Just a month remains in the 2020 MLS
There has been no dominant player like in the last two seasons when Josef Martinez and then Carlos Vela set league scoring records.
There's a host of legitimate candidates for MLS MVP: Spaniard Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC), Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro and Peruvian Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle), Uruguayan Diego Rossi (LAFC), Ghanaian Jonathan Mensah (Columbus), Portuguese Nani (Orlando City) and Argentine Sebastian Blanco (Portland), before his knee injury.
But MLS's top eight teams have all getting big contributions from Americans, several of them young players attracting interest from foreign clubs.
1. Toronto FC (PPG: 2.13. Record: 10-2-4; record since return to home: 8-2-1)
Top American: Ayo Akinola was the breakout star at the MLS is Back Tournament with five goals in his first two games, but he was then slowed down by a hamstring injury. The 20-year-old forward has confirmed that his form in Orlando was no fluke with goals in his last two games -- both one-goal wins -- for the Reds, the leaders in the Supporters' Shield race. He first started in place of Jozy Altidore but in recent weeks he has lined up with him. Akinola played for the U.S. U-17s and U-20s but might end up playing for Canada at the senior level.
2. Seattle (PPG: 2.00. Record: 9-3-3; record since return to home: 7-2-1)
Top American: Over the course of a full season, Jordan Morris would be on pace for a career season with eight goals and seven assists in 15 games. He will take on a bigger role in the Sounders' attack with Ruidiaz away on national team duty with Peru, then quarantining after his return.
3. Philadelphia (PPG: 1.94. Record: 9-3-4; record since return to home: 7-2-2)
Top American: The stock of no American in MLS risen higher this season than that of 19-year-old Brenden Aaronson. He has four goals and four assists in 16 games, but his play in the open field and versatility have caught the eye of Austrian champion Salzburg. No deal has been finalized, but Salzburg coach Jesse Marsch told SiriusXM FC on Thursday he is convinced the South Jersey product "can be a really good fit."
3. Columbus (PPG: 1.94. Record: 9-3-4; record since return to home: 5-3-3)
Top American: Darlington Nagbe was the best American in MLS until he suffered a meniscus injury to his knee that required arthroscopic surgery and has kept him out of the lineup for six games. How much has the Crew missed him? It was 7-1-2 with him in the lineup, but it has played .500 ball without him. There are many reasons for Atlanta United's collapse, a big one being Nagbe's departure after the 2019 season when it granted his wish to be traded so he could return home to Ohio.
5. Orlando City (PPG: 1.88. Record: 8-2-6; record since return to home: 6-1-4)
Top American: There are many reasons for the Lions' turnaround, beginning with the work of new coach Oscar Pareja, a lock for MLS Coach of the Year. Another is the play of 24-year-old Chris Mueller. Most college products are on their way out of the league by their third season, but he leads the Lions in goals (7) and assists (6). Pareja says Mueller has the work ethic to become an MLS star. "I think he has the talent," he said during Orlando City's surprise run to the MLS is Back. "The U.S. has a player for the national team.”
6. Portland (PPG: 1.80. Record: 8-4-3; record since return to home: 5-3-3)
Top American: Once again, Jeremy Ebobisse has beaten off a challenge for the Timbers' starting job up front. He scored two goals in Wednesday's 6-3 win at the LA Galaxy -- including his first MLS goal on a direct free kick -- to help extend the Timbers' winning streak to four matches. He has stepped up since Blanco was lost for the season with four goals in four starts to tie for the team lead in goals in matches that count in the MLS standings (7) and across all competitions (8).
7. Sporting KC (PPG: 1.73. Record: 8-5-2; record since return to home: 4-4-2)
Top American: Few young Americans have been hyped like Gianluca Busio, who was the second-youngest player to ever sign with MLS when he signed as a Homegrown Player at the age of 15. For most of his first two MLS seasons and at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup, he struggled to have a big impact in an attacking role. But since being given a starting job at holding midfielder after his return from the MLS is Back, he has started to come into his own.
8. New York City FC (PPG: 1.63. Record: 8-6-2; record since return to home: 7-2-2)
Top American: After missing most of the second half of the 2019 season with a broken collar bone, 20-year-old James Sands was moved from center back into central midfield following a coaching change. How long Sands stays with NYCFC remains to be seen. Says first-year head coach head coach Ronny Deila, "He has all the discipline and mental strength that you need to become a really good player."
Photo: Jane Gershovich / Sounders FC Communications