Jan Gregus

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The impossible annual task of choosing an MLS Best XI

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Forget about a functional XI when you’re putting together an MLS Best XI.

That’s true in most leagues, to be fair, but the offensive firepower in MLS puts up gaudy numbers as silky attackers are given a bit more free reign than their used to in previous leagues.

Consider that two players eclipsed the 30-goal mark in Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the latter doing it in under 30 matches. Josef Martinez also came close in 29 matches.

[ MORE: MLS Cup Playoff Power Rankings ]

Those players are enough to form a trident for your Best XI, and they come from loaded units.

Then there’s midfielder Maxi Moralez of NYCFC with his 20 assists in 2434 minutes.

Vela had double digit goals and assists, an achievement met by Carles Gil (New England), Alejandero Pozuelo (Toronto), and Nani (Orlando City).

They all can’t make it.

So we’ll build from the back, and likely punish the fullbacks thanks to a remarkable group of attackers.

Here is who is getting my vote.

Goalkeeper

The backstop is always a tricky choice. Bill Hamid and Brad Guzan led the league in clean sheets with 14, but only the former will warrant consideration here. The Galaxy’s David Bingham led the league in saves and saves inside the box, while also stopping a pair of penalties.

Both join Portland’s Steve Clark, Vancouver’s Maxime Crepeau, and New England’s Matt Turner as advanced stat darlings.

For me it comes down to Hamid and Bingham. The former had far superior defenders, but I can’t get past DC United’s 38 goals allowed to the Galaxy’s 59. Maybe it’s the hockey fan in me thinking of it like the Jennings Award, but that’s my tiebreaker.

Defender

I’m gonna start with DC again here, and the Black-and-Red have two players deserving of a place: Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum.

Here’s why I’m opting for the latter: On the SofaScore list of the Top 20 rated defenders in MLS, minimum 25 games, all but two were dribbled past 11 times or more: Orlando’s Lamine Sane and Birnbaum.

Birnbaum’s number? Two.

You read that right. In 3032 minutes this season, he was taken twice.

Other contenders include:

— Ike Opara, who had another remarkable season and didn’t miss a beat in switching from Sporting KC to Minnesota.

Bastian Schweinsteiger in Chicago dropped from the center of the park and was very strong.

— Miles Robinson of Atlanta was exceptional, especially given his age, while Ryan Hollingshead had the best advanced statistical season of any back on WhoScored. Jorge Moreira gets that nod on SofaScore. And spare a thought for Keegan Rosenberry, who intercepted 16 more passes than anyone else in MLS (82) but still can’t get a call from the USMNT.

Everybody else

We named the prime attackers in MLS at the top of this post. You’d like to add Nicolas Lodeiro and Diego Valeri.

Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye from LAFC have been difference makers behind Vela. In-beom Hwang was marvelous more often than not but on a terrible Vancouver team.

But there’s one name I believe qualifies as the least-heralded star in MLS.

Minnesota United’s Jan Gregus needs to be on this team. I don’t think he will because his goal and eight assists don’t pop off the page and the Slovakian national team doesn’t get as much love as center midfield partner and well-established bulldog Osvaldo Alonso.

Gregus was fifth in MLS in interceptions with 1.9 per match, 2.2 key passes, and crafts an awfully nice looking long pass. You could argue that he was the key to Minnesota’s fourth seed.

The Best XI

So here’s my team. We’d be destroyed out wide, but would probably score 10 goals a game so man would we entertain?

Bill Hamid (DC)

Robinson (ATL) — Birnbaum (DC) — Opare (MIN)

Gregus (MIN) — Atuesta (LAFC)

Lodeiro (SEA) — Moralez (NYCFC)

Vela (LAFC) — Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)

Bench: Bingham (LAG), Brillant (DC), Gil (NE), Pozuelo (TOR), Przyzbylko (PHI), Valeri (POR), Schweinsteiger (CHI)

Need to Know: What went down on MLS opening day

AP Photo/Joe Mahoney
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The 2019 MLS season got underway on Saturday, and did so with a flurry of action — and goals — across the campaign’s first 10 games…

[ MORE: Rapinoe, Heath lead USWNT back to draw England (video) ]

If you missed the day’s action, here are four of the biggest stories, outcomes, debuts or revelations you need to know…

Michael Bradley Revenge Tour – 2019

First things first, 2019 is a contract year for Michael Bradley, Toronto FC’s $6.5-million-per-year midfield engine. While the one-time (and maybe still) U.S. men’s national team captain can hardly ever be accused of prioritizing money over all else in his career, it’s the whole “getting paid” part that makes him a professional. Beyond the cash he stands to make or lose on a potential next contract, Bradley must first prove he’s got enough left in the tank to warrant the Reds extending an offer in the first place.

