Ranking the Top 20 Strikers in MLS Heading into the 2014 Season
The Major League Soccer season is a week and a half away from beginning and excitement is starting to grow across North America for the 2014 campaign.
Before the season begins, it is time for all of us to channel that excitement into a debate on who is the best striker in the league entering this season.
MLS contains plenty of star forwards like Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, but there are also some fresh young faces that must be included in the discussion as well.
Continue reading to see which 20 goalscorers made their way on to this best of list.
20. Joao Plata
At just 21 years of age, Joao Plata's impact on Real Salt Lake has been a massive one.
Part of a young core that includes Luis Gil, Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval, Plata made 29 appearances in his first season in Utah.
In his time on the pitch, Plata contributed four goals and eight assists in a season where he started 19 games.
Despite a change in managers this offseason, the Ecuadorian is expected to have the same role, if not a bigger one, as he develops further as a player.
19. Jack McInerney
At the start of the 2013 season there was one forward that could not stop scoring goals.
That player was Jack McInerney of the Philadelphia Union, who scored 10 of his 12 goals in the first three months of the season.
Some may blame his inefficiency late in the season on his call-up to the United States men's national team during the CONCACAF Gold Cup. McInerney only participated in training and lost a bit of his edge when he returned to the Union.
With plenty of new attacking weapons in Philly this season, the pressure will be on the 21-year-old to score on a more consistent basis as his team chases a playoff berth.
18. Kenny Miller
In 2013, Kenny Miller took a back seat to Camilo's goalscoring heroics in Vancouver as he found the back of the net just eight times.
This time around, Camilo has left after a frustrating transfer saga and Miller must lead the young line with his experience.
With the trio of Kekuta Manneh, Omar Salgado and Darren Mattocks ready to take over the starting forward position in British Columbia, Miller must step up to the challenge and score goals in 2014.
Scoring goals is something Miller was originally brought to Vancouver to do because of his track record with Rangers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and many other European clubs.
17. Deshorn Brown
The Colorado Rapids may not have a head coach at the moment, but they do have a star goalscorer in Deshorn Brown.
Brown, 23, burst on to the scene in 2013 with 10 goals in 31 appearances for the Rapids.
The sixth-overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft was one of two bright rookies on the Colorado team last season as he finished just behind Dillon Powers in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Brown has already made his way into the Jamaican national team with four appearances for the Reggae Boyz in the last few months.
For Colorado to go anywhere this season, Brown must continue to show the goal-scoring prowess he did in his first season.
16. Blas Perez
Blas Perez is another CONCACAF star that has made an instant impact in MLS as he has scored 20 goals in two seasons for FC Dallas.
The 32-year-old Panama international will join forces this season with Brown's old coach, Oscar Pareja, as the Hoops look to find a way back into the MLS Cup playoffs.
Perez, who has 34 international goals for Panama, will have a chance to stay fresh during the long season because Panama barely missed out on a spot in the World Cup playoff against New Zealand thanks to Graham Zusi.
With a fresh Perez in hand all season, FC Dallas could challenge for a postseason berth in Pareja's first year as manager.
15. Dominic Oduro
MLS veteran Dominic Oduro had his best season in 2013 after he was traded to Columbus from Chicago during the offseason.
Oduro scored on 13 occasions in a season where he started 34 times in a Crew lineup that features one of the best playmakers in the league, Federico Higuain.
There is no doubt that Oduro's numbers were inflated by having Higuain in the lineup, but he would not have scored that many goals if he didn't have the instincts in front of goal that are required to be a star scorer.
14. Claudio Bieler
One of the best signings of 2013 came in the form of Claudio Bieler as the 29-year-old Argentinian netted 10 goals for Sporting Kansas City on the way to winning the MLS Cup.
Bieler brought a goal-scoring pedigree with him to Sporting Park that included a few strong years with LDU Quito in Ecuador.
