75. Andrew Carleton, Atlanta United FC – 17 years old; CAM; $77,400 salary. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
This Major League Soccer offseason has been the most newsworthy and crazy silly season in recent memory. Two former MLS MVP candidates were traded in two days and that probably doesn’t even make the top 10 most captivating stories of the offseason.
The massive increase of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) spurred a level of activity never seen before. Given the ease of moving high-end MLS players both inside and outside of the league, I thought it was time to introduce Trade Value rankings heading into the 2018 MLS season.
This ranking is inspired heavily by Bill Simmons’ NBA Trade Value Rankings and attempts to answer this question: Who are the most valuable trade assets in MLS?
The theory is simple: The higher you are in the rankings, the less likely you are to be traded to another MLS team for someone lower in the rankings.
- Quality matters — While this isn’t a list of best players in MLS, the end goal for every team is still to win the MLS Cup. If a player is likely to boost a team’s chances in that quest, that’s probably the biggest factor in his ranking.
- Contracts matter — MLS has a complicated salary budget system, so the lower the budget hit the better. Contract length, type and actual compensation levels (especially for designated players) matter as well. For example, you won’t see Yangel Harrera on the list even though he’s one of the top young talents in the league because he’s on loan. Similarly, designated players such as Maxi Moralez or Sebastián Blanco haven’t made the list since there are only so many DP slots available in the league.
- Age and potential matter — With contract length also comes projecting future performance.
- International markets matter — A player that can be sold in the international market adds trade value as this can bring additional assets (cash and allocation money). Similarly, if a player was bought via transfer fee, his ranking may be lower since allocations only come with profit.
- Star power matters — Teams have to sell tickets and jerseys, and there’s no doubt big names can do that.
- Must be in MLS for at least one transfer window — Sorry, no Barco. Or Rossi. Or Vela. Or Zlatan. They’ll be in the mid-summer update.
Got it? Good. Let’s get started with the fun!
(Note: All salaries listed are players’ 2017 guaranteed compensation based on the latest report released by the MLS Players Union. All advanced statistics such as expected goals and assists based on American Soccer Analysis.)
75. Andrew Carleton, Atlanta United FC – 17 years old; CAM; $77,400 salary
74. Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas – 17; CAM; $75,000
When I was 17, I had a bad mustache and packed groceries at my local supermarket. These 17 year olds are trying to outplay some of the best in the league to get on the pitch. Carleton will have to fight through the most talented front four in MLS while Paxton has to compete with Diaz and now apparently Hárold Santiago Mosquera. Still, fans are hoping they can get serious minutes to see if they’re the real deal.
PRICEY BUT INDISPENSABLE
73. Daniel Royer, New York Red Bulls – 27; LW; $471,666
72. Joao Plata, Real Salt Lake – 25; LW; $608,333 (TAM-eligible)
Both of these guys play important roles for their clubs. Royer, with 12 goals last season, gives NYRB the all-important second scoring option after Bradley Wright-Phillips. Joao Plata is either David Villa-esque in creating chances creating a combined 0.79 expected goals and direct assists per 96 minutes (xG+xA/96) or the worst finisher in the league (six less goals than expected). He’s also ahead of Brooks Lennon — who’s five years younger and way less expensive – on the depth chart. If Lennon impresses with minutes, Plata might be a candidate to be moved in the summer transfer window.
LOTTERY TICKETS PART 2
71. Brooks Lennon, Real Salt Lake – 20; RW; $53,004 (higher with new contract)
70. Jonathan Lewis, New York City FC – 20; RW, $115,500
69. Danilo Acosta, Real Salt Lake – 20; LB; $65,625
68. Kortne Ford, Colorado Rapids – 22; CB; $76,996
67. Ian Harkes, DC United – 22; CM; $123,237
If you’re a U.S. soccer fan and looking forward to the Great Reboot of 2018, these five players are absolute must-follows in MLS this year. Harkes and Acosta both had serious run in 2017 and received a call to Camp Cupcake as reward. Lennon will have to fight for minutes to break through into the RSL starting XI. Ford and Lewis should have every chance with Colorado and a post-Harrison NYCFC, respectively. If I were a betting man, I’d have a chip on one of these players making a jump into the top 20 by the end of the season.
