By Ridge Mahoney
The halfway mark of the season finds Colorado near the top and at least one traditionally strong team,
Seattle, far below the playoff tier.
A midseason Best XI gives an idea of which players have most influenced their team’s success and the top two teams in the overall standings,
Colorado and FC Dallas, each have two representatives. In his second MLS season, David Villa
is the league’s leading scorer and surprisingly, New York City FC leads the Eastern
Here are 11 players who have been near the top of the class for the first half of 2016: FORWARDS
(Portland) Sebastian Giovinco
(Toronto FC) David Villa
(New York City FC)
Adi’s remarkable knack for scoring twice in a
game – he’s done it 11 times in his career to account for 22 of his 34 MLS goals – obscures the fact he’s very selective with his shots. He’s taken just 37 shots this
season to register nine goals.
Giovinco is again the most productive player in the league in terms of goals (eight) plus assists (six). Yet teams are better prepared to stop him than they
were last year when he burst onto the MLS scene and he’s also been too eager to shoot rather than find an open teammate. Still, he’s amazing to watch.
The numbers suggest that
Villa goes for goal at every opportunity and for the most part the numbers are right. He’s the league leader in goals (12) as well as shots (107) and shots on goal (46). If rookie Jack
Harrison continues to terrorize defenses, Villa may be more discerning and no less effective. Keep an eye on:
The chase for the Golden Boot looks like a mad scramble,
with Dom Dwyer
, Didier Drogba
, Cyle Larin
, Chris Wondolowski
and Bradley Wright-Phillips
all in the hunt. MIDFIELDERS Mauro Diaz
(FC Dallas) Jermaine Jones
(Colorado) Ignacio Piatti
(Montreal) Diego Valeri
Touted as an emerging star for quite a while, Diaz is approaching a level of consistency to match his talent. No longer can he rely on the massive presence of
forward Blas Perez
(traded to Vancouver), so hitting balls that Fabian Castillo
, Michael Barrios
and Tesho Akindele
can take in
stride shapes the FCD attack. His nine assists are second only to Sacha Kljestan
Ordinarily, a player who has missed one-half of regular-season games would be excluded,
and the Rapids have proven they can without Jones, but his influence is too great to ignore. On the field, he’s robust and smart; off the field, he’s helped change the mindset of an entire
After playing as a forward as well as a wide attacker in MLS, Piatti has found a way to find the right spots on the field regardless of his position. Lining up with
Drogba certainly helps, and he’s already scored one goal more than the nine he tallied last season.
Valeri’s moderate total of five assists isn’t really indicative
of his performance: he leads the league with four key passes per game.
Keep an eye on:
Kljestan and the Red Bulls lost their duel with Andrea
and NYCFC on Sunday; a day later, Kaka
and Orlando City SC were routed by FCD. The fates of those teams revolve around their playmakers. The unsung heroes in
Colorado are central mids Sam Cronin
and Michael Azira
. DEFENDERS Drew Moor
FC) Axel Sjoberg
(Colorado) Walker Zimmerman
TFC’s offensive struggles, especially at home -- just seven goals scored in six games --
have kept it pinned near the playoff line, but the defense has been reliable most of the time. Moor is still adjusting to a new environment following a winter trade from Colorado, yet he’s
scored twice and is averaging four clearances and 3.3 interceptions per game.
The Rapids’ incredible stinginess --11 goals conceded in 17 games -- is a function of excellent team
defense: they are fourth in fewest shots allowed (194). Sjoberg, the giant Swede out of Marquette, is the centerpiece and though he’s only in his second MLS season, he’s racking up
impressive numbers in his per-game figures for clearances (5.8), interceptions (2.8), and aerial duels won (2.7). His pass completion percentage of 82.2 is solid.
Zimmerman is four inches
shorter than the 6-foot-7 Sjoberg and thus gets tested in air more often. He is usually the victor, with an average of four aerial wins per game. He also averages 5.2 clearances and 3.8 interceptions,
and has scored twice. FCD is second in shots allowed with 184 but with 18 road goals allowed is seeking some consistency week to week.
Keep an eye on: Roland
and Frederic Brilliant
are putting in some impressive displays for New York City FC, and the return from international duty of Laurent
(Montreal) and Matt Besler
(Sporting KC) should shore things up in the second half of the season. Philly’s Keegan Rosenberry
is near the head of
the rookie class. GOALKEEPER David Bingham
Rough seasons for David Ousted
and a few other stalwarts have opened up this position, though by the end of October no one would be surprised if that new guy in Colorado, Tim Howard
, is the winner. Too bad
for Zac MacMath
, who logged six shutouts and a 0.69 goals allowed average before heading to the bench.
Bingham is among the league leaders in saves (54) and goals-allowed average
(1.14) and though his brief fling with the U.S. national team may not lead to anything long-term, he’s carved out a reputation as a rising force among the league’s elite keepers. His
mettle will be tested in a succession of pressure games as the Quakes battle to end a four-season playoff drought.
Keep an eye on
: Along with the usual suspects, the Union’s
is generating a lot of buzz for his spectacular work.