Soccer America's 2014 MLS Positional Rankings

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

Soccer America’s positional rankings have wrapped up its seasonal coverage of Major League Soccer since the league’s launch in 1996.

Soccer America's Best MLS Players: 1996-2014

Performances in the Concacaf Champions League or U.S. Open Cup or on national team duty aren’t taken into account. Players may have played more than one position during the season, but their ranking reflects their play at the position at which they are ranked. As MLS has expanded from 10 teams a decade ago to 19 teams, the competition for consideration in our top 10 rankings has intensified.

Strikers: Obafemi Martins (Seattle)

Despite their instant success, the Seattle Sounders couldn’t seem to land that bonafide world-class striker for most of their existence. Remember Blaise Nkufo? But in the spring of 2013, the club announced it had signed Nigerian international Obafemi Martins and while he was good last year, this season he was nearly unstoppable.

Martins racked up 17 goals and added 13 assists as Seattle swept to the Supporters’ Shield featuring a pulverizing force up top with Clint Dempsey and Martins ripping apart back lines. Martins slashed though defenses on the dribble, blasted shots from distance, or worked intricate passing combinations to leave defenders flailing. His unrelenting intensity powered Seattle to a team-record 20 wins and 65 goals.

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Strikers:
1. (10) Obafemi Martins (Seattle)
2. (NR) Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York)
3. (NR) Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC)
4. (NR) Erick Torres (Chivas USA)
5. (=7) Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
6. (+7) Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
7. *Jermain Defoe (New York)
8. (5) Blas Perez (FC Dallas)
9. (3) Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake)
10. (1) Marco Di Vaio (Montreal)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
*Not an MLS player in 2013; +Ranked as a forward in 2013; =Ranked as a left midfielder in 2013.

Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)

Since he first stepped onto an MLS field in the summer of 2011, Irish international Robbie Keane has delighted Galaxy fans and tormented its opponents. Another spectacular season -- he led the Galaxy and was third in MLS with 19 goals, and his 14 assists trailed only teammate Landon Donovan – moved him atop the rankings of the league’s top forwards.

With the emergence of young Gyasi Zardes in a striker’s role, Keane worked the spaces out wide and underneath his young partner up top to drive an attack that scored a league-high 69 goals. His constant berating of match officials and teammates livens up every match, as does his clever and incisive touches. He's the third Galaxy player to win the league's MVP award and age 34 is still called up by Ireland's national team.

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Forwards:
1. (3) Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
2. (NR) Clint Dempsey (Seattle)
3. (NR) Luis Silva (D.C. United)
4. (NR) Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake)
5. (NR) Fabian Castillo (FC Dallas)
6. (+9) Giles Barnes (Houston)
7. (NR) Fabian Espindola (D.C. United)
8. (NR) Maximiliano Urruti (Portland)
9. (+7) Deshorn Brown (Colorado)
10. (1) Mike Magee (Chicago)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
+Ranked as a striker in 2013.

Attacking Midfielders: Lee Nguyen (New England)

It was a very good year for attacking midfielders; many teams rolled out systems geared to get forward propelled by a skillful, brazen orchestrator. Most are double threats to score a goal or set one up, a few specialize in one department. Lee Nguyen takes the position to its goalscoring extreme; he netted 18 goals, a total surpassed by only three players, all of them forwards or strikers.

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Attacking Midfielders:
1. (NR) Lee Nguyen (New England)
2. (2) Diego Valeri (Portland)
3. (1) Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake)
4. (4) Federico Higuain (Columbus)
5. *Pedro Morales (Vancouver)
6. (7) Dillon Powers (Colorado)
7. *Gonzalo Pineda (Seattle)
8. *Cristian Maidana (Philadelphia)
9. (NR) Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC)
10. (NR) Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
*Not an MLS player in 2013.

Right Midfielders: Ethan Finlay (Columbus)

Some college products need time to find their feet in the pro ranks, some just need to find the right fit in the right system. And some just need a breath of success to take off. Case in point is Crew attacker Ethan Finlay, who since leaving Creighton and being selected in the 2012 SuperDraft had failed to score in his first 40 MLS appearances before breaking through May 17 against Portland in a 3-3 tie at Providence Park.

