Josef Martinez

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP

Filling out an MLS Best XI is harder than ever

1 Comment

Fewer fun things have been as agonizing as filling out a ballot for the 2017 Major League Soccer Best XI.

This goes beyond the travails of deciding whether you need your lineup to be one that can actually play functionally in a match, whether that be by using a standard formation or players out of position. Even long believers in that process — this post-writer fell in that group until, spoiler alert, this season — would be challenged by this season’s options.

[ MORE: PST’s Best XI | Award winners ]

Part of that is due to super teams — Who contributed the most? — while plenty more comes down to some absolutely bonkers performances from players on wildly disappointing teams (Ignacio Piatti and Romain Alessandrini, we’re looking at you. Andre Blake, you, too).

Admittedly, my Best XI looks a lot like the one compiled by our PST staff, seven of 11, but I’ll give you my decision later. Here are some of your challenges.

1) Super teams — Toronto FC was the best single season club in MLS history and, given the parity and strength of the league relative to previous seasons, it’s easy to argue it isn’t even close. Sebastian Giovinco is its best player but missed significant playing time. Victor Vazquez became the straw that stirred the drink. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore were fantastic but missed time with international commitments. Left-sided man Justin Morrow is, spoiler alert, my defender of the year.

How many can you take from that squad, and how about the shiny new toy that is Atlanta United, which had injury absences of its own but excited on so many levels. Beyond ex-River Plate defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, the Five Stripes boasted four star attackers in Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba, and Yamil Asad. Consider that this was September’s Best XI according to the advanced stats people at WhoScored.com:

2) Midfield and attack problems: This is rarely easy given the magnification of star turns from players who score goals, but choosing even seven players this season was troubling given the remarkable amount of new boys and regular stars who got the job done this season.

In the midfield, there was the no doubt inclusion of Diego Valeri, who’s 21 goals and 11 assists demanded MVP attention, and the dominant seasons of Seattle’s Cristian Roldan and Montreal’s Piatti. Then there’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, Vazquez, Alessandrini, and RSL’s Albert Rusnak.

Difficult stuff, and we’re not even talking out-and-out attack. Martinez and Giovinco posted gaudy numbers despite missing significant portions of the schedule with injury. Is that enough to discount them? What absence counts for this? Miguel Almiron missed time late, while David Villa, too, had an MVP caliber season and Nemanja Nikolic only went and led his third-straight league in goals.

All that without a mention of Alex Ring, Justin Meram, Lee Nguyen, and Ola Kamara. Fortunately for the league’s voters, Blerim Dzemaili’s 22 matches mean he wasn’t around long enough to warrant a vote despite 7 goals and 10 assists in limited time.

3) Formation: So, given this and the amazing season of Morrow, how do you rightly go about picking three at the back? It’s enough to move stringent XI voters to a team that would get in trouble on a real pitch by using a 3-4-3 to maximize mids and forwards.

4) Goalkeeper: The usual suspects — Luis Robles, Bill Hamid — were good, with several others included in the MLS MVP shortlist: Bobby Shuttleworth, Tim Howard, Joe Bendik, and Stefan Frei (Robles was not included in RBNY’s bunch). However, it’s hard to imagine voters weren’t deciding between former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Andre Blake of Philadelphia and the near-impeccable season of Sporting KC’s Tim Melia.

Blake (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

5) So what was your ballot, writer dude?

The Best XI was the only category that took me longer to sort out that the MVP debate, and that’s because I had a very difficult time reconciling Valeri’s unbelievable full season with the fact that Giovinco was the best player despite missing five different stints with injury (More on that later).

Ultimately, I hedged on that “Could this team perform on the pitch?” question. As much as it would be easy to play a four at the back by including Graham Zusi, or to feel better about a back three by having Kendall Waston get a deserved spot, I’d rather have Justin Morrow slightly out of position than have to sacrifice a midfielder or attacker.