FIRST YEARS AND A BARRIOS
66. Abu Danladi, Minnesota United FC – 22; ST; $176,000
65. Julian Gressel, Atlanta United – 24; RM; $93,750
64. Michael Barrios, FC Dallas – 26; RW; $200,000
63. Diego Rubio, Sporting KC – 24; CF; $218,875
Danladi acclimated to MLS well, especially at the end of the year, living up to his No. 1 pick status. Gressel on the other hand surprised everyone as the glue that made Atlanta work all the way to his Rookie of the Year honor.
Barrios had a very productive year with 14 assists, which led to Argentine club San Lorenzo offering a 7-digit transfer fee for him. After Dallas rejected the offer, there was a definite drop in play. I’m not sure they say no if there’s another big offer.
Diego Rubio is famously known as Dom Dwyer’s replacement, but his advanced stats show very well. In slightly more than 1,000 minutes, Rubio averaged 0.65xG+xA per game, which would be at All-Star level. If Rubio shows that productivity over a full season, Vermes is the master of the MLS market.
PLEASE STAY HEALTHY
62. Sebastian Lletget, Los Angeles Galaxy – 25; CM; $242,667
61. Mauro Diaz, FCD – 25; CAM; $880,890 (TAM-eligible)
60. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chicago Fire – 33; CM; $5,400,000 (DP and new contract)
If you asked me a year ago whether Lletget and Diaz were top 25 MLS assets, I would’ve said, “Yes,” enthusiastically. In 2016, Diaz was a force, second in the league in key passes per game at 3.26. But after injury in 2017, that number went down to 2.38 (Lloyd Sam levels), leading to Dallas possible getting a new #10. This may mean Diaz is on the market. Luckily, his salary is easier to swallow for any potential suitors as the league is flush with TAM.
Lletget looked destined to being a U.S. national team regular before going down in early 2017. If either team gets the 2016 versions of these players, it’d be like a brand new signing.
Schweinsteiger is an all-time great and played at Best XI level for the Fire when he was healthy. He was ball dominant with over 13 percent of Chicago’s overall touches when he was on the field. He also struggled with injuries at the end of the season and played barely over 2000 minutes. If he plays more than that, he’s a best XI player. If he plays less, that heavy salary and Designated Player slot (and the $500,000 cap hit) seems like a heavy price.
AMERICAN No. 10s
59. Benny Feilhaber, Los Angeles FC – 33; CAM; $600,000 (TAM-eligible)
58. Lee Nguyen, New England Revolution – 31; CAM; $500,000 (TAM-eligible)
57. Sacha Kljestan, Orlando City – 32; CAM; $787,500 salary (TAM-eligible & new improved contract)
These three are some of the most productive MLS players ever. Kljestan was elite leading the league in expected assists and Nguyen’s raw stats compare to Almiron’s. Feilhaber was the least prolific of the three and still fetched $400,000 in a move to 2018 MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC. Clinically underappreciated (especially with the national team), all three are DP-level players when they’re at the top of their game. The only question is how long they can keep it up.
HALF A MIL OR MORE
56. Matt Hedges, FC Dallas – 27; CB; $424,996
55. Walker Zimmerman, Los Angeles FC – 24; CB; $205,000
54. Ola Kamara, Los Angeles Galaxy – 28; ST; $482,500
53. Kendall Waston, Vancouver Whitecaps – 30; CB; $368,125
52. C.J. Sapong, Philadelphia Union – 29; ST; $300,000
Zimmerman and Ola Kamara led headlines with big sales to La La Land for more than a half-million dollars in allocation. Dallas traded Zimmerman to LAFC for $500,000 and the No. 1 slot in allocation order (which was then flipped for another $400,000). Columbus sent Kamara to the Galaxy for $500,000 and Gyasi Zardes. Zimmerman was likely an overpay given he was in his final contract year and Kamara probably a bit of an underpay. Either way, it shows the market for a young good defenders or proven goal scorers in the league. From here on out, any player on this list is worth well over $500,000 in allocation.
Waston is coming off a career year: World Cup qualifying hero and MLS Best XI slot (his second). Watch for him to get offers abroad if he has a good World Cup with Costa Rica.
Sapong is one of the most underappreciated assets in MLS at a relatively friendly cap number.
