Saturday, 26 February 2011
40: Jeff Cunningham FW (Columbus Crew) - The MLS all-time regular season leading goal scorer, Cunningham turns 35 this year and is well and truly entering the twilight of his career. After a stellar 2009 campaign with FC Dallas, in which he won his 2nd career Golden Boot, Cunningham's play noticeably declined during the 2010 season, as he looked slow at times and was easily wrested off the ball, factors which eventually led to his release from the club last November. Picked up by Columbus Crew in the re-entry draft, don't expect to have seen the last of Cunningham however, as that scoring instinct that has helped him net 132 MLS career goals still remains. The very definition of a goal poacher, even if he is relegated to only a bit-part role with the Crew this year, still expect Cunningham's name to appear regularly on the scoring charts, as few MLS strikers finish off their chances in front of goal as well as him.
39: Julian de Guzman MF (Toronto FC) - De Guzman was supposed to be Toronto's major DP signing that would help them make the playoffs for the 1st time in the club's short history, but he has so far failed to live up to his billing as the saviour of the franchise. The 29-year-old defenisve midfielder proved during his time in Europe that he is an extremely effective player, but many question whether his style his suited to MLS. Recent surgery on a knee injury that had been plaguing him for most of last season could be an explination for the underwhelming performances, while the arrival of Aaron Winter as the team's new head coach should see the Dutchman bring a fresh European-style of football, that will play to the strengths of de Guzman's game. This will be a make or break year both for Toronto and de Guzman, and fans at BMO Field will be hoping the best is yet to come.
38: Jan Gunnar Solli MF (New York Red Bulls) - With the Red Bulls' midfield looking stacked for 2011, it's possible that Solli, recently signed from SK Brann in Norway, could find playing time hard to come by if he doesn't get off to a good start. However, if his form in Europe is anything to go by, then he shouldn't have too many problems adapting to MLS. Players moving from the Scandinavian leagues across to the States generally translate their productivity fairly succesfully, and Solli, a Norwegian international, shouldn't be any different. The Red Bulls allegedly fought off interest from Bundesliga and Premier League clubs for Solli's signature, and the 30-year-old attacking midfielder should add even more depth to a team that looks to be one of the strongest MLS sides for 2011.
37: Osvaldo Alonso MF (Seattle Sounders) - One of the more unheralded players in MLS, the Cuban defensive midfielder is blessed with a fantastic engine and a deft touch, that makes him ideally suited to play the 'Makélelé Role' in the Sounders' line-up. Having recently undergone a week long trial at Everton, Alonso opted to re-sign with Seattle in February this year, extending his contract until the end of 2014, a move which should prove a major coup for the ever-improving club from the Pacific Northwest.
36: Sean Franklin DF (LA Galaxy) - One of the many up-and-coming young defenders in MLS, Franklin is arguably the most athletic player in the league, and has become a stalwart presence in the Galaxy defence over the last few season. Having shone the courage to overcome a major hamstring injury, that forced him to miss most of the 2009 season, Franklin has continued to mature as a player since, and looks set to become a regular fixture in the US national team setup over the coming years.
35: Dax McCarty MF (DC United) - A spiky relationship with head coach Schellas Hyndman meant that McCarty, despite a fantastic season with FC Dallas, was left unprotected in the 2010 Expansion Draft, much to the shock of many MLS fans. Predictably taken by the Portland Timbers with the 1st pick, McCarty was then however immediately traded to struggling DC United, where he should become the driving force in the centre of their midfield. Described by many as a poor man's Paul Scholes (and not just because of his ginger hair), McCarty is quickly establishing himself as one of the best homegrown players in the league, and his effective playmaking ability has seen him work his way onto the fringes of the national team in recent months. Reportedly subject of intense interest from Leicester City last year, if McCarty can continue to put up the kind of performances that helped guide Dallas to the MLS Cup final in 2010, then he could well follow in the footsteps of the likes of Clint Dempsey and Stuart Holden and become the next American midfielder to make a name for himself in European football.
34: Brad Davis MF (Houston Dynamo) - Another of MLS' criminally underrated midfielders, it's a mystery to me how Davis has not seen more action with the US team over the last couple of years. Last season, after the sale of Stuart Holden, and subsequent injury suffered to Geoff Cameron, Davis proved just how valuable he is to this Houston side, moving to a more central position in the midfield, from his traditional role out on the wing, and taking up the mantle as the team's main playmaking threat. Dynamo team MVP in consecutive seasons, Davis is the prototypical player that MLS coaches most desire; a productive, consistent homegrown player, who gives his all out on the pitch and whose wage numbers won't do too much damage to the team's salary cap. Consistently one of the league's leaders in assists year after year, if I were Bob Bradley then Davis would have a lot more than just the 4 international caps to his name.
