It occurs to me that projecting an MLS Best XI for this year is tougher than its been in some time.
In truth, it’s probably been growing in that manner on an annual basis. Shoot, look at last year’s post on the topic.
It’s especially difficult to narrow down your attackers if you want an XI to be representative of anything close to a unit you’d place on field.
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Consider that the league has three 20-goal scorers, none who could be considered anything close to a midfielder, and six players with double digits goals and assists.
Let’s start with the necessities.
Forwards: The XI could not look remotely rational without Josef Martinez’s 30-goal record season, and there’s on debate that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s 22 goals in 26 matches rates.
So there’s two forwards, which means you need to exclude all but one of the following players:
- Wayne Rooney — 12 goals, six assists, 19 matches
- Bradley Wright-Phillips — 20 goals, 7 assists, 31 matches
- Carlos Vela — 13 goals, 10 assists, 27 matches
And, by the way, Adama Diomande has 12 goals in 17 matches and David Villa 13 in 22. Not bad.
Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Ignacio Piatti, and Nicolas Lodeiro have had out of this world campaigns, as has Alphonso Davies. Both Davies and Piatti are unlikely to make the playoffs, and should that matter? Orlando’s Yoshi Yotun and Mohamed El-Munir (a defender) have been amongst the best at their spots, but their team was terrible.
Borek Dockal, Luciano Acosta, Lodeiro, and NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez have 15 assists or more. Sebastian Giovinco and Darwin Quintero are just off the pace despite playing 27 and 26 games on bad teams.
Dockal is averaging an assist in two of three matches this season, and Piatti.
Defenders: This one’s difficult because you need at least three and this league is like the Dutch Eredivisie on steroids (Even that league only had one 20-goal scorer last season).
There’s a bit of cheating in including Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi, the influential right back who also plays advanced at times and also guarantees us an SKC man on the roster. And Matt Besler is a better positional fit, but Zusi feels more necessary.
It feels like either Aaron Long or Tim Parker should represent the Red Bulls, and Walker Zimmerman has reclaimed his elite form with LAFC.
Goalkeepers: Tim Melia and Luis Robles both pace the league in clean sheets with 13, while Andre Blake of Philadelphia and Evan Bush have thrived on… less impressive units. Bush has faced 181 shots, more than all but one goalkeeper, and has made a league-high 130 saves in keeping Montreal alive.
Conclusion: Look, we’re going to have to try and outscore the other team now, aren’t we? And we’re going to lose. But it’s going to be fun.
I’ve got it down to 10 players, only repeating two teams (Red Bulls and Atlanta).
There’s no one from Dallas, who deserves a man, nor NYCFC. Plus we’ve got two players who could miss the playoffs in Zlatan and Piatti, but it’s crazy not to include them. It just is.
So who gets our 11th slot? A stable center mid? Vela to make it a 3-4-3 and a third team with two slots?
Zusi (SKC) — Zimmerman (LAFC) — Long (RBNY)
Almiron (ATL) — Piatti (MTL) — Dockal (PHI) — Lodeiro (SEA)
Vela (LAFC) — Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)