Major League Soccer has an All-Star Game, but not really an All-Star break.
The MLS All-Star festivities got into full swing Monday with the Homegrown Game and conclude Wednesday with the All-Star Game. By the weekend the players will have scampered back to their clubs as the regular season resumes.
Caleb Porter, the Portland Timbers coach who also will lead the All-Stars against German power Bayern Munich, said he will juggle the responsibilities of trying to win while also returning fresh players back to their MLS teams.
“I need to manage the minutes for these players,” Porter said. “That’s a priority: that they go back to their clubs healthy. A lot of them have games Saturday, Sunday, and that means that we will pretty much use two groups: the first half and the second half.”
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That should please Seattle Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid, who on Saturday voiced hopes that none of Seattle’s four All-Stars — Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, DeAndre Yedlin and Osvaldo Alonso — would play more than 45 minutes.
For those Sounders, this will be the second friendly in the middle of this MLS season. And on Monday, Dempsey drew a connection between the Sounders’ 12-4-2 record before their Tottenham friendly and their 0-2 record since.
“I would have rathered kept going and built off the momentum of the game against Portland,” Dempsey said. “(The Tottenham friendly) stopped things for us a little bit.”
The issue is different for the other Sounder taking part in the All-Star festivities: rookie forward Sean Okoli of Federal Way.
Okoli played the final 45 minutes Monday as a team of MLS homegrown prospects played to a scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers U-23s Premier Development League team. Goalkeeper Jon Kempin of Sporting Kansas City was voted game MVP.
The match was presented to showcase players who have graduated into MLS through the clubs’ developmental systems.
“We had a decent performance — that was our first time together as a team,” Okoli said. “It was fun getting out there and playing. It was a great experience for me.”
In his first professional season, Okoli has played just 18 minutes over two MLS games. He also has played in five Reserve League games and went the full 90 minutes in the U.S. Open Cup win over PSA Elite.
Okoli is one of three homegrown players on the Sounders FC roster, along with rookie midfielder Aaron Kovar and second-year right back DeAndre Yedlin.
Yedlin may be MLS’ top homegrown success story, jumping from the Sounders FC Academy, Sounders U-23 and the University of Akron to the Sounders FC’s starting lineup and a place on the United States’ World Cup team.
He also was named to this MLS Homegrown team, but was removed when fans voted him onto the All-Star roster. That move reunites him with Porter, his coach at Akron.
“The first thing I saw in DeAndre is his pace,” Porter said. “He’s an elite, world-class athlete. He’s extremely quick and has the ability from that position to get forward in the attack, which in the modern game is something you look for in that position.”
Yedlin had his own praise for Okoli and Kovar, homegrown Sounders who have followed him into MLS and, he believes, could one day follow him into an MLS All-Star Game.
“Definitely, definitely,” Yedlin said. “It’s just working hard. I know they both do that very well. They’re moving up the depth chart. They’re doing great in practice every week. It won’t be long before we see them in one of these games.”