The 2018 MLS season is just around the corner, and with a new season comes a new crop of breakout stars.
The most-hyped name from the 2017-2018 offseason was unquestionably Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco, but there are plenty of others who have a chance to have breakout debut seasons after joining MLS clubs.
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Here’s a look at what we project are the top 10 breakout players for the upcoming 2018 season:
Honorable Mention: Yohan Croizet – Sporting KC, Anthony Blondell – Vancouver Whitecaps, Cristhian Paredes – Portland Timbers, Cristian Penilla – New England Revolution, Diego Rossi – LAFC, Junior Moreno – D.C. United
10. Joao Moutinho – LA FC
The No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, Moutinho has a chance to win a starting place in the LAFC backline and make his professional debut this Sunday against the Seattle Sounders.
Moutinho came up from his defensive spot and scored for LAFC in its preseason finale against Sacramento Republic, and he could be a mainstay for years to come.
9. Alejandro Fuenmayor – Houston Dynamo
The Venezuelan First Division isn’t exactly the highest standard, even in South America, but Fuenmayor is a seasoned professional even at the age of 21. Fuenmayor played 72 times for Carabobo FC, including leading the team to a Copa Libertadores place and making the Venezuela Primera Division Best XI.
The young centerback joined the Dynamo this offseason and looks to slot in the backline alongside either Philippe Senderos, Adolfo Machado, or Leonardo, as the team looks to improve upon the 45 goals allowed last season.
8. Mason Toye – Minnesota United
Coming off an electric freshman season at Indiana University, Mason Toye went pro, signed a Generation Adidas contract and became the 11th overall selection in the draft.
Toye scored 10 goals and assisted on two others in his first season in college and he’s already impressed on the field for Minnesota during preseason. He probably won’t start at the beginning of the season, but Toye could break into the lineup in midseason and have a big impact.
7. Saphir Taïder – Montreal Impact
One of the few players joining MLS that isn’t from South America, Taider is looking for a fresh start in his career.
After failed stints at Inter Milan and Southampton, he’s looking for a chance to shine with the Impact, which is owned by the same co-owner of Bologna, Joey Saputo. Taider joined the Impact this offseason from Bologna and has been impressing both in terms of goals scored and the little things he does in midfield.
6. Milton Valenzuela – Columbus Crew
With the loss of Jukka Raitala, the Crew needed a new left back, and the club found one of South America’s brightest prospects in that position.
In comes Milton Valenzuela on a Young Designated Player contract, bringing another Argentine to join Federico Higuain, Gaston Sauro and co. Valenzuela is a former Argentine U-20 international and made his debut for Newell’s Old Boys as a 17-year-old. Now 19, he’ll step into the starting lineup for the Crew and has a chance to make his mark in MLS.
5. Josue Colman – Orlando City SC
Joining a talented and experienced group of attackers, Josue Colman has a chance to burst onto the scene in MLS with a bit less pressure than if he was expected to produce a ton out of the gate. But Orlando City’s new No. 10 has big shoes to fill – Kaka formerly wore that – and the club is looking to make the playoffs for the first time.
Colman has been sidelined most of preseason with injuries and is expected to miss the opening weekend. But once he’s on the field, the Paraguayan 19-year-old has a chance to show why Orlando City spent big to sign him.
4. Santiago Mosquera – FC Dallas
Josue Colman’s countryman Christian Colman had a tough first season at FC Dallas, and it appears Oscar Pareja may have already found a replacement in the speedy Colombian, Santiago Mosquera. The 23-year-old winger has pace to burn and has already made a strong impression in preseason, and could potentially become a lethal combination up top with Michael Barrios on the right and Maxi Urruti in the middle.
Honorable mention at this spot goes to Reggie Cannon, the FC Dallas Homegrown player, who is expected to play regular minutes this season and could become a serious U.S. Men’s National Team prospect at fullback.
3. Jesus Medina – NYCFC
If FC Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken is to be believed, the Paraguayan attacker was all set to join Copenhagen before NYCFC and the City Football Group stepped in. New York City FC is the ultimate beneficiary, as Patrick Vieira adds one of the most promising South American attacking midfielders to his squad.
Medina comes in just as Jack Harrison departs for Middlesborough via Manchester City, and he could help alleviate any issues in midfield with Harrison’s absence.
2. Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra – New York Red Bulls
The on-again, off-again, back on-again saga of Kaku was finally completed on February 16 and Kaku became a Red Bulls player.
Because of the long saga, there are huge expectations on Kaku’s shoulders, perhaps too high for a Young Designated Player who will have to replace the production of Sacha Kljestan, which is nearly impossible. Either way, barring injuries, Kaku should start plenty of games, and will have a chance to become the latest young South American star in MLS.
1. Ezequiel Barco – Atlanta United
Ah, the man of the hour. The 18-year-old man who Atlanta United reportedly spent around $15 million to sign from Independiente, breaking the MLS transfer record for the second consecutive year.
Barco emerged in the second half of 2017 for Independiente and helped give the club a Copa Sudamericana title, scoring the decisive penalty kick in the final. Atlanta United fans will be hoping Barco can lead Atlanta farther in the MLS Cup playoffs in year two. If he lives up to the hype, there’s no doubt he’ll be a household name in MLS living rooms.