The impossible annual task of choosing an MLS Best XI
Forget about a functional XI when you’re putting together an MLS Best XI.
That’s true in most leagues, to be fair, but the offensive firepower in MLS puts up gaudy numbers as silky attackers are given a bit more free reign than their used to in previous leagues.
Consider that two players eclipsed the 30-goal mark in Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the latter doing it in under 30 matches. Josef Martinez also came close in 29 matches.
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Those players are enough to form a trident for your Best XI, and they come from loaded units.
Then there’s midfielder Maxi Moralez of NYCFC with his 20 assists in 2434 minutes.
Vela had double digit goals and assists, an achievement met by Carles Gil (New England), Alejandero Pozuelo (Toronto), and Nani (Orlando City).
They all can’t make it.
So we’ll build from the back, and likely punish the fullbacks thanks to a remarkable group of attackers.
Here is who is getting my vote.
The backstop is always a tricky choice. Bill Hamid and Brad Guzan led the league in clean sheets with 14, but only the former will warrant consideration here. The Galaxy’s David Bingham led the league in saves and saves inside the box, while also stopping a pair of penalties.
Both join Portland’s Steve Clark, Vancouver’s Maxime Crepeau, and New England’s Matt Turner as advanced stat darlings.
For me it comes down to Hamid and Bingham. The former had far superior defenders, but I can’t get past DC United’s 38 goals allowed to the Galaxy’s 59. Maybe it’s the hockey fan in me thinking of it like the Jennings Award, but that’s my tiebreaker.
I’m gonna start with DC again here, and the Black-and-Red have two players deserving of a place: Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum.
Here’s why I’m opting for the latter: On the SofaScore list of the Top 20 rated defenders in MLS, minimum 25 games, all but two were dribbled past 11 times or more: Orlando’s Lamine Sane and Birnbaum.
Birnbaum’s number? Two.
You read that right. In 3032 minutes this season, he was taken twice.
Other contenders include:
-- Ike Opara, who had another remarkable season and didn’t miss a beat in switching from Sporting KC to Minnesota.
-- Bastian Schweinsteiger in Chicago dropped from the center of the park and was very strong.
-- Miles Robinson of Atlanta was exceptional, especially given his age, while Ryan Hollingshead had the best advanced statistical season of any back on WhoScored. Jorge Moreira gets that nod on SofaScore. And spare a thought for Keegan Rosenberry, who intercepted 16 more passes than anyone else in MLS (82) but still can’t get a call from the USMNT.
We named the prime attackers in MLS at the top of this post. You’d like to add Nicolas Lodeiro and Diego Valeri.
Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye from LAFC have been difference makers behind Vela. In-beom Hwang was marvelous more often than not but on a terrible Vancouver team.
But there’s one name I believe qualifies as the least-heralded star in MLS.
Minnesota United’s Jan Gregus needs to be on this team. I don’t think he will because his goal and eight assists don’t pop off the page and the Slovakian national team doesn’t get as much love as center midfield partner and well-established bulldog Osvaldo Alonso.
Gregus was fifth in MLS in interceptions with 1.9 per match, 2.2 key passes, and crafts an awfully nice looking long pass. You could argue that he was the key to Minnesota’s fourth seed.
The Best XI
So here’s my team. We’d be destroyed out wide, but would probably score 10 goals a game so man would we entertain?
Bill Hamid (DC)
Robinson (ATL) -- Birnbaum (DC) -- Opare (MIN)
Gregus (MIN) -- Atuesta (LAFC)
Lodeiro (SEA) -- Moralez (NYCFC)
Vela (LAFC) -- Ibrahimovic (LAG) -- Martinez (ATL)
Bench: Bingham (LAG), Brillant (DC), Gil (NE), Pozuelo (TOR), Przyzbylko (PHI), Valeri (POR), Schweinsteiger (CHI)