By season’s end, Finlay had tied for the team lead in goals (11) and assists (7) with Argentine veteran Federico Higuain. The club rewarded him with a contract extension in late October and he’ll be an important element as the Crew tries to build on its first playoff appearance since 2011. Stationed on the right side of an attacking trio in support a striker, Finlay found ample opportunities to arrow for goal himself or serve productive balls into the danger zone.

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Right Midfielders:
1. (NR) Ethan Finlay (Columbus)
2. (1) Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia)
3. (NR) Lamar Neagle (Seattle)
4. *Stefan Ishizaki (LA Galaxy)
5. (+5) Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
6. (9) Lloyd Sam (New York)
7. *Luke Mulholland (Real Salt Lake)
8. (NR) Brad Evans (Seattle)
9. (NR) Teal Bunbury (New England)
10. (=8) Mauro Rosales (Vancouver)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
*Not an MLS player in 2013. +Ranked  among attacking midfielders in 2013; =Ranked among attacking midfielders in 2013.

Left Midfielders: Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)

Two of the top players in league history ended up on the left side of midfield this season and while Thierry Henry added to list of notable moments in MLS, the top spot goes to Landon Donovan.
The emergence of Gyasi Zardes as a forward partner for Robbie Keane shifted Donovan to the left wing.

In addition to scoring 10 goals, Donovan registered a career-high (and league-leading) 19 assists during the regular season, and in the Western Conference semifinals rang up a hat trick against Real Salt Lake, just the third such accomplishment in postseason history. He labored through lean periods in late spring and amid farewell ceremonies in the final third of the season before re-igniting in the playoffs. There were enough magical moments to mark his 14th and final pro season as one of the best.

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Left Midfielders:
1. (+4) Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)
2. (=4) Thierry Henry (New York)
3. (2) Brad Davis (Houston)
4. *Marco Pappa (Seattle)
5. (NR) Justin Meram (Columbus)
6. (&2) Kelyn Rowe (New England)
7. (NR) Chris Rolfe (D.C. United)
8. *Harry Shipp (Chicago)
9. (5) Shea Salinas (San Jose)
10. (9) Bernardo Anor (Columbus)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
*Not an MLS player in 2013; +Ranked as forward in 2013; =Ranked as striker in 2013; &Ranked as central midfielder in 2013.


Central Midfielders: Perry Kitchen (D.C. United)
 
In MLS there are many variations of the No. 8, a central midfielder who can cover the vast space between the penalty areas. While not every one of them is a true box-to-box player the best ones can break up the opposition’s attacks as well as get forward effectively.

Perry Kitchen may be too combative for his own good; he was second in cautions (11) and fouls committed (65). He also scored five goals and registered four assists as United rose out of the ashes of a disastrous 2013 season to win the Eastern Conference regular-season title.

It’s not unusual to see Kitchen delivering a cross from near the corner flag and shortly thereafter closing down an opponent’s dribble in his own half of the field. He’ll need to cut down on the cards and fouls, but in 2014 he typified a scrappy United team that set a league record for improvement (43 points) from one season to the next.
 
Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Central Midfielders:
1. (NR) Perry Kitchen (D.C. United)
2. (+5) Marcelo Sarvas (LA Galaxy)
3. (=7) Eric Alexander (New York)
4. (1) Will Johnson (Portland)
5. (NR) Tony Tchani (Columbus)
6. *Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
7. (&4) Russell Teibert (Vancouver)
8. (3) Brad Evans (Seattle)
9. (8) Michel (FC Dallas)
10. *Maurice Edu (Philadelphia)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
*not an MLS player in 2013; +ranked as defensive midfielder in 2013; =ranked as right midfielder in 2013; &ranked as right midfielder (4th) in 2013.

