MLS Positional Rankings (Attacking midfielders): Valeri's MVP season takes him to the top

The rapid expansion of MLS -- it has nearly doubled in size during the past decade -- has opened up more slots for attacking midfielders and produced a wider array of styles as well.

Some are much like second forwards who rack up more goals than assists. Some produce nearly equal figures in those departments. And others rely on the pass more like a traditional No. 10 but can hit the net when provided a chance.

Many of MLS attacking mids use a flank spot as a starting point, so they could be classified as wide midfielders or even wingers. (Ignacio Piatti of Montreal will be so designated.) But if they are an obvious launch point for most of their team’s forays forward, they fall into this category.

The listings are based on performances and production during the 2017 regular season.
SA Top 10: Attacking Midfielders:
1. Diego Valeri (Portland)
2. Victor Vazquez (Toronto FC)
3. Miguel Almiron (Atlanta United)
4. Romain Alessandrini (LA Galaxy)
5. Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle)
6. Federico Higuain (Columbus)
7. Sacha Kljestan (NY Red Bulls)
8. Lee Nguyen (New England)
9. Albert Rusnak (Real Salt Lake)
10. Alex (Houston)
One of the best MLS acquisitions of the past decade, if not the league’s entire existence, Diego Valeri nailed 21 goals and 11 assists to capture the league’s MVP award. He notched at least one goal or an assist in 23 of his 32 appearances (all starts) and set a league record by scoring in nine straight games. His goals+assists total of 32 led the league and he connected on 22.6 percent of his shots.

Described as the “missing piece” by his head coach and teammates, Spaniard Victor Vazquez provided TFC with a third attacking weapon opponents couldn’t deal with. He finished second in MLS with 16 assists, often with sweetly angled passes impossible to intercept, and also scored eight goals. His sense of space and elegant touch are truly top-class.

Like Vazquez and several other players in this category, the adjustment period for Miguel Alimiron was very short. The huge throngs attending Atlanta United FC games knew right away the young (23) Paraguayan had plenty of game. He hit the same numbers (nine goals and 14 assists) as Federico Higuain, and is a decade younger. He’s quick and clever and fun to watch, and has already drawn serious interest from foreign teams.

Not much went right for the Galaxy in 2017, and the season would have been a complete catastrophe if not for Frenchman Roman Alessandrini. He resolutely marched amid the carnage to score 13 goals and register 12 assists in 30 games. A right mid/winger who can set up goals and score them, he probably did the most with the worst cast around him of any player in MLS.

Nicolas Lodeiro also likes to set up shop off-center and dart forward to unhinge defenses. His numbers (7 goals, 12 assists) aren’t quite the measure of the others listed here, but he’s one of the league’s best lefties when it comes to service or sticking away a chance.

Whispers that Higuain had little left at 33 went silent as he played 26 regular-season games and helped Columbus reach the Eastern Conference finals, but Crew SC’s failure to score in the two-game series revived those murmurs a bit. As the league’s leading assist man (17), Sacha Kljestan did the business well except for that sixth-place finish and Knockout-Round loss.

Talk about doing well for a struggling team: Lee Nguyen racked up 15 assists and scored 11 goals in 31 games during a very dismal Revolution season that ushered out head coach Jay Heaps. Kudos were deservedly aimed at Mike Petke for getting RSL into playoff contention, and in that process the able work of Albert Rusnak, yet another young (23) MLS debutant, went beyond his seven goals and 14 assists. Alex filled the playmaker role until the arrival of Tomas Martinez, and logged 10 of his 11 assists before the switch took effect.
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