MLS 2015: Ranking the Top 50 Players in the League

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 3, 2015

MLS 2015: Ranking the Top 50 Players in the League

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    The 2015 Major League Soccer season is scheduled to begin March 6, when the Los Angeles Galaxy host the Chicago Fire at the StubHub Center. 

    The league's 20th season will see a ton of change, as a bevy of new international signings will enter MLS alongside some of the best American talent that has played abroad over the last few years. 

    Two expansion sides, New York City FC and Orlando City SC, will also enter the 20-team league in 2015. Both clubs have spent a decent chunk of change luring big-name players to their respective cities. 

    To get you prepared for the start of the new MLS season, we decided to rank the 50 best players the league has to offer in 2015. 

    Here's a look at the star-studded MLS Top 50.

Selection Criteria

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    A few different criteria were used to select the 50 best players ahead of the 2015 MLS season. 

    The key method was past performances at the club and international level. Most of the players on the list have a strong track record in MLS, but there are also many newcomers entering the league in 2015. 

    For the new faces of the league, we examined their numbers from previous clubs and took into account achievements at both club and international levels. 

    Potential also played a role in determining the final list, as some of the young stars on the list carry a ton of talent that they should cash in on this season. 

    Each player's role at their current club was also factored in. Many of the league's best players will be under a ton of pressure in 2015, so we tried to factor in how they will react to those high expectations.

Near Misses

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    The following group of players barely missed out on qualifying for the MLS Top 50. Here they are, in no specific order:

    • Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers
    • Maurice Edu, Philadelphia Union
    • Kendall Waston, Vancouver Whitecaps
    • Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact
    • Luis Silva, D.C. United
    • Juninho, LA Galaxy
    • Luis Gil, Real Salt Lake
    • Blas Perez, FC Dallas 
    • Dillon Powers, Colorado Rapids
    • Brad Davis, Houston Dynamo

50. Octavio Rivero, Vancouver Whitecaps

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    One player who is a part of the latest influx from South America is Octavio Rivero of the Vancouver Whitecaps. 

    The 23-year-old joined the Whitecaps from O'Higgins in Chile, where he scored 10 goals in 16 matches during the 2014 Torneo Apertura. 

    Rivero is one of six players from South America on the Vancouver roster this season. He is also one of three Uruguayans on the current list of Whitecaps players. 

    He is expected to fill a void at the forward position that was left empty last season. Rivero should benefit from the playmaking skills of Pedro Morales, and thus has a good chance of scoring double digits on the season. 

    If he is able to thrive up top in the difficult Western Conference, Rivero should put Vancouver on the brink of qualifying for the playoffs.

49. Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew

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    Kei Kamara and his heart-shaped hands are back in MLS after he spent a year away at Middlesbrough. 

    The former Sporting Kansas City player inked a deal with the Columbus Crew back in October, but he was not active in 2014 since he signed after the MLS roster freeze deadline. 

    Before he departed for the Championship, the Sierra Leone international lit opposing goals on fire for Kansas City, Houston, San Jose and Columbus. 

    In eight MLS seasons, Kamara totaled 52 goals and 23 assists, and he helped Kansas City earn the Eastern Conference's top seed in 2011 and 2012. He left Kansas City before it won the 2013 MLS Cup. 

    Kamara will be tasked with bringing a consistent scoring threat to the Crew, who lacked a big-time target man in 2014. 

48. Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy

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    Three-time MLS Cup champion Omar Gonzalez will return for his seventh season in the league with a bit more pressure on his shoulders than usual. 

    Not only will Gonzalez be forced to lead the Galaxy back four in the reshaped Western Conference, he will also be fighting for his spot on the United States men's national team roster. 

    The 26-year-old center back must improve on his strong 2014 campaign in order to keep his name in the CONCACAF Gold Cup conversation. 

    One way Gonzalez can catch the eye of USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann is by turning into a bigger threat on offense. Gonzalez scored a career-high four goals in 27 matches during the Galaxy's title run last year, and he will be expected to put up a similar tally in 2015. 

47. Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas

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    Before an injury hampered his progress last season, Mauro Diaz was in the process of turning himself into one of the league's top attack-minded players. 

    The diminutive Argentinian scored three goals and recorded three assists over the first two months of the 2014 season before he went down with a right knee injury in his team's 4-1 loss to D.C. United on April 26. 

    After Diaz exited the lineup, FC Dallas went on a seven-game winless run in which it scored just five goals. 

    The 23-year-old will be back in the fold in 2015, and Oscar Pareja's side should produce one of the most electric attacks in the league with Diaz, Fabian Castillo, Blas Perez and Tesho Akindele healthy.

46. Giles Barnes, Houston Dynamo

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    The success story of Giles Barnes in Houston flew under the radar in 2014 due to the club's lack of form in the Eastern Conference. 

    The former Derby County man found the back of the net on 11 occasions, which was two goals better than his production in 2013. 

    Barnes will play under a new manager this season, as Owen Coyle has taken charge of the orange-clad club following Dominic Kinnear's departure to San Jose. 