Combined with the terrific midfield setup in Kansas City, Bieler had no drop off in production as he scored in double digits for the second straight season after scoring 20 in 36 matches for LDU Quito in 2012. He only played in 28 matches in 2013 for Sporting.
If he can score over 10 goals for the third consecutive year, Bieler will put Sporting in prime position to win it all once again.
13. Eddie Johnson
There is no questioning the fact that Eddie Johnson resurrected his career in Seattle over the past two seasons, but now he has moved on to greener pastures.
Johnson joined D.C. United during the offseason after numerous complaints about his wages during the 2013 season.
This season in the nation's capital, Johnson will be the main man up front and it will be up to him to see if he can handle those pressures in a World Cup year.
Johnson has been known to be inconsistent on occasion and that is something both D.C. and United States cannot have in 2014.
12. Federico Higuain
While younger brother Gonzalo is off making a name for himself in Europe, Federico Higuain is enjoying a nice spell of time in the United States.
The 29-year-old dazzled in his first set of games for Columbus back in 2012 and he continued that stellar form in 2013.
That same form should not be expected to slow down one bit as the Argentinian ace begins his second full season with the Crew.
What is impressive about Higuain is the fact that he can also turn into a provider of goals as well as a scorer, a statement that is backed up by his 11 goals and nine assists last season.
11. Diego Fagundez
One of the most underrated stories of 2013 came out of New England where a group of fresh, young players helped the Revolution earn the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
The main goalscorer of that squad was 19-year-old Diego Fagundez, who should serve as the centerpiece to the club's attack once again this season.
At just 19, Fagundez scored the fifth-most goals in the league with 13 in 31 appearances as well contributing seven assists.
The scary thing about Fagundez is that he is only going to get better with time, which is something no one in the league outside of New England wants to hear.
10. Mike Magee
Mike Magee proved to us all last season that he could fill the role of top goalscorer on a team if called upon.
Magee began the season on fire in Los Angeles and he kept burning up in Chicago after he was involved in a trade that included Robbie Rogers.
Magee, who was always known for big performances in the postseason for the Galaxy, exploded for 21 goals in 32 appearances and won the MLS Most Valuable Player award.
Although he has a distant chance of making the World Cup roster, Magee has shown that he can handle the pressure up front.
Now he just has to prove to us that 2013 was not a fluke and that he can do this for the rest of his career.
9. Darlington Nagbe
If you haven't heard of Darlington Nagbe by now, you need to become familiar with him before the season begins on March 8.
The 23-year-old is listed on paper as a midfielder, but he plays more like forward in Caleb Porter's system in Portland.
The Liberian-born Nagbe collected a strong amount of superlatives during the last 12 months including Timbers Player of the Year and the No. 1 player on MLSSoccer.com's annual 24 under 24 list.
Nagbe is a player who can do everything and he has made a huge mark on the American public, who are anxiously awaiting his national-team eligibility, which could be awarded to him in December 2015 once he is allowed to become a U.S. citizen.
Before his bright future with the United States begins, the University of Akron product will have a chance to solidify his already impressive resume with a few more solid seasons in the Rose City.
8. Alvaro Saborio
In four seasons with Real Salt Lake, Alvaro Saborio has been the perfect model for consistency.
Saborio has scored more than 10 goals in each of those four seasons while also starring for Costa Rica.
The 31-year-old did struggle with injuries last season, but in the 16 games he did play, he scored 12 goals and recorded two assists.
With the lights about to shine brighter on Saborio than they ever have before this summer at the World Cup, he is expected to have a career season at both the club and international levels.
7. Clint Dempsey
Speaking of players who will feel immense pressure to succeed in 2014, Clint Dempsey is expected to turn around his rough 12 months into a dynamic season for Seattle and the United States.
Dempsey has taken on a more forward role in recent years given his terrific goal-scoring form at Fulham, but since his move away from Craven Cottage, he has failed to gain that form back.
The United States international was never himself last season as he jumped into the middle of a playoff race with the Sounders after being in preseason training with Tottenham.
