(Edit): First and foremost, massive apoloiges. In the confusion of university work and other matters, it would appear this piece was never posted, or was inadvertently deleted from the blog. With the season in full-swing now, it may be a bit dated, but I am re-posting it regardless, so as to finish off the series.
Rejoice! the 2011 MLS season has finally kicked off, with the week 1 round of games now done and dusted, providing what was arguably the most entertaining opening weekends in the league's relatively sort history. With that in mind, now seems like the perfect time to finish off our countdown of the top 50 MLS players and reveal who made that top 10 list:
10: Juan Pablo Angel FW (La Galaxy) - Now plying his trade on the West Coast, having been frozen out of Hans Backe's plans in New York, Angel may be getting on in years but there's no question that he remains one of the most accomplished finishers in the league. LA certainly have a lot striking options available to them but, with the debature of Edson Buddle to Germany, Angel will be called upon to be their go-to guy for the 2011 campaign. With all the pieces around him on the team, providing great service, it shouldn't be beyond the former Aston Villa striker's cabilities to bag himself a 15+ goal season.
9: Javier Morales MF (Real Salt Lake) - The attacking midfielder in Jason Kreis' diamond midfield, Morales is Salt Lake's playmaker and a key component to their recent success. The charismatic Argentine appears to be thriving in the team's current system and is undoubtedly one of the most creative players in league, with Salt Lake funneling the majority of their play through him, in the centre of midfield. Everything seems in place for another impressive season, and Morales and Salt Lake look eager to taste more success, not only in MLS, but also in the Concacaf Champions League, where an appearance in the final now looks like a real possibility.
8: David Ferreira MF (FC Dallas) - Last season's MVP, Ferreira is another example of one of these South American playmakers, that have flooded into the league in recent seasons. The 31-year-old former Colombian interntional was pivotal to Dallas' run to the MLS Cup Final in 2010 and, with the recent departure of Dax McCarty, will arguably be even more heavily relied upon this season, to provide the majority of both the team's goals and assists. Whether Dallas have the squad to repeat last year's sucess is questionable, but if Ferriera performes to the level expected of him, then they should at least come close.
7: Dwayne De Rosario MF (Toronto FC) - Toronto look like they are rebuiling again this year, after yet another coaching change, and the quality of the roster certainly does not fill one with much confidence. De Rosario's abilities are well known by now to all MLS fans, and the club captain's presence on the field gives the team perhaps their only chance at enjoying at least a somewhat respectable 2011 season. Now playing for his hometown club, 'Canada's finest' has deservedly earned a reputation as a renouned clutch performer over the past few years, but has also been critcized for his reportedly selfish attitude, supposedly putting his own best interests before that of the team. First, there was the notorious cheque-signing goal celebration, followed later by the unscheduled training stint with Celtic during the offseason, incidents which have somewhat soured the relationship between De-Ro and the TFC fans. Going into the season, new coach Aaron Winter and his star player need to put past events behind them and focus on the task at hand, as the club gear up for what will most likely be another tough and unrewarding campain.
6: David Beckham MF (LA Galaxy) - Not much to say here. Everyone knows the man and, though he undoubtedly poliarizes opinions across the pond, there's no question that Beckham is still an extremely talented player, despite his increasing years. Beckham may have not played to the level everyone had expected during his three years in the league, mainly due to injuries and international commitments, but this season could very well be different. Now entering the final year of his contract with the Galaxy, Beckham has completed his first preseason with the club since entering the league and that time spent gelling with his teammates could prove vital for the upcoming campaign. Thus far, you'd be hard pressed to argue that his play warrants the 6th place spot on this list, but there's no doubt that he is fully capable of producing an MVP-like season. Much will depend on his teammates however...
5. Fredy Montero FW (Seattle Sounders) - Probably the most exciting player in the league and certainly the one who has attracted the most attention from clubs overseas. Colombian striker Montero has bags of ability and is really starting to realize his potenital, not just as a goalscorer but also as a creative playmaker, who can feed his teammates with chances. Many are touting Montero to lead the MLS scoring charts this coming season and, though he faces some fierce competition from the likes of Henry and Angel, should he continue to improve his play the way he has since he joined the league, in 2009, then those predictions could well prove to be inspired.
4. Rafa Marquez DF (New York Red Bulls) - Again, not much too say here. Marquez is one of the more high-profile players in the league and his reputation, as a former Barca player, precedes him. Equally comfortable in the centre of the defence or playing as a holding midfielder, as he often does for Mexico, Marquez showed towards the end of the 2010 season that he's not simply joined MLS for a nice pay day. No question, he has already established himself as one of the best defensive players in the league and, along with Team Ream, will form one of the strongest centre-back pairing in MLS, that will hopefully help anchor the Red Bull's push for the 2011 MLS Cup.
3. Omar Bravo FW (Sporting KC) - Another Mexican, Bravo's move to MLS came as somewhat of a suprise, mainly due to the fact it was announced he was joining one the 'less-fashionable' sides in the league, in KC, but also because he seemingly has a fair few years of top level football left in him. A proven goalscorer in Mexico and, to an extent, in Europe, the main question surrounding Bravo will be whether he appears 'interested' in giving his all on the pitch week in, week out, unlike past Mexican stars who have entered the league, such as Luis Hernandez and, more recently, Nery Castillo. Certainly, a fully motivated Omar Bravo will prove a dynamic goalscoring threat and, teamed with Teal Bunbury, could give KC one of the most feared attacking duos in the league.
2. Thierry Henry FW (New York Red Bulls) - It's Henry, of course he was going to be in the top 2! His best years may be behind him and he may have looked somewhat rusty after joing the Red Bulls late in July last year, but there's no doubt that Henry is a class above what the rest of MLS has to offer. Again, there will be questions whether he is fully motivated to give his all for the club, but it's hard to believe that Henry would come to the US, with offers from Europe still on the table, simply to treat his stay here as a premature retirement, such is his competitive nature that he's displayed throughout his career. Enough will be written about the former Arsenal star over the coming season and people will undoubtedly question his commitment to the cause, but I have full confidence that he will show off glimpses of the old Henry, given the chance.
1. Landon Donovan FW (LA Galaxy) - Have to hand it Landon, he's been an abolute beast in MLS ever since he entered the league. While many will criticize him for not making the move abroad, with his talents long since outgrown MLS standards, Donovan seems comfortable plying his trade in his home-state of California and his commitment to the Galaxy really can't be questioned. Donovan's sheer presence and marketing appeal, as a standout US athlete, is a huge bonus to the league and Garber and co. have made a clear effort to try and keep him tied down to MLS, as they attempt to branch out the game's appeal across the country. A big money move is rapidly passing him by and, though many would like to see a US soccer player enjoy success abroad, MLS fans should be more than happy to enjoy having a player of Donovan's quality in the league.
Well, that's it. The top 50 MLS players for 2011. All that's left to be said now is enjoy the season and hopefully your team enjoys some success this campaign. We'll see by November how far off my rankings were and whether there are any new stars who'll deserve inclusion next time around.
Until next time!