SAPONG: 16 goals, four final ball assists, direct hand in 40 percent of team’s goals.
PLAYER X: 18 goals, three final ball assists, direct hand in 40 percent of team’s goals.
Player X is Ola Kamara.
51. Zack Steffen, Columbus Crew – 22; GK; $105,000
50. Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union – 27; GK; $186,500 salary (higher with new contract)
Keepers are the running backs of MLS. They’re vital for a team to be successful but also plentiful, which is why teams don’t like spending too much on them. Hence, goalkeepers are not the best assets in the league. Steffen and Blake are the exception.
Steffen has been a revelation for the Crew, single-handedly taking them past Atlanta in last year’s playoffs. He also has one of the most favorable contracts in the league. Columbus brass would be smart to either sign him to a new contract or explore getting European interest to avoid a Cyle-Larin-type scenario.
Andre Blake already got his new contract this year after generating serious interest from the Premier League. Blake carried the Jamaican National Team to a surprise runner-up spot in the Gold Cup. Philadelphia smartly extended their prized asset and maximized value moving forward.
49. Dax McCarty, Chicago Fire – 30; CDM; $412,500 (up with new contract and likely TAM-eligible)
48. Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew – 25; CDM; $350,000
47. Alexander Ring, New York City FC – 26; CDM; $381,666
When you see a team adept in moving forward quickly and creating chances, there’s likely a holding midfielder fully in control behind it. Carlos Carmona was this for Atlanta before being sold for $1.5 million. These three are the calm behind the Fire, Crew and NYCFC, respectively.
McCarty arguably started the trade-asset era in MLS, when NYRB traded him for $400,000 in allocation money after a Best XI year. He’s proved a bargain for the Fire. Trapp has been in the league for so long it’s hard to remember he’s just 25 years old captaining teams. And for all the glitz and glamour NYCFC has, it is Ring who has allowed them to play freely.
For a team looking to get a top-tier CDM within MLS now, it’ll cost them much more than McCarty’s original $400,000 fee.
24 UNDER-24 STALWARTS
46. Carlos Gruezo, FC Dallas – 22; CDM; $731,500 (Young DP)
45. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders – 23; ST; $237,500
44. Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution – 22; CF; $180,000
43. Luciano Acosta, DC United – 23; CAM; $602,000 (Young DP)
42. Paul Arriola, DC United – 22; RM; $700,000 (Young DP)
With the exception of Arriola, the other four on this list had down years in 2017. They’ve made MLSsoccer.com’s 24-under-24 list for a few years, so it’s forgivable to think they won’t ever fully realize their potential.
Still, all of these players can be very good, game-changing players. Gruezo, Morris or Fagundez would be near the top 10 of this list not too long ago. For Acosta, Arriola and Gruezo, their relatively high salary is offset by their low salary cap hit as Young Designated Players and only costing teams $200,000 against the salary budget. Given their age and low salary-cap hits, they are very good MLS assets…but their clocks are definitely ticking. This is doubly true for Acosta, who will lose his Young DP tag after this year. Don’t be surprised to see a few of these players fall of the list completely in the future.
41. Kelyn Rowe, New England Revolution, 26, CAM, $230,000
40. Christian Ramirez, Minnesota United FC, 26, CF $392,504
39. Artur, Columbus Crew, 21, CDM, $200,000 (Young DP and new contract)
38. Yamil Asad, DC United, 22, RM, $150,000 (New contract and likely Young DP)
If anyone stands to gain more from Lee Nguyen moving than Lee himself, it’d be Rowe. He’s shown creative flashes, often in spades, and is waiting for someone to hand him the keys to the offense. The trouble is, people have seen him as an up-and-coming player for a while and he just turned 26. You can be up-and-coming for only so long.
Ramirez’s wait was spent in the North American Soccer League hoping for a shot on a bigger stage. In 2017, he was one of the lone bright spots in Minnesota’s debut MLS season and banged in 14 goals. He then waited until January for a called-up to the national team … and then didn’t get the cap. Much like Rowe, he’s biding his time but he’s already 26.
Artur impressed sliding in as a holding midfielder next to Wil Trapp for Columbus. His youth and potential convinced the Crew to drop a $1.5 million transfer fee to make the loan deal with São Paulo permanent. If he continues to progress, that may prove to be a steal.