The trio of forwards was the most difficult choice. Martinez and Giovinco were Nos. 1 and 2 in terms of potent players in the league when healthy. Martinez’s 17 goals in 19 matches allowed me to slot him in the team, while Giovinco’s 16 goals and six assists in 25 matches feel similar. Including both, however, would mean dismissing Villa, the best player in league history and the prime reason NYCFC finished second in the East, or Nikolic.

Here’s one area I will hedge: While I felt confident in submitting my XI, I’ve since felt nagged by two exclusions: Villa (!!) and Waston. If the deadline was 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, I may have removed Martinez and Matt Besler.

Andre Blake (PHI)

L. Gonzalez Pirez (ATL) — Matt Besler (SKC) — Justin Morrow (TFC)

Bastian Schweinsteiger (CHI) — Cristian Roldan (SEA)

Diego Valeri (POR) — Ignacio Piatti (MTL)

Josef Martinez (ATL) — Nemanja Nikolic (CHI) — S. Giovinco (TFC)

Ultimately, I think we beat your team.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Pro Soccer Talk’s 2017 MLS awards: Who earned the hardware?

Kamil Krzaczynski/AP
Leave a comment

Decision Day tipped the scales for several players and clubs as Major League Soccer transitions towards the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Now, it’s time to take a look back at the best players/coaches from the 2017 season, including the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Below, PST hands out its awards for the 2017 MLS regular season and gives some insight into the selections.

MLS MVP

Matt Reed Joe Prince-Wright Nick Mendola Andy Edwards Kyle Bonn Dan Karrell
1st place David Villa  Sebastian Giovinco Sebastian Giovinco Diego Valeri Diego Valeri  Sebastian Giovinco
2nd Diego Valeri  Miguel Almiron Diego Valeri David Villa David Villa Nemanja Nikolic
3rd Nemanja Nikolic  Diego Valeri Nemanja Nikolic Nemanja Nikolic Nemanja Nikolic  David Villa

PST thoughts — Reed: “This may be one of the most difficult MVP races to assess in recent seasons simply because of the way that things shaped up towards the end. Nikolic was brilliant, and deservedly won the Golden Boot, but Valeri and Villa each carried their teams to first-round byes with strong efforts throughout the course of 2017. I think Sunday’s effort against the Crew showed just how important Villa is to NYCFC, though, as he nearly picked up his second hat-trick of the season. Without his goals, NYCFC drops to fifth place.”


Manager of the Year

Reed JPW Mendola Edwards Bonn Karell
1st place Tata Martino  Greg Vanney Tata Martino Tata Martino Caleb Porter  Greg Vanney
2nd Greg Vanney  Carl Robinson Chris Leitch Greg Vanney  Greg Vanney Veljko Paunovic
3rd Chris Leitch  Wilmer Cabrera Greg Vanney Patrick Vieira Patrick Vieira  Caleb Porter

PST thoughts — Edwards: “It’s crazy to not put the coach of the all-time points record holders first here, but what Tata did this year — quickly melding together 20 guys over the course of seven months and turning them into legitimate contenders — is a slightly tougher task. TFC rolled over 10 of 11 players from last year’s MLS Cup side (adding only Victor Vazquez, the unquestioned missing piece), which significantly lowers the degree of difficulty of the task as hand.”


Rookie of the Year

Reed JPW Mendola Edwards Bonn Karell
1st place Julian Gressel  Julian Gressel Julian Gressel Julian Gressel Julian Gressel  Julian Gressel
2nd Abu Danladi  Abu Danladi Jack Elliott Jackson Yueill Abu Danladi  Ian Harkes
3rd Jack Elliott  Ian Harkes Jonathan Lewis Alex Crognale Jack Elliott  Abu Danladi

PST thoughts — JPW: “A rising star for Atlanta, his ability to create goals in a dynamic attack has not been overlooked. Just edges the award ahead of Danladi, Harkes and Jack Elliott.


