Teens take center stage at MLS All-Star game
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- When Landon Donovan looks at the rosters for Major League Soccer's All-Star game, this 19-year-old practically feels like a grizzled veteran.
For once in his soccer career, the San Jose Earthquakes' star forward won't be the youngest player on the field Saturday when he starts for the West All-Stars at Spartan Stadium.
That distinction belongs to 16-year-old midfielder Santino Quaranta of D.C. United -- the youngest All-Star in North American pro sports history and a special selection by MLS commissioner Don Garber, who wants to help his league's youngest players become stars.
Chicago's 19-year-old DaMarcus Beasley will join Donovan on the West's front line. Bobby Convey, an 18-year-old midfielder from D.C. United, was chosen for the game but won't play because of hernia surgery.
"It's great to see young players getting a chance to compete against the best players in North America," Donovan said. "Younger guys in the national teams like DaMarcus and myself get some really fine experience in a situation like this. It goes a long way to getting your confidence up."
Overall, 13 All-Stars are 25 or younger, while nearly half of the participants are in their first All-Star game. The young rosters are a natural product of MLS' youth movement in the league's sixth season -- but the kids won't get all the attention.
Five players were named to their sixth straight All-Star game: Jeff Agoos (San Jose), Mauricio Cienfuegos (Los Angeles), Cobi Jones (Los Angeles), Brian McBride (Columbus) and Preki (Miami).
"We may have to punish these young guys for being too good too soon," Agoos said with a grin. "We'll see how many passes Landon gets in the game."
Donovan and Beasley may learn from playing with the league's best, but they won't learn much about playing defense. Ebullient Miami coach Ray Hudson, who will lead the East All-Stars, was only half-kidding when he said his defense will consist of Fusion star Carlos Llamosa -- "and that's it. One defender."
"It's going to be a real ding-dong battle, and it's going to be a jewel for the MLS," Hudson said. "We know our players are good enough to rumble with anybody in the world."
The players expect to spend most of the day upfield, and the goalies know it. West goalie Joe Cannon of San Jose, who also expects to play a bit at forward on Saturday, wore a T-shirt with a bull's eye painted on it when he competed in Thursday night's skills competition.
The league's two most surprising success stories will be well-represented. The Earthquakes, who spent most of their first five seasons as MLS' worst team before rising to the top of the Western Conference this season, will have six players on Chicago coach Bob Bradley's squad.
Miami, which has been resurrected by Hudson as MLS' top team, leads the league in All-Stars with eight members of the East squad, including Preki -- the oldest All-Star at 38 -- Llamosa and goalie Nick Rimando.
"It's always a very exciting game when you get this many talented guys together," said McBride, who will start at forward for the East. "We're going to bomb away, just like we did when we were kids. Everybody is going to have a great time."