Major League Soccer had its best season in 2012, and there is no doubt 2013 will be even bigger and better! The talent continues to get better, and the attendance is improving as well. That being said, the league will be forced to move on without the presence of David Beckham for the first time since his debut in 2007.
Becks wasn't always the best player on the pitch, and he had plenty of ups-and-downs during his MLS career. Nonetheless, he finished with two consecutive MLS Cup titles with the Los Angeles Galaxy. And more importantly, he was the face of Major League Soccer. Beckham's contributions to the league have been well-documented, and the league wouldn't be where it is today without his presence.
David Beckham has moved on to the next stage of his illustrious career, and it's time for someone else to step up and become the face of Major League Soccer. There are plenty of talented players, but who will be the face of the league moving forward? I've pondered this question for a while, and the answer isn't as clear as I thought it would be.
As of right now, no single player is the face of MLS. Whether or not that will change in the near future remains to be seen, and it's quite possible that "David Beckham" type of impact player hasn't arrived yet. For now, I've put together a short list of players who currently have what it takes to be the face of Major League Soccer and help elevate it to the next level.
Landon Donovan - Los Angeles Galaxy
Landon Donovan has been one of the best in Major League Soccer since 2001, and it's quite possible he is the best player the league has ever seen. He has 124 goals and 108 assists, and he has been a part of five MLS Cup champion teams. In addition, he's one of the best players to ever suit up for the United States national team.
Donovan has been very loyal to MLS even though he has had plenty of offers to play in Europe over the years. His career accomplishments are incredible, and he would surely be the face of MLS if there wasn't so much uncertainty about his future.
Landon Donovan has stated a number of times he is burned out and needs some time off. Bruce Arena, head coach of the Galaxy, said his star player will return to the team at some point in 2013. Nobody seems to know when that will be, and there is nothing set in stone.
Donovan will turn 31 next month, and it's realistic he could play at a high level for a few more years if he chooses. That's the big question though, and only he knows the answer. If he plays a significant amount in 2013, he will continue to be one of the largest draws for the league. Only time will tell what his future holds, and I'm hoping we see him sooner rather than later.
Thierry Henry- New York Red Bulls
Thierry Henry is a legend in the sport of soccer, and his career has been nothing short of outstanding. He was a great player for several years in the Premier League, scoring 174 goals in eight seasons for Arsenal. He has also spent time at Monaco, Juventus, and Barcelona. Henry made his MLS debut in the summer of 2010, and he has been one of the league's best players since his arrival. He scored 14 goals in 2011 and followed that with 15 more last season.
Now that David Beckham is gone, Thierry Henry is probably the most recognizable name in MLS on a worldwide level. It's pretty clear he can still be a dominant player in the United States, but how many more years will he play? Henry is definitely one of the major draws in the league and will be as long as he decides to suit up and play. He has been great the past two years, and he has a legitimate chance to challenge for the Golden Boot award in 2013.
Robbie Keane- Los Angeles Galaxy
Robbie Keane may not be as recognizable as David Beckham or Thierry Henry, but he has been a very good soccer player for a number of years. He is most well known for his time with Tottenham in the Premier League, and he is also a major contributor for the Repiblic of Ireland national team.
Keane arrived in Major League Soccer in 2011, and he has already been a part of two MLS Cup Champion teams. His first full season in the league was 2012, and he made a huge impact by scoring 16 goals in just 28 games.
Robbie Keane is 32 years old, and he still has several impact seasons left. Many fans wondered how long he would stay in MLS, and he put those questions to rest when he signed a multi-year contract extension last month to stay with the Galaxy.
That's great news for Los Angeles, and it's great news for Major League Soccer. Keane has a great chance to compete for the Golden Boot in 2013 and beyond, and he will definitely be one of the faces of the league moving forward.
Chris Wondolowski - San Jose Earthquakes
Chris Wondolowski has scored 61 goals the last three seasons for the San Jose Earthquakes, including two Golden Boot awards. His 27 goals in 2012 tied the all-time MLS record for most goals in a single season.
After accomplishing all that and being named the league's Most Valuable Player last year, he still doesn't seem to get the recognition he deserves. Wondo's name isn't usually mentioned when talking about the league's most notable players, but it's time for that to change.
Chris Wondolowski just turned 30 last month, and he is definitely in the prime of his career right now. He has been on an absolute tear the past three seasons, and that probably won't end anytime soon. He may not ever duplicate his amazing 27-goal season, but he will probably be a major contender to win another Golden Boot Award in 2013 and beyond.
Wondo is currently in the process of signing a new contract which will make him a Designated Player, and it's absolutely the right decision for the San Jose Earthquakes to make. It's well deserved, and it's nice to see one of the league's great players locked up for years to come. He is definitely one of the faces of MLS, and I hope more people realize that sooner rather than later.
Graham Zusi- Sporting Kansas City
Graham Zusi may not be a household name to some casual MLS fans, but loyal fans of the league know he's one of the best right now. His Major League Soccer career began in 2009, but he started making an impact during the 2011 season.
Zusi is one of the flashiest players in the league, and he has become one of the best passers as well. He led the league with 15 assists in 2012, and he has started to get some attention on the worldwide level as well. He trained with West Ham United last month, and he has started to get some attention at the national team level as well.
Graham Zusi may end up leaving Major League Soccer for the brighter lights in Europe, but for now, he is one of the best players in the United States. At 26 years old, he has a very bright future ahead of him at the club and national levels.
If he stays in MLS, Zusi is going to be one of the faces of the league for years to come. I'm not saying he is the next Landon Donovan, but he has the talent to be a dominant player. He will be a household name very soon.
Major League Soccer still isn't even close to being on the same level as some of the European leagues, but the state of the league continues to improve every season. There are some very passionate and knowledgeable fan bases, and that's part of what makes the league special.
I've come to accept the fact that some of the best players will leave every transfer window, and that's why it's difficult to pinpoint one specific face of the league. The overall talent level in MLS continues to improve, however, and it's not necessarily a problem to have more than one face of the league. The list of players above is definitely a great core to start with.
I'm interested in your opinion as well. Do you see one player as the current face of MLS, and if so, who is that player? If not, which players would you list as faces of the league? Would you list anyone else that I left off? Feel free to comment below with your opinion, and thanks for reading!