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MLS Positional Rankings: top attacking midfielder Morales gets goals as well as assists
by Ridge Mahoney, December 30th, 2013 6:48PM

TAGS:  mls, real salt lake


By Ridge Mahoney

Attacking midfielder includes those players recognized as true No. 10s, such as Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales and Portland’s Diego Valeri, but can also list other types.

Mauro Rosales played mostly on the right for Seattle, but his propensity to cut inside rather than stick to the flank gives him the look of an attacking midfielder. Graham Zusi is included in this category as well for he is a catalyst no matter if he plays wide in midfield, in the center, or as a winger up top.

Best of MLS 2013:
Goalkeepers: Donovan Ricketts
Right Backs: Sheanon Williams
Right Centerbacks: Jamison Olave
Left Centerbacks:
Jose Goncalves
Left Backs:
Seth Sinovic
Right Midfielders: Sebastien Le Toux
Holding Midfielders:
Kyle Beckerman
Central Midfielders: Will Johnson
Left Midfielders: Diego Fagundez

The physical nature of MLS often requires attacking mids to, as the term implies, attack rather than sit deeper and serve balls a la Carlos Valderrama, the quintessential No. 10 of past eras. In their best years, David Ferreira and Dwayne De Rosario were prototypical MLS attacking midfielders who looked to shoot as well as pass.

Rankings are based on performances in MLS regular-season and playoff games.

SA's Top 10 MLS Attacking Midfielders (2013)
1. (5) Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake)
2. (-) Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)
3. (NR) Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls)
4. (10*) Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew)
5. (1) Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
6. (6) Felipe (Montreal Impact)
7. (-) Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids)
8. (3) Mauro Rosales (Seattle Sounders)
9. (7) David Ferreira (FC Dallas)
10.  (6**) Joel Lindpere (Chicago Fire)
Note: In parentheses 2012 ranking of all left midfielders.
NR=not ranked in 2012; -=not in MLS in 2012. *ranked as forward in 2012. **ranked as left midfielder in 2012.

Long regarded as one of the league’s top playmakers, Morales dished out 10 assists -- only three players had more -- and he also scored eight goals in different ways: by converting penalties, by heading home crosses, by starting and finishing sequences, and against Portland, by nailing an overhead kick. He was the only player to notch three postseason assists and in the MLS Cup shootout converted RSL’s do-or-die, fifth kick to force extra rounds.

An adductor injury hobbled Valeri during the playoffs and that was enough of an edge for RSL to oust Portland in the conference finals; otherwise, Valeri was nearly impossible to contain. He won Newcomer of the Year honors while leading the league with 13 assists and also scored 10 goals -- only one of them a penalty kick -- as the transformed Timbers won the regular-season conference title.

Tim Cahill attacks the goal like the forward he has been at times in his career -- he led New York with 11 goals -- and his aggression, instincts, and power in the air are tailor-made for MLS. Federico Higuain’s elegant, effective play superseded a poor season for the Crew. Playing in the hole behind either one or two strikers, he scored 11 goals -- second on the team -- and led the team in assists with nine (nobody else had more than four). National team duties drained Graham Zusi of some energy during the regular season, during which he scored six goals and registered eight assists while playing in midfield and out on the wing. He upped his game a notch in the playoffs as SKC captured its second MLS Cup. Felipe put up nearly identical stats (five goals, eight assists) in a very different season; Montreal faded badly after a great start and succumbed meekly to Houston in the wild-card game.

Dillon Powers popped up in various spots as injuries riddled the Colorado lineup, and his numbers (five goals, six assists) and dynamic displays regardless of position earned him MLS Rookie of the Year honors. A start-and-stop season for Mauro Rosales prompted a postseason trade to Chivas USA and though his aching legs will be happier on grass, can he better his totals of four goals and eight assists? If, as suspected, he’s lost a step, is a dysfunctional cellar-dweller the place to find it? MVP in 2010, David Ferreira tallied three goals and seven assists in a frustratingly futile effort to reclaim his best form and left the team at the end of the season. Joel Lindpere floated among positions as the lineup changed and he led the Fire with eight assists.

SA's Best Attacking Midfielders (1996-2013)
2013 Javier Morales
2012 Graham Zusi
2011 Dwayne De Rosario
2010 Sebastien Le Toux
2009 Dwayne De Rosario
2008 Javier Morales
2007 Steve Ralston
2006 Christian Gomez
2005 Dwayne De Rosario
2004 Amado Guevara
2003 Preki
2002 Andy Williams
2001 Preki
2000 Peter Nowak
1999 Jaime Moreno
1998 Marco Etcheverry
1997 Preki
1996 Marco Etcheverry

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