Newcomer of the Year

Reed JPW Mendola Edwards Bonn Karell
1st place Nemanja Nikolic  Nemanja Nikolic Nemanja Nikolic Josef Martinez Miguel Almiron  Nemanja Nikolic
2nd Miguel Almiron  Josef Martinez Romain Alessandrini Nemanja Nikolic Nemanja Nikolic  Miguel Almiron
3rd Victor Vasquez Bastian Schweinsteiger Miguel Almiron Romain Alessandrini Victor Vasquez  Victor Vasquez

PST thoughts — Mendola: “Was this the best year of imports in MLS history? It’s hard to say otherwise, with Romain Alessandrini, Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, even half-season talents like Vako Qazaishvili and Paul Arriola. Well, wow. Nikolic’s 24 goals give him the distinction of leading three different leagues in scoring across four seasons.”

PST names Best XI for 2017 MLS season

Twitter/@TimbersFC
Leave a comment

The 2017 MLS regular season saw some of the finest performances from players across the league.

New arrivals in Atlanta, such as Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, garnered a great amount of attention, while Chicago Fire striker Nemanja Nikolic went on to capture the Golden Boot in his first season in MLS.

Stars like Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa continued to leave a lasting impression on the league, but with only 11 spots available for selection, some of game’s best had to be left off.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Budding U.S. Men’s National Team figures have emerged throughout the MLS scene, including from each of last season’s MLS Cup final squads.

Below is the PST built its Best XI for the 2017 MLS season.

MLS Best XI via Lineupbuilder

Players that just missed the cut

GK: Luis Robles, Bill Hamid

Defense: Roman Torres, Ike Opara, Andrew Farrell, Joevin Jones

Midfielders: Lee Nguyen, Sacha Kljestan, Alex Ring, Romain Alessandrini

Forwards: Miguel Almiron, Sebastian Giovinco, Justin Meram


Which players would you have included in your Best XI? Who was the best player in the league? Tell us below.

MLS: Toronto FC set new points record; NYCFC clinch 2-seed

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Atlanta United 2-2 Toronto FC

The standings: Toronto FC finish 1st in the Eastern Conference, and all of MLS — Supporters’ Shield winners; Atlanta United clinch the 4-seed in the East

The game: TFC’s bid to set a new all-time single-season points record was fulfilled on Sunday, as the 2017 Supporters’ Shield winners came from behind twice to secure a 2-2 draw with Atlanta United and finish the season on 69 points, moving one point ahead of the old record which they matched last week.

Yamil Asad and Josef Martinez (19th of the season) scored either side of Jozy Altidore‘s equalizer (15th) right on the hour mark. Sebastian Giovinco, as he’s well known to do, delivered a world-class free kick to bring TFC level again in the 84th minute. Having already secured the regular-season title and home-field advantage for the duration of their playoff journey, TFC had only the points record to play for. Atlanta, on the other hand, came so close to leapfrogging the Chicago Fire New York City FC in order to claim the East’s second spot, and the knockout-round bye that comes with it, but ultimately finish fourth. Miguel Almiron made his return from injury after missing the last month, getting a half-hour of work as he rebuild fitness and sharpness ahead of the playoffs.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 34 — it all comes down to this ]

The goals

31′ — Asad beats Bono from the spot for 1-0 — Atlanta are at their terrifying best with a lead in hand.

60′ — Altidore brings TFC level with a quick finish — Sometimes all you have to do is be a pest, and good things will come. Altidore stuck with what appeared to be a hopeless ball, and pulled his side level.

74′ — Martinez finishes at the near post for 2-1 — If not for his early-season injury, Martinez would have wound up MLS MVP, I’m almost 100 percent sure of it.

84′ — Giovinco’s latest free kick masterpiece — For the 100th time, free kicks : Giovinco :: penalty kicks : everyone else.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jozy Altidore

Goalscorers: Asad (31′ – PK), Altidore (60′), Martinez (74′), Giovinco (84′)


New York City FC 2-2 Columbus Crew SC

The standings: NYCFC clinch the East’s 2-seed; Crew SC clinch the East’s 5-seed

The game: NYCFC limped over the finish line, having won just one of their final seven games, and so nearly coughed up the second seed in the process, if not for that late bit of brilliance from Giovinco. David Villa remains in scintillating form through all the ambient noise, though he remains but one (and a half, maybe) man. Spain’s all-time leading scorer bagged two more on Sunday to take his season tally to 22. Villa, however, was denied from the penalty spot during second-half stoppage time.

