MLS Positional Rankings (Forwards): Giovinco still the gold standard

One of the recent trends in soccer parlance is lumping strikers and forwards and sometimes wingers and attacking midfielders into the general category of “attackers.”

Since so many teams often line up with one player furthest forward, whether he be called a striker or forward, the more general term often applies. And when teams like New England and Atlanta rotate and shift six or seven players -- four or five at a time -- amongst the attacking slots designating those players is by necessity an arbitrary exercise.

Most of the players here play with a traditional striker, so classifying them as forwards refers to them playing a deeper position and moving through a greater range of space to find space and angles for shots and passes. Yet several of them played up top more or less on their own at times as well, and it’s that versatility by which they are placed in this category.

The rankings are based on performance and production in league matches and playoff games during the 2017 season.
FORWARDS: 2017 Top 10
1. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
2. Hector Villalaba (Atlanta United)
3. Christian Ramirez (Minnesota United)
4. Clint Dempsey (Seattle)
5. Mauro Manotas (Houston)
6. Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
7. Max Urruti (FC Dallas)
8. Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Montreal)
9. Jack Harrison (New York City FC)
10. Fredy Montero (Vancouver)
The gold standard among forwards since he came to MLS for the 2015 season, Giovinco saw his numbers dip yet he still captured MLS Best XI honors as well as TFC’s first MLS Cup. He edged teammate Jozy Altidore for the team lead in goals by scoring 16 and notched six assists while playing just 25 regular-season games.

An amazing season for Josef Martinez (19 goals in 20 games) somewhat obscured the excellent display by Hector Villalba, who played as a lone forward when Martinez was injured and morphed into a complementary role when they played together. Villalba logged 13 goals and 11 assists while starting all 34 games. He’s only 23 and -- if Atlanta United can hang onto him -- will be a major problem for opposing teams for years to come.

SA Positional Rankings:
Strikers: Martinez lights up MLS with almost a goal per game

Big things were demanded of Christian Ramirez as MNUFC made the leap from NASL to MLS and for the most part he came through. He did some tough sledding while rookie and No. 1 SuperDraft pick Abu Danladi adjusted to the pro game and his 14 goals just missed landing him in the MLS top 10.

Clint Dempsey lands in this category because he’s not a striker and the Sounders rely on Nicolas Lodeiro to spark the attack. He can attack the space behind Will Bruin from any angle, is adept in tight spaces, and can finish with either foot as well as his head. At 34 he’s not the force he was a few years ago but still hit 12 goals in 29 games and three more in the playoffs.

Houston signed Mauro Manotas last year and he awoke late in the season to score six goals in the last eight games. In 2017 he scored at a more modest rate, 10 goals in 33 games (24 starts), and his one playoff goal snuffed out the Timbers in Providence Park.

In a season of change for the Quakes -- a half-dozen new regulars, management shakeup, coaching revamp -- the persistence and determination of Chris Wondolowski brought him 13 goals, eight assists, and his first playoff appearance since 2012. The FCD collapse brought much criticism of Max Urruti (12 goals) somewhat unfairly; he labored much of the season without a healthy Mauro Diaz, was burdened by an unproductive front-line partner in Cristian Colman, and was hung out to dry by team management regarding a possible transfer.

A disappointing season for the Impact did produce a few bright spots, including the display of Anthony Jackson-Hamel. He scored nine goals in just 1,137 minutes while connecting on 28.1 percent of his shots. Jack Harrison started every game for NYCFC and scored 10 goals, which isn’t bad for a 21-year-old in his second pro season. The ‘Caps often deployed Fredy Montero up top by himself yet he’s suited to play as a second forward, and helped them get back into the playoffs by scoring 13 goals.

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