5 Who Contributed the Most to MLS History
Is it a good time to start a new conversation on the players who have had the greatest impact on MLS history?
With another dramatic season concluded, and now facing six long, dark winter weeks before the SuperDraft gives us an excuse to ponder the next, what else would we do? The Christmas shopping can wait a little longer.
Which players have had the greatest impacts on their teams and the league?
This is a discussion of on-field contributions, and limited to MLS fields. If considering which MLS players went on to bigger careers in other leagues, the conversation would be altogether different.
Likewise, if allowing for off-field factors, like which players had the largest impact on league rules and business models, this could be a one-slide slideshow. Given David Beckham's departure from the Galaxy side that captured the 2012 Cup, he’s been talked about enough.
Candidates for the following slides were subjected to a rigorous, analytic point system. While not quite as complex (or geeky) as the college football Bowl Championship Series formula, it came close. Readers won’t be bored with details, but factors weighed included individual honors and team accomplishments, with bonus points awarded for when the two coincided.
The analysis also included a “sanity check” to ensure that, well, nothing looked insane. Nothing did, but that review did lead to one change, as an omitted name screamed for correction. This caused some wringing of hands over who to drop, so as to keep the list limited to five.
With no further ado, here are the five players who have made the most significant impact on MLS history.
Honorable Mention: Omar Gonzalez
Omar Gonzalez found the equalizer in the recent MLS Cup finals, was involved with the Galaxy attack throughout the game, and subsequently was named Man of the Match over his more celebrated teammates.
His second-half header was the Galaxy’s only goal from somewhere other than the penalty spot.
Backs rarely win honors like that, and when they do, it often is for their attacking exploits. Gonzalez happens to be a heck of a defender, too, though some eyes tend to overlook such things.
The reason he is relegated to Honorable Mention here is because Gonzalez hasn’t been in the league long enough to have the same degree of historical impact as the players on the following slides.
The former Maryland Terrapin was the MLS Rookie of the Year only three years ago.
Since, he has twice been named to the league's Best XI and once as Defender of the Year. More importantly from the Galaxy’s perspective, he was a backline stalwart for two Supporters’ Shield campaigns, and now two MLS Cup campaigns.
5. Jaime Moreno
It is difficult to choose between Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry, but Moreno takes the fifth and last position on this list for longevity and statistical importance.
Moreno was the first player in MLS history to reach triple-digits for both goals and assists. The Bolivian forward retired in 2010 with 133 goals and 102 assists (stats from mlssoccer.com, as different numbers can be found elsewhere).
Moreno was a huge cog in the original D.C. United dynasty. Winning three MLS Cups in the league's first four seasons, United's roster was chock-full of high-impact players.
Adored by D.C. fans, Moreno never won league MVP honors, but he was a finalist for the award three times. Two of those honors coincided with post-season championships. The other was in 1998, when United won the CONCACAF Champions Cup and now defunct Copa Interamericana.
That year, the first time an MLS team won continental and intercontinental competitions, was considered by many fans to be United's greatest. Moreno was second in league MVP balloting to teammate and fellow Bolivian Etcheverry.
Moreno was a pillar for United during four successful MLS Cup and four Supporters’ Shield campaigns. He won Cup MVP honors once, and was named to the league's Best XI five years. In 2005, he was named to the league’s 10-year anniversary All-Time Best XI.
4. Eddie Pope
Eddie Pope was an inaugural member of D.C.’s then-esteemed back line. The only thing that prevented him from contributing more during his club career was time away with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
In the first MLS Cup, a 1996 contest between United and the Galaxy, it was Pope who scored the Golden Goal.
He followed with an even more impressive 1997 performance, and was named MLS Defender of the Year.
In that celebrated 1998 season, Pope scored the memorable and historically significant game winner against Vasco da Gama that won the Copa Interamericana for D.C.
Athletically gifted with a huge vertical leap, Pope was an absolute animal defending D.C. interests against high crosses. His was an intimidating presence, as Pope had a reputation for physical yet clean tackles.