33: Marco Pappa MF (Chicago Fire) - The Guatemalan winger started the 2010 campagin off with a bang, netting 5 goals in 11 games and earing a place on the mid-season All-Star team, but his play noticeably declined towards the end of the year. One of the more exciting players to watch in the league, much of the Fire's success in 2011 will depend on whether Pappa can consistently produce to the level Chicago fans know he is capable of. With the team's roster looking horrendously thin throughout the preseason, if Pappa fails to deliver, then Fire fans should be prepared for a long and painful season.
32: Kyle Beckerman MF (Real Salt Lake) - Midfield enforcer is the best way to describe Beckerman's role on the pitch. While he may not be everyone's cup of tea, there's no question that the gritty play of RSL's dreadlock wearing captain has been one of the key factors in their recent success. Quite simply, in the words of his head coach, Jason Kreis, Beckerman "does his job", and, more to the point, does it well. While he won't single-handidly win you a game with a piece of skill or trickery, it's rare to see Beckerman misplace a pass or give up in pursuit of an opposing player. The type of player that every MLS team needs in their starting XI.
31: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado DF (Seattle Sounders) - Named after the former US president (though evidently his parents couldn't spell properly), Hurtado spent time training with AC Milan, before signing with Seattle in 2009, for the club's inaugural MLS season. In his 1st year in the US, the Colombian immediately stood out as one of the best centre backs in the league, displaying a perfect combination of speed and strength, that saw him earn a place on the All-Star team of July that year. The Sounders were dealt a major blow for 2010 however, when Hurtado suffered a serious knee injury early on in the campaign, ruling him out for most of season, as the team's defence constantly struggled in his absence. Now fully fit and back up to speed, the presence of Hurtado in Seattle's starting XI is one of the major reasons Sounders fans can be confident of their team's prospects this season.
Stay tuned for the next installment, where we'll continue our rundown of the top 50 MLS players!
Thursday, 24 February 2011
Before we begin, some names who were considered, but ultimately missed out on selection: Milton Rodriguez, Davy Arnaud, Kasey Keller, Jeff Larentowicz, Hunter Freeman, Ryan Smith, Pablo Mastroeni, Alain Rochat, Jair Benitez, Drew Moor, Brek Shea, Andy Najar, Danny Mwanga, Tim Ream, Bobby Boswell, Marvell Wynne, Jimmy Conrad, Patrick Nyarko etc.
So without further ado, I present to you 'The Top 50 MLS Players: 50-41'
50: Kei Kamara FW (Sporting KC) - Kamara really came into his own as a solid MLS striker in 2010, leading the KC Wizards' (now Sporting KC) frontline, with 10 goals in 27 games. With the arrival of Omar Bravo for 2011, his opportunities will be somewhat more limited, but expect him to continue his steady improvement and firmly cement himself as one of the league's more established finishers this coming season. And of course, we can't go mentioning Kamara without a reference to what's been dubbed 'The Miss of the Century'...
49: Juninho MF (LA Galaxy) - No, not that Juninho, this one's only 22 years of age, and he doesn't have a World Cup winners medal. Currently on loan from Sao Paulo, Juninho, or 'Vitor Gomes Perreira
Junior' as he's also know, is beginning his 2nd season in LA, after a debut year which proved a pleasant suprise. A complete unknown at the time of his arrival, the diminutive playmaker proceeded to establish himself as a regular in the heart of the Galaxy midfield, producing a series of assured performances, that have left fans with high hopes for him going into 2011. A full season playing alongside Beckham will be a huge benefit, and expect the young Brazilian to go from strength to strength this MLS campagin.
48: Bobby Convey MF (San Jose Earthquakes) - British football fans will be familiar with Convey, after the former US international's 5-year spell with Reading, during which time he experienced a series of highs and lows with the Berkshire-based club. At one time the youngest ever player to appear in MLS, Convey returned to the league in 2009, with San Jose, but his 1st season back in the States was nothing short of a disaster, marred by injuries and poor performances, that led many to question his future with the club. A Lazarus-like comeback in 2010 however saw Convey recapture the form which led to him becoming a regular fixture in the national team, proving a real danger for oppostion defences with his play from the left wing. Still only 27, if he can stay healthy, there's no doubt that Convey should become one the league's top performers over the coming season.
