By Ridge Mahoney
Varied roles brought Graham Zusi a lot of responsibility in 2012, and the Sporting Kansas City veteran used his talents to win an Eastern Conference regular-season title.
Whether deployed as a winger, wide midfielder, or behind the forwards, Zusi personified how tricky it can be to classify some players in MLS. The modern attacking midfielder comes in many forms and doesn’t necessarily spend most of his time in the middle as do traditional players like Javier Morales and David Ferreira.
No matter where he lined up, Zusi drove the attack. Counterparts Brad Davis and Mauro Rosales used the left and right sides, respectively, only as starting positions to find time and space.
Here are the 2012 Positional Rankings for attacking midfielders, some of whom, like Branko Boskovic of D.C. United, didn’t do enough to make the cut. Two-way midfielders and wide mids will be ranked in upcoming listings.
TOP ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS (SA 2012 RANKINGS)
1. Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
2. Brad Davis (Houston)
3. Mauro Rosales (Seattle)
4. David Beckham (Los Angeles)
5. Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake)
6. Felipe Martins (Montreal)
7. David Ferreira (FC Dallas)
8. Luis Silva (Toronto FC)
9. Camilo Sanvezzo (Vancouver)
10. Simon Dawkins (San Jose)
Zusi edged an elite company to lead MLS with 15 assists, which he generated by hitting good serves on either foot from many areas of the field . His consistent work from the run of play and on set pieces earned him callups to the national team. The double duty for club and country may have worn him down at season’s end, but his emergence in 2012 was good news for SKC and the USA.
Davis (8 goals, 12 assists) rebounded from the disappointment of missing last year’s MLS Cup with a torn quadriceps by leading the Dynamo back to the title game.
Rosales equaled the 13 assists he posted during his debut season in 2011 but again was limited by injuries in the playoffs. Beckham (7, 9) worked the middle as well as the right flank to good effect in his farewell season.
Morales (3, 9) sparkled at times like his old self but the after effects of injuries were often apparent.
Martins (4, 10) needed sports hernia surgery near the end of the season after a series of scintillating performances. Ferreira (2, 9) struggled through injury problems but in playing only 17 games nearly pushed FCD into the playoffs.
As a rookie on a bad team Silva (5,5) really deserved more notice than he received. Sanvezzo (5, 7) suffered from a few injuries and the Whitecaps’ midseason shakeups yet still displayed a set of skills few MLS players can match. Dawkins scored eight goals running at opponents as the Quakes topped all teams by scoring 72 times.