Asad had a statistically great debut year in Atlanta with double-digit assists as a key member of the scariest attack in the league.
It may have surprised some to see Atlanta pass on buying Asad’s rights outright, but that likely would’ve made him a DP. Instead, Atlanta traded his rights to D.C. United, where he is clearly worth the DP-tag, for a cool $500,000 in allocation. The core of Asad, Arriola and Acosta (Triple A? Easy A’s?) is young and full of potential, and all three have considerable sell on value.
LEFT BACKS ARE IMPORTANT
37. Justin Morrow, Toronto FC – 30; LB; $226,667
36. Ronald Mataritta, New York City FC – 23; LB; $200,000 (more with new contract)
35. Kemar Lawrence, New York Red Bulls – 25; LB; $205,600
Marauding backs are essential in the modern game. Morrow was a critical piece to possibly the best MLS side of all time and had a Best XI season. His eight goals would make most midfielders and some strikers proud, and yet his salary is amenable. If the signings of Gregory van der Wiel or Milton Valenzuela are signs of the future, good backs will not come as cap friendly.
As good as Morrow is, Lawrence and Mataritta could be better assets. Lawrence, specifically, is a key cog in Jesse Marsch’s full-press squad and his play with Jamaica earned him interest from Turkish giants Fenerbahce. Lawrence is on the last year of his contract, so expect NYRB to either transfer him or re-sign him this year (or add him to the list of MLS clubs letting assets walk free).
34. Romell Quioto,Houston Dynamo – 26; CF; $212,504
33. Mauro Manotas, Houston Dynamo – 22; CAM; $215,746 (Young DP)
Player 1: 3,000 min, 0.43xG/96 min + 0.23xA/96 min
Player 2: 1,350 min, 0.39xG/96 min + 0.27xA/96 min
Expected goals and assists aren’t everything but a good indicator that the player can find the final pass or get in position to finish. Player 1 is Diego Valeri last year. Player 2 is Quioto, which is one of the reasons why Houston was ecstatic to get a buyer for Cubo Torres even at a big loss.
Player 3: 2,162 minutes, 11.5 xG + 3.5xA, 16 goals, 6 assists
Player 4. 2,200 minutes, 11.5 xG + 3.8xA, 10 goals, 5 assists
These players seem like they had similar years, with a bit more results from the first player. Player 3 is Sebastian Giovinco, Player 4 is Houston’s young designated player Manotas. I’m not saying he’s the next Giovinco, but Manotas is very good, very young and will likely only get better.
A MIL OR MORE
32. Dom Dwyer, Orlando City – 27; ST; $668,750 (more with new contract and TAM-eligible)
31. Justin Meram, Orlando City – 29; LW; $328,750 (more with new contract and will be TAM-eligible)
30. David Accam, Philadelphia Union – 27; LW; $500k cap, $820,937 (DP and more with new contract)
29. Darlington Nagbe, Atlanta United – 27; CM; $565,000 (TAM-eligible)
When we all look back in MLS history, these four names will undoubtedly be listed together as the first $1 million-plus intraleague deals. All four will be expected to be cornerstones for their teams’ attacks. Dwyer will be feeling the pressure to live up to his deal (most experts see this as an overpay) and new contract, making Orlando fans forget about former striker Cyle Larin. Meram will have to prove he’s elite and not just a beneficiary of Berhalter’s system in Ohio.
Accam gets a change of scenery as the top attacking option in Philadelphia. The deal with Chicago makes it extremely unlikely that he has sell-on value in the future, but Accam’s value within MLS has been clearly established.
It’s crazy to think Nagbe is already 27 when it feels like he still hasn’t hit his potential. Many believe it can be unlocked when he’s surrounded by players as talented and technical as he is. Nagbe gets the luxury of facilitating the most exciting attack in MLS – but with million dollar price tags, come million dollar expectations.
28. Romain Alessandrini, Los Angeles Galaxy – 28; LW; $1,999,400 (DP)
27. Giovanni Dos Santos, Los Angeles Galaxy – 28; CF; $5,500,000 (DP)
26. Jonathan Dos Santos, Los Angeles Galaxy – 27; CDM; $4,000,000 (DP)
You can forgive those that scoff at the idea of one of the worst teams in MLS last year having three top-30 assets. Expensive but productive designated players is the legacy of the Los Angeles Galaxy, and all three are certainly that.