    The 26-year-old will not suffer from a lack of service with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia on the flanks. He will also benefit from his forward partnership with Will Bruin and the midseason arrival of Mexican forward Erick "Cubo" Torres. 

    While his goal total may drop due to the crowded Houston attack, Barnes should help Houston stride forward in the first year of the Coyle era.

45. Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City

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    An argument can be made that Matt Besler is under the most pressure to succeed in the upcoming season. 

    Besler's form dropped off significantly after his return from the World Cup last year, and that was one of the key reasons why Sporting Kansas City crashed out at the wild-card stage of the playoffs. 

    As if the USMNT center back needed more adversity to stare him in the face, he will be playing next to a new partner in the middle of Sporting KC's back four. His old defensive partner, Aurelien Collin, left the team for Orlando City in the first week of the offseason. 

    Besler's low ranking is due to his rough 2014 and the circumstances that face him during this crucial year in his career. 

    Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes should be able to get the best out of Besler over the next eight months, but for now, the lasting memories of the club's collapse are still ripe in our minds.

44. Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew

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    While we're on the topic of pressure, let's discuss the burden on the shoulders of Ethan Finlay entering the new season. 

    Finlay, who started a combined six games in his first two seasons, caught most MLS observers off guard with his tremendous 2014. 

    The Creighton University product thrived in Gregg Berhalter's system and scored 11 goals to go along with his seven assists. 

    He hit his peak in the closing months of the regular season, as he scored five goals in his final seven matches. 

    Now that the Crew have a target forward in Kamara, Finlay's assist total should rise while his goal total may drop a bit in 2015.

43. Benny Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City

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    One of the few underrated players in the league who could play their way onto the United States national team's Gold Cup roster is Benny Feilhaber. 

    The 30-year-old was a massive part of Sporting Kansas City's 4-3-3 system in 2014, as he was primarily employed in the central midfield role. 

    Feilhaber did a little bit of everything for Sporting KC in 2014 by scoring four goals, contributing six assists and averaging 2.3 tackles per game. 

    Due to the offseason additions in attack, Feilhaber should be able to focus more on protecting the Sporting back four. With plenty of questions surrounding the quality of the club's defense, Feilhaber's presence will be welcome, especially over the first few months of the season.

42. Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake

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    One of the most prolific scorers in the league's recent history hit a bump in the road last season. 

    Alvaro Saborio only featured in 16 Real Salt Lake matches because of an injury that forced him out of Costa Rica's impressive showing at the World Cup.

    Although he has scored 20 goals over the last two years, Saborio has not played a full season since 2012. 

    His durability will be put to the test, especially at the start of the season, while RSL forward Joao Plata recovers from a fractured left foot. 

    How Saborio starts the new campaign may dictate how the Claret and Cobalt begin, since he will be the go-to guy.

41. Brek Shea, Orlando City SC

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    One of the more intriguing arrivals from overseas this offseason was Orlando City SC's acquisition of Brek Shea from Stoke City. 

    The last time we saw Shea in a MLS uniform, he was lighting up opposing defenses for FC Dallas from 2008-2012. 

    We will see Shea attempt to cut through opponents once again in 2015, but he may do so on fewer occasions thanks to his transition to left back. 

    If Shea's move to the new position works out for the Lions, he could earn a chance to replicate his heroics at the Gold Cup for the United States this summer. 

40. Mix Diskerud, New York City FC

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    Now that the fascination with his landing spot is over, Mix Diskerud will get a chance to prove his worth on American soil. 

    The 24-year-old midfielder, who almost joined Columbus last summer, inked a deal with expansion outfit New York City FC for the club's inaugural season. 

    Diskerud jumped on to the USMNT radar during his time at Norwegian club Rosenborg, but American fans only caught a glimpse of him during his appearances on the international level. 

    The truth about Diskerud is no one knows exactly what NYCFC manager Jason Kreis will get out of the player. 

    If he thrives in the NYCFC midfield, Diskerud could see himself in the MLS All-Star Game and the Gold Cup. If he fails to make an impact, he might earn a consistent role on the bench of Manchester City's sister club.

39. Marcelo Sarvas, Colorado Rapids

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    The Colorado Rapids made one of the best moves in the offseason by acquiring Marcelo Sarvas from the LA Galaxy. Sarvas was made available after the announcement of Steven Gerrard's summer arrival in the City of Angels.

    The Rapids, who finished 2014 in horrid fashion, desperately needed a veteran presence among the youth in their midfield. 

    Sarvas brings just that to the table as Colorado looks to compete for a playoff position in Pablo Mastroeni's second full season as manager.

    The 33-year-old Brazilian, who formed one of the best midfield duos in MLS with Juninho over the last few seasons, will likely man the defensive part of midfield at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. 

    If he can stabilize the play in the middle of the park, Sarvas will open up space for Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna, Deshorn Brown and others to create chances for Colorado in the final third. 

38. Sacha Kljestan, New York Red Bulls

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    Sacha Kljestan opted to trade in the glory of European football for a New York Red Bulls shirt in January. 

