The best of MLS need little prodding to step into the spotlight of the 2011 MLS All-Star Game (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3), but it was the location of that spotlight which enticed Chivas USA midfielder Nick LaBrocca the most.
For the Howell, N.J. native and former Rutgers standout, representing Major League Soccer on a stage against English Premier League titans Manchester United elevates to the next level as it will occur just an hour's drive from his hometown.
“As soon as I heard, I was really excited about it,” said LaBrocca. “I’ve spent my entire life playing there, and now I get an extra game back home. Not only do I represent myself and my family, but I get to represent my teammates, my fans and the league as a whole both on and off the field.”
LaBrocca’s All-Star selection adds an exclamation point to a season that has seen the Goats midfielder play all but two minutes of the club’s 21 games this season while contributing an already career-high six goals to the Chivas offensive efforts – despite never previously scoring more than two goals a season and netting only 10 in four years at Rutgers.
Red Bulls coach Hans Backe confirmed the selection of LaBrocca, also a three-time All-Big East selection, shortly after the fans recognized the MLS All-Star First XI, but Chivas coach Robin Fraser concedes that he has kept tabs on his star midfielder – who arrived via trade with Toronto FC prior to the 2011 season – for quite some time.
“He’s a player that I’ve tracked for a while,” said Fraser. “I really envisioned him as someone who could be a great attacking midfielder. He’s got a great soccer brain, very good first touch, a really good idea as a good finisher. So far, he’s lived up to what we expected.”
For Fraser, LaBrocca’s All-Star nod reinforces what the first-year Chivas coach is trying to implement for the Los Angeles-based club. Seeing LaBrocca depart along with Chivas teammate and two-time MLS All-Star Heath Pearce further recognizes the team-first mentality being implemented by their coach.
“We are trying to create a very close-knit group that is very much about a team going forward together,” said Fraser. “Together, (LaBrocca and Pearce) have helped grow this team and a lot of it has to do with the performances of both of them. It’s only fitting that they both get the opportunity.”
That opportunity also cements a proud New Jersey soccer tradition, which can now boast LaBrocca’s recent success. For the guy who sprung his soccer career from Exit 7A on the New Jersey Turnpike (or Exit 98 on the Garden State Parkway, depending on your itinerary), LaBrocca readily admits to the boost that the Garden State influence has given his good form.
“There’s such great talent and competition throughout the entire state where you play so many games,” said LaBrocca. “Every day is competitive which definitely helps you grow and push your limits. With that comes great coaches. Whenever you see great talent like that, you see great coaches.”