Defensive Midfielders: Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle)

Our selection is no surprise; since he defected from his native Cuba to the USA in 2007, Osvaldo Alonso has been a skilled, savvy, combative presence, first for the Charleston Battery and with the Sounders since 2009. This is the third time he’s been top of the class. In 2014, he completed an astonishing 90.9 percent of his passes and started in all 33 of his appearances. His typically minuscule offensive stats -- no goals and two assists in league play -- belie his remarkable range, savvy positioning and unquestioned commitment.

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Defensive Midfielders:
1. (2) Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle)
2. (1) Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)
3. (NR) Wil Trapp (Columbus)
4. (3) Dax McCarty (New York)
5. (+10) Juninho (LA Galaxy)
6. (NR) Victor Ulloa (FC Dallas)
7. (7) Jeff Larentowicz (Chicago)
8. (=10) Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia)
9. (NR) Matias Laba (Vancouver)
10. (NR) Sam Cronin (San Jose)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
+ranked as central midfielder in 2013; =ranked as right centerback in 2013.

Right Backs: Andrew Farrell (New England)
 
Their efforts don’t always show up in the statistics, but the greater fluidity with which defenders distribute the ball is a subtle aspect of the improving play in MLS. Outside backs overlapping and pushing up the flanks are among the game’s sexier elements but the primary role of securing that corner of the field remains first priority.

Once the Revs had recovered from an eight-game losing streak, Andrew Farrell’s resolute work emerged as a key factor in their strong finish. He didn’t notch a goal nor an assist but he committed just 18 fouls and received one yellow card while hitting solid numbers in tackles (2.5), interceptions (2.3) and clearances (5.1) per game.
 
Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Right Backs:
1. (3) Andrew Farrell (New England)
2. (4) DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle)
3. (NR) Dan Gargan (LA Galaxy)
4. (NR) Je-Vaughn Watson (FC Dallas)
5. (10) Sean Franklin (D.C. United)
6. (6) Steven Beitashour (Vancouver)
7. (NR) Hector Jimenez (Columbus)
8. (5) Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
9. (1) Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia)
10. (NR) Lovel Palmer (Chicago)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.

Right Centerbacks: Bobby Boswell (D.C. United)

How important a centerback can be to a team’s fortunes is illustrated by the case of Bobby Boswell, whose move from Houston via the Re-Entry Draft prompted a demise of the Dynamo and a record turnaround for D.C. United.

He was just one of several MLS veterans acquired in the team’s transformation, yet buttressed by Boswell, United won the Eastern Conference after winning just three games in 2012 and reduced its goals allowed from 59 to a league-best 37. Boswell started all 34 games, scored a goal, registered three assists and was cautioned only twice. He finished among the league’s top 10 in clearances per game (6.9).

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Right Centerbacks:
1. (8) Bobby Boswell (D.C. United)
2. (1) Jamison Olave (New York)
3. (9) Chad Marshall (Seattle)
4. (2) Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)
5. (NR) A.J. Soares (New England)
6. (NR) Zach Loyd (FC Dallas)
7. (5) Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake)
8. (3) Aurelien Collin (Sporting KC)
9. (NR) Zach Scott (Seattle)
10. *Michael Parkhurst (Columbus)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
*Not an MLS player in 2013.

Left Centerbacks: Matt Hedges (FC Dallas)
 
The arrival of head coach Oscar Pareja at FC Dallas changed the team’s persona from front to back and brought more possession responsibility to the back line. One of the beneficiaries was Matt Hedges, who stepped up when a season-long injury sidelined veteran George John to take over as captain in just his third pro season.

In 32 appearances (all starts), Hedges scored three goals and finished among the league leaders in interceptions (3.2) and clearances (6.9) per game. FCD cut down its goals allowed by seven (52 to 45) from the previous season and lost in the playoffs to Seattle despite conceding just one goal in 180 minutes of play.
 
Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Left Centerbacks:
1. (NR) Matt Hedges (FC Dallas)
2. (1) Jose Goncalves (New England)
3. (4) Chris Schuler (Real Salt Lake)
4. (2) Matt Besler (Sporting KC)
5. (6) A.J. De La Garza (LA Galaxy)
6. *Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United)
7. (NR) Zach Scott (Seattle)
8. *Liam Ridgewell (Portland)
9. *Kendall Waston (Vancouver)
10. (NR) Ibrahim Sekagya (NewYork)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
*Not an MLS player in 2013.

Left Backs: Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake)

The 2014 season wasn’t a banner year for left backs. There weren’t any truly outstanding performances though the experienced veterans in the top tier were again reliable and sturdy.

In a close finish the top slot goes to Chris Wingert, a stalwart on the Real Salt Lake back line since they emerged as an elite team late in the last decade. He started in all 30 of his league appearances, ranked among the leaders at his position with 3.0 clearances a game and earned three assists as RSL posted the third-fewest goals allowed (39) in MLS.

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Left Backs:
1. (4) Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake)
2. (8) Chris Tierney (New England)
3. *Waylon Francis (Columbus)
4. (1) Seth Sinovic (Sporting KC)
5. (NR) Justin Morrow (Toronto FC)
6. (7) Leo Gonzalez (Seattle)
7. (NR) Robbie Rogers (LA Galaxy)
8. (NR) Roy Miller (New York)
9. (NR) Jordan Harvey (Vancouver)
10. (2) Chris Klute (Colorado)
In parentheses: Player's ranking in 2013.
*Not an MLS player in 2013.

Goalkeepers: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

The goalkeeping position is rather stable in MLS; a few teams have proven veterans who are entrenched, and several others have gone with younger players through good times and bad. Not many teams change keepers often, though some shaky times in the Colorado goal this year had fans scratching their heads. Montreal, too, never seemed to get that sure-handed, reliable stalwart in the nets.

The rankings are based on statistics as well as the traditional goalkeeping elements of reflexes, quickness, positioning, distribution, leadership and command of the penalty area. Only keepers who played in one-half of their team’s games were considered.

At 35, Nick Rimando is the classic case of a keeper maintaining high standards longer than field players. His reflexes, command of the box, and positioning are still sharp. His legendary PK prowess continues -- only one successful kick out of five attempts -- and his goals-allowed average led the league. A 5-0 playoff blowout by the Galaxy didn’t change the fact that only two teams conceded fewer goals this season than RSL’s 39.

Soccer America's Top 10 MLS Goalkeepers:
1. (3) Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
2. (NR) Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
3. (NR) Jaime Penedo (LA Galaxy)
4. (NR) David Ousted (Vancouver)
5. *Steve Clark (Columbus)
6. (6) Jon Busch (San Jose)
7. (NR) Bobby Shuttleworth (New England)
8. (NR) Raul Fernandez (FC Dallas)
9. (NR) Stefan Frei (Seattle)
10. (10) Sean Johnson (Chicago)
In parentheses: 2013 ranking at position.
*Not in MLS in 2013.
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5 comments about "Soccer America's 2014 MLS Positional Rankings".
  1. Alan Jacobson, December 23, 2014 at 4:06 p.m.

    Jermain Defoe in NY? Unless you are breaking some news, you may want to correct that to Toronto.

  2. Zoe Willet, December 23, 2014 at 4:42 p.m.

    How could Diego Chara possibly be left out?

  3. Nicholas Adams, December 23, 2014 at 5:28 p.m.

    How in the heck can Andrew Farrell be the best Right Back?????
    His first touch is heavy, his distribution is poor and he makes too many errors - (LA's first goal in this years final was down to his mistake and poor touch).
    He needs to work on becoming a more intelligent player on the field.
    Farrell sums up everything that is wrong with the College system.

  4. Gus Keri, December 24, 2014 at 11:24 a.m.

    Did any one notice the 4-5-2 formation?

  5. Andrzej Kowalski, December 29, 2014 at 7:38 p.m.

    2 forwards+5 midfielders+4 defenders+1 goalkeeper = 12 playing positions ? I always thought that there only 11 playing positions available in soccer game.

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