The 18th season of Major League Soccer is set to kick off this Saturday with a full slate of weekend action.
With an offseason full of transfers, each team’s fanbase is wondering how their team will fare with their new squad.
Here are 10 players whose performances will have a great deal to do with their team’s success.
Although Landon Donovan will not play on opening weekend and, in fact, is not likely to hit the field until late April according to Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, Donovan’s success, or lack thereof, will be a big factor in determining the Galaxy’s level of success this season.
If Donovan comes back from his sabbatical hungry and ready to play, his combinations with Robbie Keane will continue to devastate MLS defenses. If, however, Donovan psychologically burns out before the season finishes, the Galaxy could struggle mightily.
The fiery Irish striker had a brilliant campaign in 2012, scoring 16 goals and finishing fourth overall in the league despite missing a month due to the Euros.
Keane’s class is undeniable, but without David Beckham this season, and Landon Donovan for the first two months, Keane may be starved for service. If this happens, Keane’s temper may get the best of him.
Keane has a tendency to get frustrated when his teammates are not on the same page as him. Absent Beckham and Donovan, the Galaxy have no one even close to Keane’s class.
For the past two years, Omar Gonzalez has been one of the biggest reasons the Galaxy have been back-to-back league champions.
After winning MLS Defender of the Year honors in 2011, Gonzalez missed the first half of the 2012 season as he recovered from ACL surgery. In his absence, the Galaxy struggled, but once he returned, LA’s season turned around and Gonzalez ended up becoming the MVP of MLS Cup 2012.
Gonzalez’ individual success, however, may actually hurt the Galaxy, as he will likely miss a good number of the Galaxy’s games as the USMNT pushes through the final round of World Cup qualifying.
The MLS calendar, unlike most of the world, does not revolve around the international calendar. If USMNT qualifying goes down to the final two games, which currently seems very likely, Gonzalez may not even be available to the Galaxy for some early round playoff matches.
Chivas USA has had a fire sale this offseason, particularly on its non-Latino players, as it seeks to create a new identity.
Agudelo has survived the purge (his family is originally from Colombia) and could finally be ready for a big season in 2013.
Agudelo burst onto the MLS and international stage in 2010 with a number of spectacular goals, but was unable to become a regular for the New York Red Bulls in 2011 and was dealt to Chivas USA early in the 2012 season.
Not much went right for Chivas in 2012 as Agudelo and the club both suffered through a disappointing season. But, if Chivas can be successful in their experiment to bring Mexican-style football to MLS, Agudelo could be one of the big winners.
This offseason, the Chicago Fire signed two of the most solid midfielders in Major League Soccer in Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz.
For years, Larentowicz has been considered one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS and Lindpere is one of the best attacking midfielders in the league.
With a solid defense of Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba and Sean Johnson in the net, Larentowicz and Lindpere’s play in Chicago’s midfield could help propel the team to the top of the league.
As a rookie in 2012, Nick DeLeon became one of the most exciting attacking players in Major League Soccer.
With a year of experience under his belt, a solid core of players around him and a great team atmosphere in D.C., DeLeon could be poised for a huge year.
A strong start in 2013 could even see DeLeon get a call-up for the USMNT’s Gold Cup roster this summer. If that happens, it would be a great opportunity for DeLeon but would leave a big hole in D.C.’s lineup for the month he would be gone.
Boniek Garcia became one of the most exciting attacking players in MLS in 2012, despite just 17 regular-season appearances with the Houston Dynamo.
Joining the team midseason, Garcia’s impact was immediate as his flair on the wing helped Houston become a more dynamic team.
Garcia finished the season with five goals and six assists and was named the 2012 MLS Transaction of the Year. With a full season to prove his worth, Garcia is set for a monster year in 2013.
A University of Notre Dame grad, Ryan Miller had unsuccessful stints immediately after college with the Columbus Crew and DC United. However, Miller then moved to Europe where he became a regular part of Halmstad’s lineup in Sweden.
Once touted as a possible U.S. international, Miller, now back in the U.S. with the Portland Timbers, should become an important part of Caleb Porter’s new-look Portland Timbers.
Since coming to MLS in 2011, Benny Feilhaber has struggled to display the attacking prowess that made him a key part of the USMNT’s Gold Cup win in 2007 and successful runs in the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup.
This offseason, Feilhaber moved on from the New England Revolution, who did not make the playoffs in either of Feilhaber’s seasons with the team.
Now with Sporting KC, Feilhaber may finally have the attacking pieces around him to become a successful player in the league.
Coming into the 2012 MLS season, everyone knew Darren Mattocks had the type of talent that could make him into one of the league’s best attackers.
Mattocks didn’t become a regular part of Vancouver’s lineup until late April, but once he did he immediately contributed, scoring five goals in his first six starts.
While Mattocks cooled off near the end of the season, with a year more experience, Mattocks could become one of MLS’ most dangerous strikers.
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