We’re in to the final stages of Freddie Shire’s top 50 MLS stars for the forthcoming season. Again, a mix of players both old and new that could have some major effect on Major League Soccer over the next few months.
20. Will Johnson, Portland Timbers
Traded to the Timbers in December 2012, as part of Real Salt Lake’s efforts to stabilise their salary cap issues, Johnson was named team captain before the start of the season and began 2013 in fantastic form, looking like arguably the first-half MVP. The Canadian international’s performances tailed off a bit towards the end of the campaign, as he dealt with a shoulder injury, but he still finished the year with nine goals and five assists, while being voted the club’s Supporters’ Player of the Year and earning a place on the MLS Best XI. While Portland have a number of key players they can rely on for 2014, as their captain and star performer from last year, the 27-year-old’s impact will be one of the more crucial factors towards any potential success.
19. Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy
A first-choice on the U.S. backline, Gonzalez is a physical force at the heart of the Galaxy’s defence and arguably the top centre-back in the league. The 2011 MLS Defender of the Year is just 25 but already a three-time All-Star, with an MLS Cup MVP award to his name, and the first defender to be signed to a Designated Player contract by the club, when he inked a multi-year deal in August last year.
18. Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake
Amazingly, Beckerman has never made an MLS Best XI in his 14-year career, despite being a seven-time All-Star and one of the top defensive midfielders in league history. Always reliable, hard-working and of course tenacious, the 31-year-old RSL captain is consistently among the most efficient passers in MLS and could well be Brazil bound this summer, having played his way into Jürgen Klinsmann’s good books.
17. Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers
Nagbe was listed at No. 1 on MLSsoccer.com’s 2013 ‘24 Under 24’ list and for very good reason. He’s arguably the most entertainingly technical player in the league and experienced a breakout year last season under the tutelage of his old coach at Akron, Caleb Porter, contributing nine goals towards the Timbers’ playoff push. Now entering his fourth season since being taken second overall in the 2011 SuperDraft, look for the 23-year-old forward take another step forward during this campaign.
16. Boniek García, Houston Dynamo
García has added an extra edge to the Dynamo’s attack since arriving as a Designated Player from his native Honduras midway through the 2012 season, winning the club’s MVP award that year despite appearing in just 17 games. The 29-year-old international has been a creative force, whether operating through the middle or cutting in from the right wing, and could well be a solid outside candidate to win the league MVP should Houston make yet another successful run at the playoffs in 2014.
15. Mike Magee, Chicago Fire
Magee had been a serviceable (and somewhat under-appreciated) player in MLS for ten seasons with the Red Bulls and the Galaxy until finally experiencing his breakout campaign in 2013. Traded to home-town club the Chicago Fire in the Robbie Rogers deal, the 29-year-old forward was simply and surprisingly phenomenal, scoring 21 MLS goals on the way to winning the MVP award and earning a place on the U.S. national team’s January training camp roster. A case of food poisoning prior to the South Korea game unfortunately robbed him of the chance to earn his first cap and the test will now be to prove that 2013 was no fluke.
14. Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes
Who would have thought that the forward who was merely a bit-part player with the Dynamo all those years ago would morph into an MLS MVP, two-time Golden Boot winner and tie Roy Lassiter’s since-season record with 27 league goals in 2012? 31-year-old Wondolowski is likely to go down as one of the top finishers in league history and, though he experienced a down year in 2013, scoring only 11 times, the fact that he played most of the year with a broken foot provides a pretty decent excuse! Wondo’s form for the U.S. over the past year has also given him an outside chance of making the World Cup squad this summer and a fast start to the 2014 season with San Jose would likewise help in that regard.
13. Álvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake
RSL’s all-time leading scorer, Saborío is one of MLS’ most feared strikers but, due to a combination of injuries and international call-ups, was only able to appear in 16 games last season, as rookie Devon Sandoval performed admirably in his absence. The Costa Rican Designated Player still proved tremendously effective when he was on the field however, leading the club with 12 goals, and, with his country off to the World Cup this summer, RSL will again have to find a way to replace his influence in the lineup.
12. Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake
A stalwart leading the RSL attack at the tip of their characteristic diamond midfield, Morales enjoyed one of the best seasons of his illustrious MLS career in 2013, scoring eight goals and recording ten assists. In what was only supposed to be a ‘rebuilding year’ for the Utah club, the 34-year-old Argentine stood out as arguably the side’s most pivotal player on the way to another MLS Cup final. As long-time head coach Jason Kreis departs for NYCFC, new man Jeff Cassar can no doubt count on reliable veterans like Morales to make his transition into the position a relatively easy one.
11. Marco Di Vaio, Montreal Impact
An MVP finalist in 2013, Di Vaio’s first full season in MLS was a roaring success, as the former Italian international striker scored 20 goals in 33 games. While the year ended on a sour note, as the 37-year-old was sent off in the impact’s 3-0 collapse at Houston Dynamo in the playoffs, Di Vaio will be back in 2014, under new head coach Frank Klopas, to once again lead the line for the Canadian side.