Ranking the 10 Most Important Players in the MLS 2015 Season
The 2015 MLS season kicks off on March 6 with plenty of new storylines after a plethora of offseason moves and signings and two expansion clubs looking to make a good first impression.
The 10 players were ranked by what they will contribute to the club both on and off the field as well as the club's situation and any compelling storylines that will follow a player through the season.
English forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB), Jozy Altidore (TOR) and Robbie Keane (LA) are all in the Top 3 but who ends up being the most important player heading into the 2015 season? Keep clicking to find out.
Before jumping into the top-10 players, here are three players that just missed the cut:
Bradley had a decent season in Toronto last season but the club still struggled and missed the playoffs yet again. He scored one of the biggest goals for Toronto FC in a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Portland on Sept. 27 that kept the playoff hopes alive only to see them squashed at season's end. He is coming off foot surgery but has suited up for the U.S. men's national team last month.
Valeri has been a key piece for Caleb Porter's Timbers but the Argentinian midfielder suffered a torn ACL in the season finale. He is expected to miss the first two months of the season and is aiming to return by May. With the Argentinian playing such a key role in the attack it will be interesting to see how he recovers for the Timbers.
Martins was a crucial component for the Seattle Sounders last season, scoring 17 goals and adding 13 assists while being the strike partner for U.S. forward Clint Dempsey.
10. Dom Dwyer, F, Sporting Kansas City
Dom Dwyer broke the single-season scoring record or Sporting KC in 2014 and finished second in the scoring race with 22 goals on the season. Dwyer's play propelled the 2013 MLS champions to the playoffs where the club ultimately bowed out in the opening round.
The 2014 season was a breakout year for Dwyer and Sporting KC will look to the 24-year-old to help the club bring the MLS Cup back to Sporting Park.
9. Nick Rimando, GK, Real Salt Lake
Nick Rimando has had several good seasons in MLS but has yet to come away with a Goalkeeper of the Year award. He finished the 2014 season with a 1.04 goals-against average in 24 appearances.
With Tim Howard opting to take time away from the U.S. men's national team, Rimando has claimed that starting spot. His play this season could solidify his name as the starter as the U.S. men begin preparing for the next World Cup cycle.
8. Clint Dempsey, F, Seattle Sounders FC
Clint Dempsey led the Seattle Sounders to the Supporters' Shield and to the U.S. Open Cup title in 2014. He was a key piece of Jurgen Klinsmann's team in Brazil. But Dempsey wasn't able to get his club past the LA Galaxy to make it to the MLS Cup Final.
Dempsey is one of the most recognizable faces for Team USA and is one of the highest-paid players in MLS. Dempsey was clutch up top for the Sounders and played well off of Nigerian forward Obafemi Martins. He will be a key piece for the Sounders if the club wants to make the jump to its first MLS Cup championship.
7. Lee Nguyen, M, New England Revolution
Lee Nguyen had a breakout season for the New England Revolution in 2014. He scored 18 goals to lead the Revolution in scoring in 2014, which was also the most scored by a pure midfielder in MLS. He was a key component to New England's run to the MLS Cup final.
His play also earned him a call up with the U.S. men's national team in November. It will be interesting to see if Nguyen can continue to build on last season and help the Revolution to another championship appearance.
6. Jermaine Jones, M, New England Revolution
Jermaine Jones joined the New England Revolution following the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and immediately made an impact on the club. His signing gave teammate Lee Nguyen space to move forward and create opportunities. Jones also helped shore up the Revolution defensively.
He is currently the focus of an experiment by U.S. men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann as the center back in a three-at-the-back system. It creates a compelling storyline to see if Revolution head coach Jay Heaps will consider using Jones as a center-back during the 2015 season.
Jones and Nguyen were almost interchangeable on this list, but Jones took the higher spot due to his signing being a key piece of why Nguyen was able to be so successful in the latter part o the season.
5. Frank Lampard, M, New York City FC
Frank Lampard spent a number of days in the media during the winter when it was announced that the Manchester City midfielder may or may not be coming to MLS. Lampard will strengthen the expansion side and he has said that he will join the club in July.
Lampard's name slipped from the top three because of the questions about his arrival. It has already been delayed once and who is to guess that it could be delayed again?
4. Steven Gerrard, M, LA Galaxy
With the departure of Landon Donovan, Bruce Arena and the LA Galaxy will be looking to fill a hole in the midfield. While not necessarily being a like-for-like swap, Arena selected a big-name player to fill Donovan's shoes. The expectations will be high or the Galaxy, who have made it to the final three out of the past four years.
Gerrard will have Irish forward Robbie Keane to play off and it is hopeful that he will be able to help the Galaxy pick up right where they left off at the conclusion of 2014.
3. Robbie Keane, F, LA Galaxy
After being named the 2014 MLS MVP and scoring the game-winner in overtime to seal the Galaxy's fifth MLS Cup title, Robbie Keane will return to the Galaxy and hope to keep LA's push for a sixth title going. He will do so without Landon Donovan who was sent out on top in December.
Keane has been dubbed the "all-time MLS MVP" by head coach Bruce Arena. It was unclear following the title match if Keane would return, but the Irishman looks to be headed back to sunny California for 2015.
Keane slides into the third spot because of the uncertainty surrounding his return. He tallied 19 goals and added 14 assists for a Galaxy club that often had a triple-edged sword in the attack with youngster Gyasi Zardes, Donovan and Keane. Statistically he also finished behind Bradley Wright-Phillips and the storyline is not as compelling as Jozy Altidore's return to MLS.
2. Bradley Wright-Phillips, F, New York Red Bulls
Bradley Wright-Phillips led the league in scoring last season, tallying 27 goals in the regular season to tie the MLS record for regular-season tallies. The English forward added four more goals in postseason play, including both goals in a comeback win against Sporting KC in the Knockout Round match.
Wright-Phillips signed a Designated Player contract this offseason and will have plenty of expectations to live up to following his explosive 2014 season. But, with head coach Mike Petke fired in the offseason and Thierry Henry stepping away for the Red Bulls, Wright-Phillips will have to forge a new partnership on the field to have a shot at putting up those numbers.
The biggest question will be, can he deliver and help the Red Bulls to the club's first MLS Cup title?
Wright-Phillips finds himself second in large part due to the storylines surrounding the Red Bulls this offseason.
1. Jozy Altidore, F, Toronto FC
Jozy Altidore finds himself at the top of this list or several reasons. Most notably, he is the biggest MLS move of the offseason with several clubs in the market to nab the U.S. men's national team forward.
Altidore struggled at Sunderland and was seeing less of the field than he wanted. Despite comments from national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann on players coming back to MLS, Altidore did return to MLS.
Offensively, he will potentially huge boost for a Toronto club that has yet to break through to the postseason. Toronto finished the 2014 season in seventh place and fizzled out of the playoff hunt by the final weeks o the season.
Altidore is one of the most recognizable faces for the U.S. men and fans will be watching closely to see if he can break his Sunderland form and help the Reds over the hump and into the playoffs for the first time in the clubs existence.