Alessandrini was legitimately great last year with 13 goals and 11 final ball assists (more than even Victor Vasquez). Gio Dos Santos was great the year prior with double-digit goals and assists. Expect a serious bounce-back year as he tries to prove he deserves a spot on Mexico’s World Cup roster.
The best of the three is Jona Dos Santos, who came to a sinking ship last year. He’s a candidate for being sold for profit if he impresses at the World Cup because the Galaxy bought him at below market value.
25. Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders – 34; CF; $3,892,930 (DP)
24. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC – 28; ST; $500k cap, $4,875,000 (DP)
23. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC – 30; CDM; $6,500,000
When Dempsey and Bradley chose to come back to MLS in 2013 and 2014, respectively, it was a watershed moment. At the time, fans saw the returns as a sign of the league’s growth and ability to bring its strongest sons back home. Now, some may see it as the first domino leading to USA’s failure in qualifying for the World Cup (I am not one of those people).
In some sense, these three are MLS: the good, the bad and the polarity that comes with following this league. On the field, all three have been great for their clubs, leading Seattle and Toronto to MLS Cups. But their inflated salaries – a premium that MLS was happy to pay four years ago – makes it incredibly unlikely they’ll be moved (see: Club America’s interest in Jozy).
These three players are valued by their clubs way more than other clubs, which makes their rankings tricky. Clint will likely retire a Sounder and Altidore and Bradley could play out their full contracts with Toronto chasing more titles and perhaps a Champions League title. And maybe that’s a great thing.
WAY OUT, WAY IN
22. Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers – 27; ST; $1,736,254 (DP)
21. Victor Vázquez, Toronto FC – 31; CM; $700,000 (TAM-eligible)
Adi has been a tour de force since joining the Timbers in 2014, scoring 51 goals in four years. Injuries slowed him down in 2017, but that hasn’t slowed interest from clubs in China. In his prime, he was getting transfer interest from even bigger clubs. Strikers with his frame and technical ability don’t come along often. Portland should think about selling at the right price if Adi starts 2018 strongly.
Vázquez was the Belgian Football Player of the year in 2015 during his time with Club Brugge. In an older MLS, he would have been a classic DP signing. In the new MLS, he’s the standard for a difference-making TAM signing. He connected the steadfast possession of Bradley to the lethal Giovinco-Altidore combination up top to the tune of 17 assists and a place in MLS’ Best XI. TAM was designed to close the gap against our Liga MX brethren, starting from the fourth-best player on the team. Vázquez is exactly that.
GOLDEN BOOT, GOLDEN BOOSTS
20. Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls – 32; ST; $1,635,000 (DP)
19. Nemanja Nikolić, Chicago Fire – 30; ST; $1,906,333 (DP)
Nikolić won the Golden Boot in his debut season with the Chicago Fire and nobody has scored more goals than BWP over the past few years. Cornerstones of their club’s attacks, both are a level higher than Dwyer, who commanded the most allocation money in MLS trade history.
If production was the only factor for this list, they’d both be higher. In the new MLS, one where teams are dropping $15 million on 18 year olds, they’re on the wrong side of 30. If the Fire or NYRB have terrible starts to the year, there’s a small chance another ambitious club making a push for the Cup makes an offer. Actually, maybe not so small for BWP, given the way Jesse Marsch is ruthless in trading cornerstones.
18. Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders – 22; CM; $137,000
17. Alberth Elis, Houston Dynamo – 21; CF; $423,000 (Young DP)
Roldan went from Generation Adidas to USL to now a permanent fixture in the Sounders’ starting XI and capped with the U.S. national team. He’s been so good Seattle barely felt the loss of Ozzie Alonso to injury. If Roldan can progress that much in three years, the potential is sky high.
Dynamo fans have to be ecstatic in gaining the services of Elis on a permanent fixture. He posted a ridiculous 0.78 xG+xA per game in his 1,700 or so minutes last year, which is comparable to MLS greats like Villa and Dempsey. Have I mentioned he’s only 21?