In 254 MLS games, his play only drew whistles 271 times; close to only one foul per game. Likewise, Pope rarely saw cards aimed his way.
The former North Carolina Tar Heel contributed to three United MLS Cup campaigns, and was named to the league's Best XI four years.
He continued his excellent defensive efforts for New York and Real Salt Lake, from where he retired in 2007. Two years prior, he was one of three league defenders named to the All-Time Best XI.
3. Jeff Agoos
Swiss-born Jeff Agoos had a knack for being on the right team at the right time. The trick allowed him to hoist the MLS Cup five times; three with D.C. and two with San Jose.
In a statistical look at great players, steady defenders can fly under the radar. The analysis behind this slideshow initially overlooked him as well.
However, considering the old contention among old coaches that it is defenders who win championships, Agoos certainly earned his place in MLS history.
Though only named to the Best XI three times (a primary reason for initially overlooking his contributions here), the league righted that potential wrong in 2005. That year, he joined Pope and Marcelo Balboa as the three defenders selected for the All-Time Best XI.
Relatively small-statured as a 5’10” defender, "Goose" was one of the best at reading the field.
That trait was appreciated on the national side as well, where he was capped for 134 international games. Only Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones have worn the U.S. senior jersey more.
Agoos was named Defender of the Year for 2001, during which he served as San Jose captain during the Earthquake's first Cup run.
He retired from the MetroStars in 2005 after 10 seasons in MLS.
2. Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan was the face of MLS before Beckham replaced him in that role. Having the league's best known figures playing together on the same team begs for comparisons between them.
On MLS fields, one clearly stands taller; the player named at the top of the slide.
Donovan has been included in league's Best XI six times. Beckham has received that honor only once during his six years with the Galaxy.
The former England captain has one world-class skill, and those insightful feeds certainly have contributed to the Galaxy's recent success. But he has been an incomplete package, and thus has not made a comparable on-field impact.
Donovan, for instance, can tackle. (Ashley Cole may not share that opinion, but the infamous EPL clash that resulted with a fracture to Cole's ankle was clean.)
Beckham is primarily a one-phase player, and fairly useless in defense.
Between his time in San Jose and Los Angeles, Donovan has lifted five MLS Cups and been a major factor in the winning of two Supporters’ Shields.
To make this list, it takes more than skill, and even more than performance. The players here performed at their best when the most was on the line.
Of Donovan’s 124 goals in league play, 35 have been game winners. All Beckham considerations aside, there really is only one player comparable to, and per this list surpassing, Donovan’s contributions to MLS history.
1. Dwayne De Rosario
Prior to 2011, every league MVP represented a playoff team. Though D.C. missed the playoffs that year, Timbers Coach John Spencer argued that if Dwayne de Rosario wasn’t awarded the honors, “there’s something wrong, plain and simple.”
Others agreed, and the Canadian international who already had the 2011 Golden Boot also took home the highest individual league award.
De Rosario's career is a saga of clutch performances.
He scored the Golden Goal that earned San Jose its first MLS Cup. That was the first of four Cups he would hoist; two with the Earthquakes and two with the Earthquakes South (also known as the Houston Dynamo).
Like Donovan, the Canadian international is versatile. The natural striker also excels from the midfield, and it was de Rosario who replaced his teammate as a middie when Donovan left San Jose.
They share a couple other accomplishments. Donovan and "De Ro" are the only players who have twice been named MLS Cup MVP and six times honored with league Best XI designations.
If considering international play, Donovan would get the nod. His exploits with the U.S. senior team surpass de Rosario's with Canada. On MLS fields, however, de Rosario has the more significant track record at coming up big in big moments.
Consider his performances in All-Star Games. De Rosario found the net in three of them, including game winners against Chelsea in 2006 and West Ham United in 2008.
And he is one of two players to be honored with MLS Goal of the Year twice.
No player thus far has written more pages of MLS history. D.C. United fans are hoping that authorship continues.