47: Dane Richards MF (New York Red Bulls) - Madly inconsistent, the Jamaican speedster has been known to suffer from a touch of the Bendtner-itis (i.e. "If he was half as good as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as good as he really is."). Nevertheless, he is undoubtedly gifted, making huge strides last season under new manager Hans Backe, proving more confident at taking on fullbacks and delivering crosses into the box with new-found accuracy. If Richards can just add more consistency to his game in 2011, he could make a real impact for the Red Bulls and provide top service for Henry and co., enough to see the New York side make real push for that elusive MLS Cup.
46: Heath Pearce DF (Chivas USA) - Having returned to the States midway through the 2009 campaign, after spells playing in Denmark and Germany, respectively, Pearce has quickly become one of the premier fullbacks in the league, proving an ever reliable force in FC Dallas' back-four. After playing a vital role in the club's run to the 2010 MLS Cup final however, the US international was controversially left out of the team's starting XI, when it was decided he had not fully recovered from a lingering hamstring injury, despite passing a pre-match medical. Understandably, Pearce was rather upset, taking out his rage on twitter, a respone which most likely contributed towards his recent trade to Chivas USA. Their gain should be Dallas' loss however, as Pearce looks to ease the club's pain of losing Jonathan Bornstein to Tigres, and improve upon an awful 2010 season, with saw the Los Angeles-based club finish bottom of the Western Conference.
45: Eddie Gaven MF (Columbus Crew) - Gaven may have failed to live up to the lofty expectations placed on him when he burst onto the league as a 16 year old in 2003, but his play over the past few seasons has been one of the key factors in the Crew's continued regular season success. With the team in transition for 2011, after the loss of key veterans, such as Frankie Hejduk and Guilleme Barros Schelotto, the attacking midfielder has now become one of the teams's most important pieces, and it will be up to the likes of him to carry this re-building side through what should prove a challenging season.
44: Marko Perovic MF (New England Revolution) - One of the club's few positives to take out of the 2010 season was the encouraging displays of new signing Perovic, a former Serbian under-21 international, who had enjoyed a productive two year spell with FC Basel, prior to joining the Revs. At 27, Perovic joins MLS in his prime, and the left-footed winger has so far proved to be a dynamic and energetic force in New England's midfield, providing a much needed injection of skill that was previously lacking in the side. The Revs may no longer be the dominant force they were once were in the early/mid 2000s, but the addition of players like Perovic should help them bounce back from what have been a fairly lacklustre couple of seasons. Furthermore, with Shalrie Joseph's ongoing 'problems' and Taylor Twellman's long expected retirement, Perovic's play in 2011 will be even more vital to New England's success.
43: Kevin Hartman GK (FC Dallas) - What a year 2010 was for the peroxide blonde shot stopper. The holder of virtually every MLS all-time goalkeeping record, most thought him past his best going into last season, as Hartman began the year as Dario Sala's backup in Dallas, having been deemed surplus to requirements at Kansas City. With Sala underperforming however, Hartman seized the opportunity to take over between the sticks, finishing the regular season with the best 'goals against average' amongst MLS goalkeepers, while his side enjoyed a fantastic run to the MLS Cup final. Their campaign may have ended in defeat that time around, but with 36-year-old Hartman providing a veteran presence at the back, Dallas' defence looks set to help them make another visit to the playoffs this coming season. Look forward to a reunion with Thierry Henry too, after this bizarre incident between the French striker and Hartman during last year's playoffs:
42: Brian Ching FW (Houston Dynamo) - The fomer US international may now be well past his best, but he provides Houston with a physical and reliable presence upfront, as well as valuable experience on an increasingly youthful roster. Never really known for his goalscoring prowess, MLS fans have come to appreciate Ching's hardworking and effective displays as one of the league's best target men, and the Houston captain will be hoping to lead his side back to the playoffs, after last season's blip.
41: Branko Boskovic MF (DC United) - Signed midway through last year, in order to try and help rejuvenate DC's horror season, it is safe to say that Boskovic failed to impresses during the 10 games fans saw him in action. The fomer PSG midfielder is no doubt a talented player, as he proved during Montenegro's suprise 0-0 draw with England last October, but he'll need to prove that he can perform on a regular basis if he's to justify the DP money DC United are paying him. With the addition of Dax McCarty and Charlie Davies, Boskovic will be surrounded by more talent, and his play should improve after a full preseason with his teammates and the club in a more stable condition, under new manager, Ben Olsen.
Stay tuned for the next installment, where we'll continue our rundown of the top 50 MLS players!