His current loan spell with Fulham has not helped Dempsey either, which was a move that was made to help him regain his form.
A ton of questions remain about Dempsey at the moment and the only way he can answer them is by scoring goals at will for the Sounders to start the 2014 campaign.
6. Jermain Defoe
New Toronto FC striker Jermain Defoe knows a thing or two about Dempsey from their time at Tottenham together.
Defoe, 31, is the only player on this list who has not played in a MLS match in his career, but that will soon change when he dons the Toronto kit for the first time in March.
The forward is in search of a spot on the England roster for Brazil and he could achieve that by being the main goal provider for the Reds.
Before he began the current English Premier League season with Spurs, Defoe had scored over 10 goals in three of the last four seasons. He has reached at least 10 goals on five other occasions in his career.
Defoe brings with him a respectable goal-scoring pedigree from England and he will expected to succeed once more in Toronto with all of the new pieces assembled around himself and Michael Bradley.
5. Chris Wondolowski
There is no debating the statement that Chris Wondolowski has been one of the best players in MLS over the last four years.
Few players have been as consistent in front of goal than Wondolowski has and even with a broken foot last season he managed to score 11 goals.
Many viewed last season's showing as a disappointment for the player who scored 27 goals the season before, but he will most likely view it as a success given his impact on the United States during the Gold Cup.
Wondolowski has a legitimate outside chance of making the United States roster for Brazil, but it will take the Wondo of 2012 to earn a plane ride to South America.
4. Marco Di Vaio
Montreal's fast start last season can be linked to the form of 37-year-old Marco Di Vaio, who proved that older players from overseas can still make an impact in MLS.
Di Vaio fought for the Golden Boot title with Camilo and Mike Magee throughout the season, but fell just two goals short after slowing down near the end of the season with two goals in his final seven games.
The Italian, who played the majority of his career in Serie A before joining the Impact, will have to be the best player on his team once again this season as the Impact are expected to struggle in the bulked-up Eastern Conference.
If he can keep up his 2013 form, Di Vaio will give fans in Quebec something to cheer about in what is supposed to be a down year for a team that limped into the playoffs last season.
3. Robbie Keane
Robbie Keane may have moved out of the spotlight of the English game, but he has continued to score goals in MLS with Los Angeles.
Keane, who surprisingly is just 33, has scored 16 goals in consecutive seasons for the Galaxy, a total tally that the Republic of Ireland international has not put up since his Tottenham days.
Keane seems to have fought off the injury bug and he looks like he could play a few more seasons before retiring, which would be a welcome sight to manager Bruce Arena and Galaxy fans.
It also doesn't hurt that Keane has played with some guys named David Beckham and Landon Donovan during his time in California.
2. Thierry Henry
Another player who is aging gracefully in MLS is Thierry Henry, who has scored 41 goals since 2010 for the New York Red Bulls.
Henry is not just scoring goals for the current Supporters' Shield holders, he is netting them in spectacular fashion.
With the same flair he had while at Arsenal and Barcelona still alive and well, Henry is a joy to watch play at the age of 36.
With his contract being up at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see if Henry treats 2014 as one last lap of glory for his career or as one to propel him into a few more seasons on the pitch.
1. Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan may not be as good as Henry was at his best, but he is currently the best player in MLS, a title that can be supported by his impact in the Los Angeles attack over the last few seasons.
Donovan, 31, has been a staple in the Galaxy lineup since 2005, and he is once again in the form of his life heading into the most important year of his career.
Because of his self-imposed sabbatical last season, Donovan only scored 10 times and recorded nine assists in 22 games, but even those totals are impressive for the United States international.
Being paired with Keane on a weekly basis has done wonders for Donovan's creativity and that added facet to his game has made him a more complete player.
With the World Cup on the horizon and the pressure to win MLS Cup for the fourth time on his shoulders, expect Donovan to add to his already storied career in MLS.
All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.