ATLANTA’S SUPPORTING CAST
16. Héctor Villalba, Atlanta United – 23; CF;$770,750 (TAM-eligible)
15. Leandro González Pírez, Atlanta United – 25; CB; $285,008
Any other year on any other team, Villalba and Pírez would’ve been hailed as linchpins for an expansion squad. But giant performances from Josef Martínez and Almirón overshadowed them.
Villalba scored 13 goals and directly assisted on nine more, a superior season to someone such as Justin Meram (13/5). But Villalba is six years younger and likely to be paid less than Meram in 2018.
It’s easy to see a very near future where Almirón, Martínez and even Barco are sold to European clubs for large profits. In that same future, many Atlanta fans see Villalba and Pírez as the team’s foundation for the better part of a decade.
KEEPING IT REAL
14. Jefferson Savarino, Real Salt Lake – 21; RW; $752,000 (Young DP)
13. Albert Rusnák, Real Salt Lake – 23; CAM; $200k cap, $882,812 (Young DP)
12. Justen Glad, Real Salt Lake – 20; CB; $246,700
By the middle of the 2017 season, Real Salt Lake had fired its coach and was on its way to having one of the worst defenses of all time. By the end of the season, RSL was the hottest team in MLS with the brightest young core in the league.
General manager Craig Waibel permanently signed Savarino and Lennon from loan deals and new coach Mike Petke has followed the mantra of #PlayYourKids since Lennon, Acosta and Glad came back from the U-20 World Cup. The result is a squad that would dominate an MLS 22-under-22 list, a treasure chest of cap friendly, age friendly assets that are only going to get better. Rusnák, the old man of the group at 23, was fantastic last year. He led the league with 12 final pass assists and chipped in with seven goals. The crown jewel is Glad, who’s the second coming of Matt Miazga. In a league where young American CBs are sold for $900,000 in allocation money, Glad is worth double that and even more outside the league.
There are some things to be worked out: getting Lennon playing time with Savarino; Plata playing on the wings; and whether to move Rusnák after this year once he can no longer be a young DP. But regardless, RSL has collected some of the best assets in the league and will be a force moving forward.
11. Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City – 28; CB; $150,000 (going up with new contract)
It’s crazy to think Opara was drafted eight years ago by the San Jose Earthquakes. Always filled with potential but hampered by injury, it all came together in 2017. Lethal in the air on set pieces and sound in the back, Opara put together an MLS Best XI season and was rewarded with his first U.S. cap after January camp. He’s in his prime and has been handed a brand-new contract. Kansas City’s patience paid off with one of the best assets in MLS.
THE ALMOST MVPs
10. Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact – 32; CAM; $450,000 (up with new contract and DP)
9. Nicolás Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders – 28; CAM; $1,743,000 (DP)
Piatti put up identical numbers in 2016 and 2017: 17 goals and seven assists. The only difference is that Piatti played almost 500 fewer minutes in 2017. Montreal will be counting on him with so much roster turnover ahead of the 2018 season.
Lodeiro completely turned around Seattle’s year when he joined the team in 2016. The Sounders went from looking like a playoff miss to winning the MLS Cup. It may look like his 2017 was slightly down from the incredible bar he set, but let’s look at some underlying stats:
Lodeiro 2016 – 2.87 key passes and 0.37 expected direct assists per game.
Lodeiro 2017 – 2.87 key passes and 0.33 expected direct assists per game.
Not much drop off there, just not as good finishing from other Sounders.
8. Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas – 22; CM; $280,000
7. Alphonso Davies, Vancouver Whitecaps – 17; LM; $65,000
6. Tyler Adams, New York Red Bulls – 18; RWB; $91,041
When Ballou Tabla was sold to Barcelona B, MLS announced clubs would keep 100 percent of the transfer fees for any Homegrown players. That must’ve been music to the ears of GMs for Dallas, Vancouver and New York.
Acosta is a key player for a team that’s a year removed from winning the Supporters’ Shield and he’s gained interest from Dutch giants PSV. His performance dipped the last half of 2017, but that doesn’t change that he’s one of the top assets in MLS.
Davies likely has the highest ceiling of any player in the league, a fact that hasn’t escaped top European clubs such as Manchester United. Davies got his first senior cap with Canada at 16 years old and starred in the Gold Cup.
