MLS Best XI: Volume 1
Don’t worry MLS fans, the international break is finally coming to an end and our beloved teams will return to the pitch this weekend. We are quickly approaching the halfway point of the 2016 season and are beginning to get an idea of who is really making their mark this year. With that being said, lets take a look at our MLS Best XI up to this point.
David Villa, NYCFC: The legendary Spanish striker has almost single handedly kept NYCFC in the playoffs picture through their first 15 games. He is currently leading the golden boot race with 10 goals and has an assist to go along with his fantastic scoring record. As captain of the club, he has lead Vieira’s by example. David Villa is not the former superstar DP that we have seen several times over the years in MLS. His body language and work rate on the field show fans that he is still as hungry as ever for goals. NYCFC fans are in love with their star forward for good reason. If the club ends up making the playoffs for the first time in their short history, it will be thanks to this man.
Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes: Wondo is the heart and soul of the San Jose Earthquakes. He is a classic number 9 and arguably the best player in MLS when inside the 18 yard box. Now 33 years old, fans all around the league continue to wonder when this guy is going to slow down but it just isn’t happening. He has started 12 games this season and already has 7 goals and 2 helpers. Despite having a noticeably weaker squad on paper in comparison to their western conference rivals, Wondo has his men on 20 points after 14 games and just barely above the red playoff line.
Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC: Last season’s MVP is having another spectacular season. The atomic ant is considered by most to be the best player in MLS and can do things on the ball that no other player in our league is capable of. Giovinco scored 22 goals and had 16 assists in 2015 to lead Toronto FC to their first playoff appearance in club history. Through his first 13 games of 2016, he has 8 goals and 5 assists and is the key reason as to why Toronto FC look destined to make the playoffs again this year. Giovinco is must see TV and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he is once again lifting the MVP trophy come the end of the season.
Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact: The Montreal Impact were brilliant last year after the arrival of Dider Drogba. When fans found out that Drogba’s role with the team would be limited in order to preserve his body, nobody expected to see a team similar to what we saw at the end of last season. Piatti’s play so far in 2016 has inspired Montreal and once again has them looking like one of the best teams in MLS. They are currently in third place in the east with a game in hand and Piatti has already racked up 8 goals and 3 assists. Of course those numbers are fantastic, but the way in which Piatti produces goals is even more impressive. He can score and set up goals in such a variety of ways that it makes the playmaker one of the most exciting players across MLS. Beware of the Montreal Impact and their Argentine architect.
Jermaine Jones, Colorado Rapids: Some people may be surprised to see him on this list given that he has only played 7 games for the Rapids. There is just something about the USMNT veteran that changes teams. We saw it in 2014 when he joined the New England Revolution after the World Cup and led them all the way to MLS Cup and we are seeing it again in 2016 now with the Colorado Rapids. Colorado has been the surprise of the season so far after their terrible 2015 campaign. The Rapids sit atop the Supporter’s Shield standings and Jermaine Jones has brought the spark that the club needed in midfield. He has 3 goals and 2 assists in those 7 games, an offensive surge that we were not expecting from a guy that typically plays in a more defensive midfield role.
Sacha Klejstan, New York Red Bulls: The Red Bulls made one of the best offseason moves of 2015 when they brought Sacha Klejstan back to MLS. The former USMNT man was fantastic last year and was a big reason as to why New York won the Supporter’s Shield. Klejstan has somehow found a way to bring his game to a new level in 2016. After 14 games, he leads the MLS with 10 assists. That is absolutely ridiculous. If he continues to set up goals and such a high rate, he has a chance to break the all time single season assists record in MLS. We were all shocked by New York’s slow start this season but are now starting to see the team that we were expecting. Red Bulls should have no problem making it into the playoffs this year. If Klejstan can continue to perform at this level, they might even finish atop the eastern conference and who knows, maybe Sacha gets a call from Klinsmann sometime soon and another shot with the USMNT.
Joao Plata, Real Salt Lake: We know, we know, Joao Plata is more of a forward than he is a midfielder, but he is listed on the MLS website as both a midfielder and a forward so we are going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of his position, the shortest player in the league has been on fire this season. He already has 5 goals and 6 assists while leading RSL into a playoff position after what many thought could be a down year for them. MLS missed Plata in 2015. The Ecuadorian just was not the same player that we saw in 2014 as he battled with injuries throughout the season. Luckily for Salt Lake, Plata is back and looks better than ever. Fans outside of Utah don’t really think of Plata when they consider the best players in MLS but anyone who really pays attention to the league knows how special a player the young man is.
Drew Moor, Toronto FC: Toronto has had one of the best defensive records in MLS this season allowing just 15 goals in their first 13 games. This is even more impressive when you consider 9 of those games were on the road. The Canadian club’s front office made some big changes to their defense during the offseason when they brought in Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, and Clint Irwin. While they have all been solid, Moor has been the standout addition. In the 12 games he has started, he has only given up 3 fouls. Think about that for a second. He averages just one foul every four games. That is fantastic for a central defender like Moor as he is staying away from giving up cheap set pieces to opposing teams. He has scored one goal so far and is having a quietly great season. As he continues to get more comfortable with his new teammates and club, we can only expect for his play to continue to improve.
Axel Sjoberg, Colorado Rapids: The Colorado Rapids have the best defensive record in the league right now with just 10 goals allowed through 14 games. It is only fitting that the most consistent name on their backline be named to our MLS Best XI. At 6’ 7”, Sjoberg is one of the most physically imposing players in MLS. His height obviously catches the eye of but his defensive decision making and calmness on the ball are equally impressive. After being drafted in 2015 by the Rapids, Sjoberg has gone through a nice development process into his second year and is a huge part of Colorado’s early success. At just 25 years of age, Rapids fans should be excited to have a player mature beyond his years that has the potential to lead the club’s defense for years to come.
Richie Marquez, Philadelphia Union: Philly fans were worried after their opening weekend loss to FC Dallas that their club was destined for another season stuck at the bottom of the standings. The Union’s starting centerbacks in that match were Ken Tribbett and Anderson with Marquez on the bench. Richie has since started all 13 games for Philadelphia and his team has taken 23 points from those games on their way to first place in the east. No matter who he is playing next to, whether it is rookie Josh Yaro or first year MLS player Ken Tribbett, Marquez has looked like an absolute stud. The inexperience in the rest of Philadelphia’s backline is quickly transforming Marquez into Philly’s defensive leader at just 24 years old. If Marquez can continue his great form for the remainder of the season, don’t be surprised to see his name in the USMNT January camp.
Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union: Could it seriously be anyone else? Andre Blake has been a human highlight reel so far in 2016 making saves that leave opposing attackers in awe. Having finally getting a consistent string of games in for the first time since being drafted in 2014, we are all seeing why he is the only goalkeeper taken 1st overall in MLS history. Without a doubt he is the team MVP up to this point of the season for the Philadelphia Union and Jim Curtin should be thanking Blake every week for his performances. He has some solid performances during the Copa America for Jamaica, and Union fans are starting to get worried that a European club might come in with an offer that is too good to turn down. If Blake does end up staying in Philly for the rest of the season, he is the favorite for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.