While Patrick Vieira’s side allowed two clear-cut chances all afternoon, Ola Kamara and Josh Williams each converted to help Crew SC pick up a resolute result following the most tumultuous of weeks.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 34 — it all comes down to this ]

The goals

11′ — Higuain picks out Kamara, and it’s 1-0 — The chipped ball from Federico Higuain, playing his final game for Crew SC, is just delightful. The finish from Kamara is unstoppable.

18′ — Villa heads home from a corner to make it 1-1 — 21 on the season for Villa, who’s got a great case for back-to-back MVP awards.

45′ — Villa beats Steffen near post, and it’s 2-1 — Zack Steffen should definitely be making this save, and not allowing a rebound opportunity. 22 for Villa, who doesn’t exactly need them gifted to him.

58′ — Williams heads home a corner, and they’re tied — Set-piece service doesn’t get much better than this. (It helps when the goalkeeper does whatever it is that Sean Johnson does here.)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Kamara (11′), Villa (18′, 45′), Williams (58′)

Tackling the MLS MVP debate: Which players are for real?

Twitter/@MarkovicNeb
Leave a comment

We have a former MVP, a league newcomer and everything in between this season as MLS’ most prestigious individual award nears its end.

[ MORE: Atlanta continues home-field dominance with win vs. Impact ]

New York City FC’s David Villa is strongly in position to win his second MVP award in a row, while Diego Valeri, Josef Martinez and others chase the former Barcelona man.

PST takes a look at five serious candidates for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award this season.

David Villa

The debate starts with the NYCFC captain for a second consecutive season. “El Guaje” has come out and lit it up once more for the Bronx side and propelled his side into a prime spot to grab a first-round bye in the Eastern Conference, despite Atlanta’s hot pursuit. The biggest thing working against Villa right now is a combination of injuries and lacking finishing. The Spanish international hasn’t scored an MLS goal since August 20, making his stock fall a bit.

Diego Valeri

Is there a player hotter than Diego Valeri right now? Well, there might be one other, but we’ll talk about him in a minute. The Argentine is simply scorching MLS defenses right now, scoring in nine straight matches and lifting the Portland Timbers to within a point of the Western Conference lead. Not only has Valeri exhibited incredible finishing technique in 2017, but the 31-year-old has also recorded nine assists for Caleb Porter’s group. Valeri’s most important trait could very well be his clutch factor. The attacker has six (yes, six) game-winning finishes this season for the Timbers.

Josef Martinez

Cut the whole “he missed half the season” argument out of the equation because that argument actually helps his case. The Designated Player has scored 17 goals in 16 matches this season for newcomers Atlanta, and while the expansion side has plenty of attacking firepower, such as Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad, it’s Martinez that has proven to be the vital piece for Tata Martino and Co. down the stretch. By the way, Atlanta is 9-2-2 this season when Martinez starts for them. That’s not a coincidence.

Ignacio Piatti

These last two players won’t be sexy picks given the possibility that neither of their teams will make the postseason, but just listen to why they should be in consideration. Piatti has recorded a 25.3 percent conversion rate this season, which ranks second-highest in MLS when accounting for players that have scored 10 goals or more. The Impact have given up the second-most goals in the East this year, making it more difficult for Piatti and Co. to work

Lee Nguyen

To many, this pick will be a bit out of left field, but bear with me for a second. The 30-year-old has recorded 10 goals and 15 assists this season, making him the New England Revolution’s most dangerous attacking player because of his duel-threat abilities. Nguyen is the only player in Revolution history to record double-digit goals and assists in the same season, which further makes the case for what a historic season he is having. The Revs will need some help in order to qualify for the playoffs, but if they do, Nguyen’s stock will have to increase even more.