With the MLS season resuming imminently, there are several players who are likely to take the spotlight, as they aim to dethrone Seattle Sounders FC.
Analyzing the Five Best MLS Players 2020
Cristian Pavón (LA Galaxy)
Arriving from Boca Juniors as a loanee last year, Pavón has thrived under the attack-minded regime operated by the star-studded outfit. He thrived alongside Zlatan Ibrahimović last year, and though shorn of the evergreen Swede’s presence, there is every hope that Pavón’s LA fairytale can continue to be a success, culminating in a permanent move.
Though his natural position is that of a left-sided midfielder, he is known for being able to switch to the wing, or even act as a traditional ‘number ten’. Certainly, Guillermo Barros Schelotto has turned him into an accomplished wide man, and in combining that with the excellent vision traditionally associated with a more central figure, Pavón is known for taking an impressive number of touches in the box per game.
His average of completed passes in the final third was also impressively high in the 2019 campaign, and in turn he sent LA Galaxy’s goal averages between 2018 and 2019 soaring. Much of this Pavón also did himself, maintaining a shots-on-target rate between 40 and 50% throughout the whole of 2019.
Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Morris has the potential to be an American hero in the purest form, coming back from a 2018 lost to surgery to become a prize asset in the wide midfield of a championship-winning setup. He ended last season with 13 goals, earning a richly-deserved Comeback Player of the Year award.
Though Morris is seen as a predominantly attack-minded midfielder, his defensive workrate also ensured that Seattle recorded some vital clean sheets during their run to MLS Cup glory. An average of more than 2.0 defensive actions in the wide thirds of the pitch last season proved his true skills as an all-rounder.
Alongside Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz, Morris completes what could become an attacking trident feared across the States. This belief is reflected in the Seattle Sounders high standing amongst MLS picks and fixed odds markets.
Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United)
The departure of Miguel Almirón ensured that the next creative midfielder filling his slot would have a huge task in impressing the Atlanta United faithful. At just 21 years old, Barco has since proven to be the ideal replacement for the Newcastle United man, tormenting an array of far more experienced opponents in the U.S. Open Cup of 2019.
Like any player worth watching in 2020, Barco is exceptionally versatile, and showed his willingness to adapt to Frank De Boer’s tactics, switching from his default central-midfield to occupy one of the wide berths in a front three. As is typical of a Dutch-style setup with inverted wingers, Barco was given licence to experiment and rely on instinct, as the midfield trio behind him adapted their strategy according to possession stats.
Giving young, inexperienced players such a brief is invariably risky, but the decision paid off, with Barco thriving alongside Joseph Martinez last term. While Barco’s ‘expected goals’ return paled against his fellow attackers in 2019, he more than compensated with his ability to take on two or three opposition players and dribble past them, maintaining a dribble success rate of over 50% across the whole season.
Diego Rossi (Los Angeles FC)
After scoring the club’s first-ever MLS goal, Rossi has enjoyed two exceptional years with the goal-crazy LAFC. The Uruguayan winger still has years ahead of him, but Rossi’s debut season showed how efficient he already is in front of goal, exceeding his expected goals figure by a fraction, and finishing second only to the far more experienced Carlos Vela.
What the 1.7m-tall Rossi lacks in physical presence, he compensates for with near-peerless anticipation and technical skills on the ball. Defenders cannot bully him with brute force simply because they can’t get near him, with his pace often beating even the hardiest of high defensive lines and offside traps.
Ultimately, if he isn’t one to watch in the MLS over the next year, it will be because simmering links to the Premier League and Serie A finally came to fruition.
Matias Pellegrini (Inter Miami)
As a club run by former MLS idol David Beckham, Inter Miami will come in for the most scathing criticism if their debut season with the franchise fails to meet expectations. Pellegrini will feel this more than most, with his presence up front being something of an anti-climax in light of rumours once linking PSG star Edinson Cavani to the club.
Pellegrini has been saying all of the right things, citing the club’s sense of ambition driven by a huge name in world football. However, there is every suggestion that Pellegrini can walk as well as he talks, with the Argentine starlet being a one-in-five goalscorer from midfield for native club Estudiantes between 2018 and 2019.
Being a midfielder certainly puts Pellegrini at an advantage under Beckham’s watchful eye, with Beckham himself having played alongside the best central midfielders ever to walk the planet, and gained a first-hand idea of how true, long-standing dynasties can start from the middle of the park.