HARRISON, N.J. (AP) – The 2011 MLS All-Star Game will kick off on Wednesday featuring a collection of MLS's top players, but the squad that takes the field will be a combination of those a.) actually available to play for the match (with a number of players out with injury and CONCACAF Champions League commitments), and b.) chosen based on the preferences of New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe.
Backe's selections were a tad different than the players chosen in fan voting, but if you ever wondered who players would have chosen as the league's best up to this point in the season, wonder no more.
FOX Soccer polled more than 30 MLS starters from 15 different MLS teams, including seven players playing in Wednesday's game, to find out who the players think have been the league's best. Some of the names are ones you'd expect, but others may surprise you. Ultimately, the players did a good job of selecting the league's best performers.
Here are the Best XI players, as chosen by MLS players:
Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon, Philadelphia
The Colombian netminder is just in his first season in MLS but has already made a lasting impression throughout the league, winning a race that saw eight different goalkeepers receive multiple votes.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Kevin Hartman (Dallas)
Right back: Sean Franklin, LA Galaxy
The Los Angeles Galaxy fullback has been one of the keys to a defense that has helped the Galaxy hold on to first place in the Western Conference. His ability to contain opposing wingers and his speed to get forward have made him one of the most respected defenders in the league.
Honorable Mentions: Jan Gunnar Solli (New York), Zach Loyd (Dallas)
Center back: Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy
Though he's been sidelined in recent weeks by a shoulder injury, Gonzalez's body of work beforehand impressed his colleagues enough to make him the leading vote-getter among defenders. Despite playing with several different center back partners, Gonzalez has shown maturity and leadership in anchoring one of the league's stingiest defenses.
Honorable Mentions: Tim Ream (New York), George John (Dallas)
Center back: Jamison Olave, Real Salt Lake
One of the most athletic, imposing and fearsome defenders in the league, Olave's combination of intimidating size and freakish athleticism helped him win 2010 MLS Defender of the Year. He's carried over the solid play in 2011, impressing players throughout the league.
Honorable Mentions: Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Chad Marshall (Columbus)
Left back: Todd Dunivant, LA Galaxy
It isn't a stretch to call left back the weakest position in MLS, but Dunivant has enjoyed a stellar season that earned the praise of multiple opponents. The Galaxy defender reads the game very well, is dangerous getting forward and has been durable for Bruce Arena's outstanding defense.
Honorable Mentions: Alain Rochat (Vancouver), Jair Benitez (Dallas)
Left midfield: Brek Shea, FC Dallas
The closest contest in the entire voting was here, where Shea edged out Houston star Brad Davis by one vote. Shea's enjoying an MVP-caliber season with his goalscoring, which has helped FC Dallas offset the loss of reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira.
Honorable Mentions: Brad Davis (Houston), Marco Pappa (Chicago)
Central midfield: Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders
One of the most well-respected players in MLS, Alonso ranked behind only Landon Donovan and Thierry in total votes, no small feat playing central midfield in a league loaded with tough defensive midfielders. Alonso is the heart of Seattle's strong squad, most recently earning praise from Alex Ferguson for his play.
Honorable Mentions: Shalrie Joseph (New England), Nick LaBrocca (Chivas USA)
Central midfield: Joel Lindpere, New York Red Bulls
Though he's known more for playing on the left wing, Lindpere has played just as much centrally and his overall work impressed colleague's enough to beat out other more popular names. His tenacity, underrated attacking skill and ability to step up and score when needed make him one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season for the Red Bulls.
Honorable Mentions: Jack Jewsbury (Portland), Juninho (Los Angeles)
Right midfield: David Beckham, LA Galaxy
He didn't run away with the voting, but Beckham was still the top choice among players on the right wing. He started the year very well, and when he's on, he can still be one of the top game-changers in the league with his set pieces.
Honorable Mentions: Marco Pappa (Chicago), Sebastien LeToux (Philadelphia)
Forward: Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls
The league's leading scorer, Henry has shown the form expected from one of the best strikers of the modern era. Even when the Red Bulls have underwhelmed, Henry has been able to step up and deliver magic. If he stays healthy, Henry looks a safe bet to win the Golden Boot.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Wondolowski (San Jose), Eric Hassli (Vancouver)
Forward: Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy
The best player in MLS for years, Donovan has respect throughout the league, and it showed in the voting. He made all but a very few number of ballots. Though he's played on the left flank more than anywhere else, player after player voted for Donovan as a forward.
Honorable Mentions: Fredy Montero (Seattle), Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia)