The concept of the All-Star Game is a decidedly American one, so Jimmy Nielsen and Aurelien Collin — while dreaming of professional soccer careers as youngsters — hadn’t given much thought to being picked for such an honor.
But both were thrilled Sunday afternoon upon learning that they were among three Sporting Kansas City players voted to the MLS First XI by the fans. The announcement was made at halftime of the Chicago-Los Angeles game.
Midfielder Graham Zusi joined Nielsen, a native of Denmark who was Sporting KC’s MVP last season and was named captain during the preseason, and Collin, who is from France, in receiving all-star designation.
“It’s a big honor,” Nielsen said. “I’m very pleased that so many people spent so much time and cast so many votes for me. I can’t thank them enough. It’s humbling and it’s a tribute to the fans we have.”
Nielsen, who has played every minute in MLS games this season, received 27 percent of all text votes, marking the second season a Sporting KC player has won the AT&T Text Voting.
Matt Besler made last season’s All-Star Game through a landslide text vote as well.
Making the MLS First XI doesn’t that Nielsen, Collin or Zusi will start or even play July 25 in the exhibition against current European champions, Chelsea FC, at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
There will be 32 players league-wide selected as MLS All-Stars from which D.C. United coach Ben Olsen will choose his starting lineup and 18-man roster.
No other team had more than two First XI selections.
“Of course, I am surprised, but I am very happy, especially since we have three players from Sporting Kansas City,” Collin said. “It’s a good picture about the last two seasons and how well we have played as a team.”
Collin and Nielsen, who leads the league with 10 wins and is tied for second with seven shutouts, help form the backbone of a defense that leads the MLS in goals-against average (0.94).
Meanwhile, Zusi, who is the reigning MLS breakout player of the year, is tied for second in the league with eight assists.
“There are still more important things than the All-Star Game,” Nielsen said. “We have a tough schedule with Sporting Kansas City coming up and we’re focused on that. It’ll be fun when it comes, but my focus is not there yet.”
The selection likely means all three players will miss Sporting’s July 24 friendly against French league champion Montpellier.
“I will miss the game against Montpellier, but honestly I would rather be at the All-Star Game playing against Chelsea,” Collin said. “To play against a big team like Chelsea, would be amazing.”
The rest of the First XI included three other pairs of teammates.
San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski and defender Steven Breitashour were announced as all-stars along with New York Red Bulls teammates Thierry Henry and Heath Pearce.
Midfielders David Beckham and Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy also were voted onto the squad along with D.C. United forward Dwayne De Rosario and Vancouver Whitecaps FC defender Jay DeMerit.