Major League Soccer is almost 20 years old, and as the 19th season kicks off this weekend, there is a distinct feeling of optimism about the direction of the league. Many of the best domestic players now ply their trade in MLS, and the formidable international talent that the league has acquired is an equally good sign of growth for a league that is inching closer to becoming -- with no exaggeration -- among the best in the world.
The evolving makeup of MLS makes this a great time to evaluate which players currently stand out, based on their previous performance in the league and their potential impact on this pivotal season. Something you might find odd: no defenders crack the top 10, and that stems from the fact that attacking football players have been placed at a higher premium as teams look for more high-impact players. The 845 goals scored in the 2013 MLS season is an increase over the 810 scored in 2012, while at the same time none of the three defensive choices for the 2013 MLS Best XI (Matt Besler, Jose Goncalves and Omar Gonzalez) ranked in the league’s top 15 for tackles or interceptions last season.
Of course, these defensive statistics do not encompass the entire defensive value of a player, but at the same time it is hard to qualify how influential a player like Besler is to Sporting KC’s league-best defense when his defensive teammates Oriol Rosell and Aurelien Colin respectively ranked first and third across the league in interceptions for the defending MLS Cup champions.
Here is my ranking of the top 10 MLS players heading into the 2014 campaign.
1.Robbie Keane, forward, L.A. Galaxy
Keane finished second in MVP voting last season, and after signing an extension to remain with the Galaxy for the foreseeable future, the 33-year-old striker is poised to continue his successful run in MLS. Keane has scored 16 goals in each of his two MLS seasons, but in 2013 he was much more efficient and needed five fewer appearances and 29 fewer shot attempts to match his scoring output from 2012.