Adams is the top American prospect whose name isn’t Pulisic. He’s already a lock in the Red Bulls’ starting XI at only 18 and will likely be pushing for All-Star honors. He has an unyielding motor that allows him to play anywhere on the field outside of GK and striker. The only question is how long before the big clubs start calling.
If Altidore’s 2008 $10 million transfer record is going to be surpassed by another homegrown North American anytime soon, it will be one of these three.
DV = MVP
5. David Villa,New York City FC – 36; ST; $5,610,000 (DP)
4. Diego Valeri,Portland Timbers – 31; CAM; $2,607,000 (DP)
If I was the GM of Portland or NYCFC and someone called to inquire about these MVPs, I’d mutter a few choice words and quickly hang up. Not only have they been the best two players in the league last two years, but they are spokesmen for the clubs and the league.
Villa may feel like a relic of an older MLS – one where aging stars come for huge paychecks – but since arriving stateside, he’s defied Father Time, torn up the league and famously campaigned for MLS across the pond.
Valeri is a showcase of the strategy being employed by many MLS teams today — raiding Argentina for top talent in their prime. Since arriving in Portlandia, he’s shown other South Americans that life can be very good in the U.S.
Both teams – especially NYCFC – will be in the hunt for MLS Cup with these guys on their rosters, so trading either is extremely unlikely. It would take a massive haul of assets (or someone in the top 3) for their clubs to even entertain the idea.
1.07 GOALS PER 90
3. Josef Martínez, Atlanta United – 24; ST; $1,041,310 (DP)
Nikolić won the Golden Boot by scoring 24 goals in over 3,000 minutes, within three goals of an MLS record. At the rate Josef Martínez scored goals in 2017, he would’ve scored 36 in that amount of time. Injury, not MLS defenders or goalkeepers, were the only thing to slow him down. Atlanta fans will be wondering if that rate of scoring goals repeatable in 2018. After all, Martínez outpaced his expected goals by more than six.
What is not in question is his pace, movement and quality in finishing. Atlanta bought Martínez, 24, permanently from Italian club Torino for $5 million , which is a steal in today’s MLS. If he continues the torrid pace he started in 2017, it won’t be long before a European club comes calling for much more than that.
GREATEST MLS PLAYER EVER IS No. 2
2. Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC – 31; CF; $7,115,555 (DP)
What can you say about the Atomic Ant that hasn’t been said since he came to the league in 2015? He’s been Best XI every year, an MVP and an MLS Cup champion and probably one of the best free kickers in the world. He turned down a move to Barcelona last year, and has lit the league on fire since arriving – scoring and/or assisting on 78 goals in 68 appearances (1.14 G+A/game).
Giovinco is arguably the first player in his prime who was good enough to play on any team in the world (although he’s been snubbed by the Azzurri) but chose MLS. He recently stated he wants to retire in the league, and he’ll will go down as the best MLS player of all time when he does.
Yet on this list, he’s number two.
A NEW ERA
1. Miguel Almirón, Atlanta United – 23; CAM; $200k cap, $2,297,000
MLS may have introduced the Young Designated Player rule in 2011, but it came to full realization in 2017 with Almirón. Before #BarcoWatch and #KakuWatch, there was the “will he/wont he” saga between Almirón and Atlanta United. MLS teams aren’t supposed to beat out clubs like Arsenal for hot shot prospects playing in Argentina. Low and behold, in December, 2016, with the help of $8 million and Tata magic, Almirón took his talents to the Empire City of the South.
He did not disappoint, electric on the field and a fan-favorite of the more than 47,000 faithful that attend Atlanta games. Almirón was named to MLS’ Best XI and won Newcomer of the Year. Equally important, his valuation increased from $8 million to as much as $20 million to clubs like Arsenal and Inter Milan. Almirón told Pro Soccer USA during MLS media day in January that he hopes to leave for Europe by the summer transfer window.
I would venture to say Atlanta won’t trade Almirón for anyone else in the league because of his small young DP cap hit, the potential $20 million cash and because he’s a top-five player in the league.
So, Almirón’s MLS stint may not last 18 months, but he has changed the league’s landscape forever. Long live King Miggy.