Ranking the 10 Best Forwards from the 2014 MLS Season
One of the reasons why the 2014 Major League Soccer season delivered a ton of excitement was the play of the forwards across the league.
Due to the strength in numbers at the position, the Golden Boot race was one of the fiercest in league history. In the end, it took a record-tying season from Bradley Wright-Phillips to win the scoring title.
Some of the top scorers this season were also some of the league's biggest names, as Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins finished as three of the top seven scorers.
Here's a look at the 10 best forwards from the 2014 MLS season.
10. Joao Plata
Joao Plata may be the shortest player in league history, but he packs a big punch up top for Real Salt Lake.
The 5'2" Ecuadorian burst on the scene this season with 13 goals after he scored on four occasions in his first season with the Claret and Cobalt.
To go along with his 13 strikes, Plata recorded six assists, which was good enough to catch the eye of the Ecuador national team.
The 22-year-old was on the Ecuador roster for the friendly matches in October against the United States and El Salvador. In the 5-1 win over El Salvador at Red Bull Arena, Plata scored his first two international goals.
9. Chris Wondolowski
Chris Wondolowski's lasting impact on the American soccer landscape in 2014 will be his miss against Belgium in the World Cup.
Many players would have let a miss like that affect him in a negative fashion, but Wondolowski did not succumb to the pressure.
In fact, the 32-year-old forward returned from Brazil in spectacular form for an otherwise poor San Jose Earthquakes side.
Nine of Wondolowski's 14 strikes came after the World Cup, but not even his stellar form could prevent the Earthquakes' slide down to last place in the Western Conference over the last three months of the season.
8. Fabian Espindola
In his first season with D.C. United, Fabian Espindola recorded a personal high in the goals department with 11.
Espindola was one of two key forwards acquired by Ben Olsen's side before the 2014 season, but he was far more productive than United States international Eddie Johnson.
In 27 games, Espindola contributed 11 goals and nine assists to a side that went from worst to first in the Eastern Conference.
Before he has a chance to kick off 2015 in style on the pitch, Espindola will have to sit through a six-game suspension. He picked up the ban after an incident with a referee following the conclusion of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with New York.
7. Gyasi Zardes
The progression of Gyasi Zardes over the last nine months has been a welcome sight to the fans of the L.A. Galaxy and the United States men's national team.
After missing countless chances in his first season with the Galaxy, Zardes settled into a starting role and scored 16 goals.
For most of the season, the California native was the top-scoring American in the league. But that title was taken away from him thanks to Lee Nguyen's scoring surge at the end of the regular season.
Although he did take a big leap forward in 2014, Zardes still needs to prove he can be a consistent forward for the entire season. Before his goal in the MLS Cup Final, Zardes had not found the back of the net since September 28.
6. Erick 'Cubo' Torres
The play of Erick "Cubo" Torres was one of the few things that drew outsiders to Chivas USA games in 2014.
Although Chivas USA went out on a somber note, Torres did bring plenty of life to the pitch in the 29 games he played.
As for a decision on the player's future, commissioner Don Garber said at his State of the League address that the league would like to keep him, but a decision hasn't been made yet.
5. Clint Dempsey
After finally having some time off to rest his legs this past offseason, Clint Dempsey was able to produce in front of goal for the Seattle Sounders.
Dempsey, who scored once in nine games after his move to Seattle last season, formed a deadly partnership up top with Obafemi Martins in 2014.
The United States international also showed up when the Sounders needed him the most, as he recorded a goal or an assist in 10 of the club's final 11 regular-season games.
Dempsey ended the regular season with 15 goals and 10 assists, both of which are highs for the 31-year-old in MLS.
4. Dom Dwyer
No one expected Dom Dwyer to make the impact he did during the 2014 season for Sporting Kansas City.
After starting just seven games in 2013, Dwyer stepped into Peter Vermes' starting 11 thanks to an impressive loan spell at Orlando City.
Not only did Dwyer take over as Sporting's top scorer this season, he also took the title of best goal celebration for his selfie following his strike against Chicago on July 6.
When Dwyer takes the field in Sporting blue in 2015, he will be surrounded by plenty of new faces, as the club is in a bit of rebuilding process after an early playoff exit.
3. Obafemi Martins
It is hard to believe Obafemi Martins is just 30 years old given his long record of scoring across the globe.
Martins, who joined the Sounders in 2013, saw his numbers rise dramatically thanks to his connection with Dempsey at the forward position.
The Nigerian striker scored 17 goals and provided his teammates with 13 assists in 31 games during the regular season.
Martins also scored the third goal in Seattle's 3-1 win over Philadelphia in the U.S. Open Cup Final back in September at PPL Park.
2. Bradley Wright-Phillips
Bradley Wright-Phillips was the most prolific player in front of goal this season, but he was not the most complete forward in MLS.
Wright-Phillips etched his name in the record books, as he tied the mark for most goals in a single season. His 27 goals tied the seasons of Roy Lassiter in 1996 and Wondolowski in 2012.
Although he did put up a high number in the goals column, Wright-Phillips had two assists in 32 games. On top of that, the newly minted designated player was wasteful in front of goal on numerous occasions.
If he had converted on more clear-cut chances, Wright-Phillips would have torn the scoring record to shreds by netting at least 30 goals in the regular season.
1. Robbie Keane
There are 38 reasons why Robbie Keane was the best player in MLS this season.
The 34-year-old Irish forward was one of the top players in the regular season, as he earned 19 goals and 14 assists.
During the L.A. Galaxy's playoff run, which ended in the lifting of the MLS Cup, Keane contributed to five more goals. The most important strike of his season came in the 111th minute of the MLS Cup Final, when he netted the game-winning goal.
Keane will not get to continue his terrific connection with Landon Donovan for another year, but he should still see plenty of success with young stars like Zardes rising up the Galaxy ranks.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com.