Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake, 21): The Real Salt Lake midfielder has battled through injury during his first 3 seasons in MLS and has had difficulty finding consistent play time and form. After playing just one season at the University of Virginia before signing a homegrown deal, Allen is still just 21 years old. The arrival of Albert Rusnak in Salt Lake will mean Allen is going to be a winger for RSL moving forward despite showing the versatility to play in the middle as well. The US youth international has pace, a strong work rate, and shown glimpses of creativity not often seen in young Americans. He will need to compete with Brooks Lennon for minutes in 2017, but there is good reason to believe Allen will be an important piece for Real Salt Lake this season.
Comparison: Sebastian Lletget
Prediction: 28 Games Played, 22 Games Started (5 Goals, 6 Assists)
Sean Davis (New York Red Bulls, 24): The Red Bulls would not have considered trading away club legend and captain, Dax McCarty, if they weren’t confident they had someone who could step in and fill his role. Last year when Dax missed a stretch of games through injury, Davis served as his replacement and New York did not skip a beat. While nobody saw it coming, the club’s success during that run of games with Davis in the starting XI was the beginning of the end for Dax with the Red Bulls. Davis finished the 2016 season making 11 starts and 21 appearances for his hometown club but 2017 will be his first as a consistent starter.
Comparison: Brian Carroll
Prediction: 32 Games Played, 31 Games Started (2 Goals, 4 Assists)
Ian Harkes (DC United, 21): The reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner opted to sign a lucrative homegrown contract with his hometown club, DC United, despite interest from the Championship in England this winter. Other than Abu Danladi, he is the only rookie coming from college that is all but certain to see considerable play time in 2017. Harkes will compete from day one with Julian Buscher and Jared Jeffrey for DC’s third starting midfield role underneath Lucho Acosta and alongside Marcelo. During his time at Wake Forrest, Harkes played in an attacking midfield role at times, but his game translates more to a 6 or an 8 at the professional level. With great poise on the ball and fantastic field vision, Harkes is far more developed and mature than the typical college player.
Comparison: Michael Bradley
Prediction: 30 Games Played, 22 Starts (3 Goals, 6 Assists)
Aaron Kovar (Seattle Sounders, 23): 2016 looked as though it would be Kovar’s breakout season until he suffered an injury that kept him out until late in the year, at which point the Sounders were on a roll and were never going to make changes to the lineup. He finished the campaign with just one goal in 16 games. With Nelson Valdez now gone, Jordan Morris will move back up front opening a vacancy on the wing. Alvaro Fernandez and Harry Shipp are also wide option for Seattle but Kovar’s delivery, intelligence, and left foot may separate him from the pack and offer him the chance to play week in week out for the first time in his MLS career.
Comparison: Brad Davis
Prediction: 27 Games Played, 20 Games Started (4 Goals, 7 Assists)
Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew, 21): Steffen made a surprise move back to the US last summer after spending over a year with SC Freiburg in Germany. He failed to make a single appearance in MLS play last season as Steve Clark was the Crew’s number one and spent time on loan with the club’s USL affiliate, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. A seasoned US youth international, the Pennsylvania native possesses impressive athleticism for a keeper of his size. Now that Steve Clark’s time is done with the Crew, Steffen will compete with Brad Stuver for the starting job in Gregg Berhalter’s side. Assuming he wins the goalkeeper battle in Columbus, 2017 will be Steffen’s first opportunity to live up to the hype that’s been surrounding him for several years now.
Comparison: Andre Blake
Prediction: 30 Games Played, 30 Games Started