qualified for the Olympics. It is a bit of a grey area but no system is perfect.

 

A few notes before I unveil my list:

I tried to take NWSL into account first and foremost. A lot of big names aren’t listed because of it. You don’t find Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, or Meghan Klingenberg on this list, partly because of the limits I placed on USWNT players and partly because I don’t find their NWSL play to be worthy of an all-star team nomination.

I fully admit that bias played a part in my picks. No matter how much I try to make this list as fair as possible, there are players who have gotten into the 18 of both teams that might not have if someone else were doing the picking. That’s just the nature of watching a lot of soccer and knowing who I enjoy. I make no apologies about it.

The limits I put on USWNT and international Olympians likely wouldn’t be there to this limit if the NWSL was doing the rule making. They want—maybe even need—Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and other big names to draw fans. I don’t need their names to put butts in seats we don’t have.

 

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Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments who I got wrong and who I got right. If you want, give me your 36 NWSL all stars.

Who would win? East or West?

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