[MLS] Midfields in MLS can be muddled, and they can be masterful, and often they can be both in the same game, yet it’s where the outcome of most games gets decided. Heading into Season XV of MLS, Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney offers a breakdown of where each team's midfield stacks up, from No. 1 Seattle to the No. 16 Red Bulls.
The rankings are based on talent available, past performances, and projections of what may develop in 2010.
One caveat: many teams have added young midfielders, some on loan, this season and little could be gleaned from preseason as to how they’ll fare. That just makes the guessing even more of a guess, I guess.
1. SEATTLE. Like a few teams, the Sounders often toggle players between midfield and forward, but this is in itself a valuable weapon. Thus no matter where Freddie Ljungberg and Nate Jaqua are deployed, the other elements – Oswaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Steve Zakuani, etc. – are formidable.
2. REAL SALT LAKE. A slick yet sturdy element of the team’s championship run, it must this season prove it can play consistently well at both ends of the field. Keystones Will Johnson and Kyle Beckerman supply the platform from which Javi Morales can revert to his form of 2008.
3. COLUMBUS. Guillermo Barros Schelotto is more of a second forward than attacking mid these days, so impetus from flank players Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven is more important than ever. Brian Carroll and Adam Moffat hold down the fort, Emmanuel Ekpo and Dilly Duka wait in the wings.
4. HOUSTON. As much a function of system as personnel, the Dynamo’s success without Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden will be tough to replicate. Geoff Cameron is taking on the attacking midfield role, but that’s also the provenance of flankers Brad Davis and Brian Mullan. Jamaican newcomer Lovel Palmer can ease the transition if he adapts quickly.
5. CHICAGO. The Fire mids get their chance to show what can be done without Cuauhtemoc Blanco, for at least half a season. Marco Pappa and Baggio Husidic wield some attacking chops, John Thorrington is a box-to-box blade, and newcomer Julio Martinez can embellish the mix.
6. LOS ANGELES. David Beckham’s injury might result in more midfield duty for Landon Donovan, but veteran Chris Birchall and rookie Michael Stephens can offset the advancing years of Clint Mathis and Chris Klein (both 34) and Eddie Lewis (36). One of the new arrivals is yet another Brazilian named Juninho; this one is 21.
7. CHIVAS USA. Co-captain Sacha Kljestan and Michael Lahoud, a rookie last year, form a potent base, but Jesus Padilla last season wasn’t the flank presence expected, Gerson Mayen is young (21), Marcelo Saragosa is older (28), etc. These uncertainties could be resolved in the form of Salvadoran Osael Romero in his debut MLS season. Or not.
8. COLORADO. Colin Clark’s return to health and the addition of ex-Rev Jeff Larentowicz and Jamie Smith, coupled with the presence of Pablo Mastroeni and Nick LaBrocca, may enable the Rapids to improve sharply.
9. D.C. UNITED. Lots of pieces need re-fitting, including several – Santino Quaranta, Chris Pontius, Boyzzz Khumalo – who are quasi-forwards as well. Brandon Barklage and Rodney Wallace have showed real promise. The prowess of Cristian Castillo is the ‘X’ factor.
10. FC DALLAS. Dax McCarty, Daniel Hernandez and David Ferreira are great elements to have in place, and these might be signature seasons for Brek Shea and Eric Avila. There are also 2009 midseason arrivals Marvin Chavez and Heath Pearce, who could also play right back.
11. KANSAS CITY. The Wizards have added enough foreign players to stock an entire midfield. Stephane Auvray will hold down the center if he adjusts, and Birihiam Diop, David Rocastle and Ryan Smith could displace several MLS veterans. Changes could also move Davy Arnaud higher up the field, but in any case, this midfield is in flux.
12. NEW ENGLAND. Centerpiece Shalrie Joseph has an intriguing mix around him: Young Gambians Kenny Mansally (also a candidate at forward) and Sainey Nyassi, Senegalese newcomer Niouky Desire, and Americans Nico Colaluca and Michael Vidiera. The era after Jeff Larentowicz and Steve Ralston is likely to get off to a rocky start.
13. PHILADELPHIA. Fred will get the chance to replicate his excellent season for D.C. in 2007. There’s a solid performer in Stefani Miglioranzi, great potential in Amobi Okugo and Shea Salinas, and creative Colombian teenager Roger Torres to groom for the future.
14. SAN JOSE. Another rebuilding job has yielded a stronger mix than in the past, at least on paper. Ramon Sanchez heads the group, team management expects better things from Bobby Convey, 2008 draft pick Brad Ring is finally healthy, and newcomers Joey Gjertsen and Javier Robles add some quality.
15. TORONTO FC. With a full preseason to work together, more communication and cohesion between Julian De Guzman and Sam Cronin should result. Yet the roles of Jim Brennan and Dwayne De Rosario (another semi-forward) have yet to take root, and a long audition for trialist Martin Saric has yet to produce a contract.
16. NEW YORK. This could be one of the better midfields in MLS by season’s end if the parts mesh. Newcomer Joel Linpere looks capable of serving as midfield hub, the pace of Dane Richards and Danleigh Borman are givens, Jeremy Hall has to play somewhere, Carl Robinson adds experience, and rookie Tony Tchani will push for playing time.