Fine, have a season-opening brace in a 3-1 victory away to the Philadelphia Union, one of the Eastern Conference’s six playoff teams from a year ago. What happened to TFC in 2019 was no doubt an embarrassment and an affront for a player of Bradley’s standard.

Taking into account the above two factors, no one should be at all surprised when Bradley turns in Herculean performance after Herculean performance in 2019, shutting up his longtime haters and reminding those who might have jumped ship that he’s far from finished.


Meet the future of the Galaxy, Efrain Alvarez

Efrain Alvarez is a 16-year-old Mexican-American superstar in the making, and he already looks like he’ll be MLS’s next great teenage export to Europe. Making his MLS debut on Saturday, the Los Angeles-born Mexican youth international (he switch from the U.S. to Mexico at the U-15 level, in 2016) needed just eight minutes to make his mark and spark the Galaxy’s comeback.

Paging U.S. Soccer: let’s get on this, ASAP…

As for the Galaxy’s 2019 prospects, the only thing I feel comfortable saying with absolute certainty is this: they will be very fun to watch, and equal parts maddening, probably during the course of one every game. The best thing I can say for Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side on his MLS coaching debut is this: after falling behind on a comically atrocious mistake that gift-wrapped Chicago’s opening goal, they knew how to play from behind without handing the Fire a second and/or third goal. Oh, yeah, and he’s already willing to play the Galaxy’s (considerably talented) academy kids.


Keep an eye on Minnesota

Minnesota United appear headed for respectability and a — dare I say it — push for a playoff place in 2019. Finally, after struggling defensively for two seasons, the Loons went out and make a trio of signings that might just prove franchise-altering in very short order: Osvaldo Alonso, Ike Opara and Jan Gregus.

While you’re undoubtedly familiar with the work of Alonso and Opara, Gregus probably has you thinking to yourself, Who? Who, indeed, but the 28-year-old Slovak international proved in Saturday’s 3-2 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps that he is the midfield anchor Minnesota had been missing. Signed from Copenhagen this winter, Gregus was extremely tidy in possession (he completed 93 percent of the 84 passes he attempted) and provided solid cover for a backline that knew no such thing prior to his arrival.

Darwin Quintero remains one of the league’s biggest game-changers (one goal and two assists), which might not go to waste yet again now that the rest of the roster has a bit more quality and experience.


Orange ball alert

It is with great pleasure that I inform the masses that the Colorado Rapids were forced to break out the orange ball on the opening day of the season, thanks to near white-out conditions at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and the coldest game in MLS history (18 degrees at kickoff).

What did we learn about the Rapids or their opponents, the defending Western Conference champion Portland Timbers, on this day? Other than the fact that 3-3 draws and 94th-minute equalizers in heavy snow are tons of fun to watch, of course? Not a single thing, thanks to said weather conditions turning the game into a glorified Thanksgiving day pickup game in the backyard.

Full MLS scoreboard

Seattle Sounders 4-1 FC Cincinnati
LA Galaxy 2-1 Chicago Fire
Philadelphia Union 1-3 Toronto FC
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-3 Minnesota United
Colorado Rapids 3-3 Portland Timbers
Orlando City SC 2-2 New York City FC
Columbus Crew SC 1-1 New York Red Bulls
Houston Dynamo 1-1 Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes 1-2 Montreal Impact
FC Dallas 1-1 New England Revolution

Minnesota United adds third Designated Player

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The Loons have added a new midfielder, signing Jan Gregus to a Designated Player contract.

Gregus, 27, comes to Minnesota United from FC Copenhagen, where he has two goals and an assist in 34 appearances across all competitions this season.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines, Week 18 ]

The 22-times capped Slovakian international has also played for Banik Ostrava, Jablonec, FC Nitra, and Bolton Wanderers (though he only played for the U-23 side during his loan).

Here’s what Loons coach Adrian Heath has to say about Gregus. From MNUFC.com:

“The one thing that sticks out is his composure on the ball. He’s got a great range of passes, both short and long. He has a great stride to goal, and an imposing stature at 6 foot 3 inches. The fact that he’s in his pomp — what we consider his prime — we think we have acquired him at the right time in his career. We know we’ve got excellent attacking pieces on the roster, but we need to be able to supply the ball to those pieces and we feel that Jan can be the supplier and connector from the midfield to the attack.”