Freddie Shires continues with his rundown of his Top 50 MLS stars for the upcoming season. The second batch counts down from 40 through to 31 of who he thinks will be the standout players for the forthcoming campaign across the board.
If you missed the first instalment – click here to catch up.
40. Juninho, LA Galaxy
Amongst the star-studded lineups the Galaxy have fielded over the past few years, it’s been easy for Juninho’s impact to go relatively unnoticed. That should not however take away from what the 25-year-old Brazilian has brought to the side since arriving from São Paulo in 2010, establishing himself as a remarkably efficient two-way midfielder, with an under-appreciated nose for goal (2013 aside). Together with fellow countryman Marcelo Sarvas (#42 on this list), the two form one of the best centre-midfield partnerships in the league and should prove hugely crucial towards LA’s hunt for a third MLS Cup in four seasons.
39. Marco Pappa, Seattle Sounders
After 16 hugely underwhelming months in Europe with Heerenveen, Pappa opted to make the jump back to MLS this offseason, being picked up by the Sounders, who used their No. 1 allocation ranking to acquire the former Chicago Fire man. He understandably arrives with big expectations. Before departing for Eredivisie in August 2012, the Guatemalan international was widely regarded as one of the most exciting players in the league and, with his playmaking qualities from the left flank, fills the last major hole in Seattle’s starting lineup.
38. Diego Chará, Portland Timbers
As the Timbers enjoyed a remarkable turnaround season in 2013 under first-year head coach Caleb Porter, Chará continued to play the role of the team’s dominant enforcer in the centre of the field. Combining with the largely more heralded Will Johnson and Diego Valeri in midfield, the Colombian proved remarkably consistent for a third season in a row and affirmed why he has earned a reputation as one of the league’s most feared holding players. His style of play means he’ll never be one to earn the major accolades but, amongst Timbers fans at least, the 27-year-old’s impact remains greatly appreciated.
37. Patrice Bernier, Montreal Impact
Having played for the original Impact between 2000 and 2002 in Canada’s A-League, Bernier then plied his trade in Europe for a decade, before returning to Montreal for their inaugural MLS campaign. A Quebec native, the 34-year-old was recently named the side’s new captain for 2014, after the departure of Davy Arnaud this offseason, and should once again prove an influential force from the midfield, having amassed 13 goals and 16 assists in 58 games over the past two seasons.
36. Donovan Ricketts, Portland Timbers
With his career in limbo going into last year, Ricketts enjoyed a stellar bounce back 2013 campaign, replicating the form he displayed during his first two seasons in MLS with the Galaxy. The Jamaican continued to shine even as the Timbers’ defence was decimated by injuries early on in the year and was one of the key reasons his side were able to tie the 34-game record for fewest losses, coming up with clutch saves and dominant performances on numerous occasions.
35. Maurice Edu, Philadelphia Union
Having found playing time hard to come by in Europe since leaving Scottish side Rangers for Stoke in 2012, Edu was another long-time U.S. international to return home this offseason, joining the Union as a Designated Player on a year-long loan. Originally leaving MLS midway through the 2008 season, after breaking through as the league’s top draft pick and Rookie of the Year in 2007 with Toronto FC, The 27-year-old midfielder has amassed 45 caps for the national team, including at South Africa 2010, but his current odds of making the Brazil 2014 squad look long. If he can rediscover that pre-2013 form however with a solid start to the campaign, whether in midfield or at centre-back, it’s highly likely that Jürgen Klinsmann would take a second look at the versatile World Cup veteran.
34. Aurelién Collin, Sporting Kansas City
An MVP-winning performance in Sporting KC’s MLS Cup triumph over Real Salt Lake in December saw Collin briefly linked with a move abroad during the offseason, so fans are rightly relieved to see him returning to Kansas City for 2014. One of the most aggressive defenders in the league, having accumulated 29 yellow cards during his three years with SKC, the charismatic Frenchman’s instincts and physicality make him a truly formidable foe for opposition forwards, while also proving an imposing aerial threat on set pieces. With the long-time centre-back partnership between Collin and Matt Besler in place for another season, SKC should continue to put up impressive defensive numbers.
33. Oriol Rosell, Sporting Kansas City
After arriving in late-2012 and showing flashes of promise, Rosell confirmed his talent in his first full season in MLS by playing a key role in Sporting KC’s title-winning campaign. The 21-year-old Spaniard, who formerly played for Barcelona B, displayed an impressive combination of skill and grit from the defensive midfield position and proved the coaching he received at La Masia has not gone to waste. An ankle injury, which saw his appearance in MLS Cup last only seven minutes, means Rosell is still trying to get back to full strength as preseason gets under way but head coach Peter Vermes has said he expects him to be 100% for the start of the 2014 campaign.
32. Jámison Olave, New York Red Bulls
Olave has been one of top centre-backs in MLS for over a half a decade now, blessed with the size, speed and strength to neutralise even the best forwards in the league. Traded to the Red Bulls last offseason, due to Real Salt Lake’s salary cap constraints, the 32-year-old was instrumental in the side’s Supporters’ Shield-winning 2013 season, even chipping in with four goals, and was awarded with a new contract in January to reflect his worth.
31. Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
Some would argue the top goalkeeper in the league even with the arrival of Júlio César, Rimando is as sturdy as they come in MLS, proving an absolute rock for Real Salt Lake over the past seven seasons. The 34-year-old has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down and is the current favourite to go to Brazil 2014 as the U.S.’s third choice behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. It’s just unfortunate that his career has had to cross paths with those two, or he’d be much more of a household name.