Emmanuel Ledesma

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Top MLS Newcomers ahead of the 2019 season

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A handful of Major League Soccer sides are active in the CONCACAF Champions League, but all of the boys are back it this weekend with the start of the 2019 MLS league campaign.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 5-0 Watford ]

With a new season comes a lot of new faces. Here are five players to watch closely over the first few weeks of the season (Well, four… and one to most likely watch come April).

Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC* — The asterisks is our assumption that the Pozuelo move happens, with TFC reportedly splashing big cash in both salary and transfer fee to bring the 27-year-old from Genk at the end of the Jupiler Pro League’s regular season. Pozuelo has 7 goals and 18 assists between league play and the Europa League which is… pretty darn good.

Pity Martinez, Atlanta United — A 25-year-old attacker recently capped by Argentina, Pity starred in both matches of the Club World Cup for River Plate and has the potential to be the next big thing… and maybe not just in MLS.

Emmanuel Ledesma, FC Cincinnati — The former Middlesbrough man is deadly on set pieces and absolutely torched USL defenses last season. There’s little reason to think his production will drop off dramatically despite the jump in competitive levels.

Vito Mannone, Minnesota United — It’s difficult to put a goalkeeper on this list, but the Loons bringing Mannone into the side while also having veteran Bobby Shuttleworth and SuperDraft pick Dayne St. Clair on the books is a statement in itself. Mannone was not the reason Sunderland was relegated a few years, and was the picture of class in trying to help the Black Cats stay up.

Carles Gil, New England Revolution — At 26 and coming to our shores from Deportivo de la Coruna after a brief but interesting spell at Aston Villa, he’s one of the litmus tests on display this season in MLS.

Honorable mention: Alexandru Mitrita, New York City FC; Terrence Boyd, Toronto FC; Marco Fabian, Philadelphia Union; Orji Okwonkwo, Montreal Impact; Hwang in-Boem, Vancouver Whitecaps.

Five incoming MLS players who provide litmus tests

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Even with a name like Pogba in the running, it will not make the list of most intriguing MLS transfers so far this offseason (and there may be more to come, especially with Toronto FC holding a Designated Player spot and reportedly chasing a star in the Belgian top flight).

Though Paul’s older brother Florentin is an intriguing center back addition for champions Atlanta United — he’s a season-and-a-half removed from a very good Ligue 1 campaign for Saint-Etienne — he’s not close to the five players leaping to the front of our minds.

[ MORE: Rice chooses England ]

That list was made trickier to assemble this week when Philadelphia signed Mexican playmaker Marco Fabian from Eintracht Frankfurt. Where will he meet our list, if anywhere?

So we added another qualifier to our list, and that’s whether the player’s standing and form provide us any sort of litmus test for the current state of MLS.

There have been outlandish talents like Pity Martinez and rising international midfielders like Hwang In-Boem before, but the gentlemen below could help teach us some things.

Also, we’re going to cheat and include six players, on five teams. It’s our list.

Fabian, Philadelphia Union —  If there ever was a case to be made for an automatic game-changer, it’s Fabian. The Mexican 29-year-old is two seasons removed from significant playing time with Eintracht Frankfurt, but his first season was very good — 7 goals, 4 assists — and he’s scored against Germany and Iceland in the last two years for El Tri. If he doesn’t control games, MLS has progressed even more than we suspected.

Carles Gil, New England Revolution — One day, La Liga players coming to MLS won’t be that big of a deal, and we’ll find out how accelerated that timeline has come in part through the play of Gil. The right winger and La Liga regular until this year has been with Deportivo de la Coruna’s second team all year. Is Brad Friedel the man to help Gil finally meet his potential head-on?

Terrence Boyd, Toronto FC — Boyd is one of the toughest-to-digest stories for American soccer, mostly because for a time it seemed he could be the next true USMNT star striker. But his time in the Bundesliga was cut by injuries, and he’s been unable to brand himself a regular 2.Bundesliga starter. It’s a rebirth story, but how quickly will he refind his footing? And is he a 10-goal contributor, which should be the minimum expectation, or a guy who can dominate a game?

Allan Cruz and Manu Ledezma, FC Cincinnati — The 22-year-old Cruz is one of the rising stars for Costa Rica, scoring against Peru in November after staring his first 7 appearances for Los Ticos. He’s moving from one of the biggest clubs in an inferior league to another CONCACAF testing ground.

As for Ledezma, the well-traveled 30-year-old Argentine absolutely tortured USL defenses last season, with 16 goals and 16 assists in 31 league games. The prior season, he bagged 10 goals with six assists in 19 NASL appearances with the New York Cosmos. MLS is a step-up, but not enough to deter optimism that the former Middlesbrough man cannot be a significant factor for manager Alan Koch.

Alexandru Mitrita, New York City FC — Here’s another litmus test for the league, in a different way. Mitrita left the Romanian first tier — UEFA coefficient 26th — got some good experience in Italy’s top two tiers with Pescara, and came home to light his domestic league on fire. The next step here is an interesting one for both the development of a player and a league. Mitrita wasn’t a star in Italy, just productive. He’s on fire in Romania. We’ll guess it’s a little bit of the former, at least to start. He’s just 24, and will continue to improve.

Ledesma scored two terrific goals in FC Cincinnati’s title clincher

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Emmanuel Ledesma scored two beauties including an Olimpico as FC Cincinnati clinched the USL Regular Season title with a 4-1 win over the Richmond Kickers at City Stadium on Wednesday.

FC Cincinnati also ran its unbeaten league run to 20 games in the win, nine points ahead of Group B leaders Orange County.

Cincinnati has a 16-point lead on Group A second place side Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

[ MORE: Pulisic shines in BVB blowout ]

Ledesma scored another goal in the game, and the ex-Middlesbrough and Brighton midfielder continues his run through the American second division.

Can he bring it to Major League Soccer next season? This knuckling rocket says so.