    The 29-year-old United States international spent the last five years with Anderlecht in Belgium, where he won three league championships and four Belgian Super Cups. 

    Kljestan will bring his winning mentality to the Red Bulls, who are looking to get over the final hump in the playoffs and advance to an MLS Cup final. 

    The midfielder will have to build chemistry with Dax McCarty in the middle of the pitch, but that shouldn't be an issue given the skill sets of each player. 

    If Kljestan can hold down the part of the midfield in front of the back four, he will allow McCarty to surge forward in an attempt to feed Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. 

    Kljestan, who played a role in 48 goals for Chivas USA over five seasons, can become an asset in attack as well, but his first priority will be to shore up the area in front of the Red Bulls defense.

37. Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

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    Unlike Chris Wondolowski the international player, the club version of the 32-year-old is a prolific scorer. 

    The main target in the San Jose Earthquakes attack has scored over 10 goals in each of his last five seasons with the club, but he is known for coming up empty when he gets his chance with the USMNT. 

    Since he is one of the few consistent assets of the San Jose lineup, Wondolowski will probably continue his ways in front of goal under new head coach Dominic Kinnear. 

    Although he will produce a solid amount of goals for the Earthquakes in 2015, they might not matter very much. San Jose has plenty of things to fix before it can be considered a contender. 

36. Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City

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    Graham Zusi must be pleased with the work Sporting Kansas City did in the offseason to provide him some relief in the final third. 

    Thanks to the arrivals of Bernardo Anor and Krisztian Nemeth, Zusi will not have to worry about being the sole provider from the wings. 

    With less pressure surrounding him in 2015, Zusi should be able to play freely on either wing and work toward replicating his breakout campaign from 2012. 

    Since his 15-assist 2012 season, his numbers in most of the offensive stat categories have dropped off significantly. 

    While he may not take 82 shots in a single season again, Zusi does need to work on becoming a bigger threat as opposing defenses focus more on stopping Sporting KC forward Dom Dwyer.

35. Chad Marshall, Seattle Sounders

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    Without Chad Marshall, the Seattle Sounders are not a legitimate contender in the West. 

    Marshall brought that big of an impact to the club last season, and he is expected to build on his successful first year with the club in 2015. 

    The 30-year-old will once again be partnered with Zach Scott at center back, but he will be joined by a new face at right back in Tyrone Mears. Mears is replacing Tottenham's DeAndre Yedlin on the right flank. 

    Seattle will hope Marshall can stay healthy for all 34 matches this season instead of the 31 he played in last year. 

    In the three matches he missed in 2014, the Sounders conceded six goals and earned just one point. 

    Marshall is also one of the most disciplined defenders in the league, as he has earned only six yellow cards in 117 games over the last four seasons.

34. Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake

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    Kyle Beckerman is one of a few USMNT players who enter the 2015 season on a high note. 

    Following his standout performance at the World Cup, Beckerman helped Real Salt Lake earn the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs in 2014. 

    Not only did Beckerman display his impressive range on the defensive side of the ball, he also contributed a few key goals in the stretch run of the season. 

    The 32-year-old might be asked to help out on defense more at the start of the season as the Claret and Cobalt deal with the absence of center back Nat Borchers, who is now playing in Portland. 

    Regardless of who is playing behind him, expect Beckerman to do whatever he can to keep Real Salt Lake under last year's goals allowed total of 39, which was third in the league.

33. Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders

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    The other terrifying midfield bulldog in the West resides in Seattle. 

    Osvaldo Alonso was one of the main reasons why the Sounders were so tough to play against throughout the 2014 season. 

    The 29-year-old recorded 3.6 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per game last year in his defensive midfield role for the winners of the Supporters' Shield. 

    Alonso's most impressive numbers came in the passing department, as he averaged 64 passes per game and completed 91 percent of them. 

    While other defensive midfielders in the league have great defensive abilities, Alonso is one of the few players who can also dictate an entire game with his passing.

32. Roger Espinoza, Sporting Kansas City

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    In all honesty, Sporting Kansas City should have never let Roger Espinoza leave in the first place. 

    Espinoza, who spent two years at Wigan Athletic, is back in MLS and ready to fill the large opening he left in the Sporting midfield when he departed for England in 2013. 

    After looking like a well-oiled machine with Espinoza in the fold, Sporting KC looked disjointed at times over the past couple seasons without the Honduran's presence. 

    Now that he has experience from England and the World Cup, Espinoza should raise the level of play in the club's midfield exponentially. 

    Do not be surprised if Sporting KC once again becomes one of the toughest teams to play against with Espinoza returning to the club he spent five years with.

31. Joao Plata, Real Salt Lake

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    If you like fun and soccer, Joao Plata is the player for you. 

    The 23-year-old Ecuadorian, who always seems to have a smile on his face, scored 13 goals and added six assists during his breakout season in 2014. 

    Unfortunately for the large number of neutrals Plata won over last season, they will not get to see the 5'2" forward suit up right away for the Claret and Cobalt. 

    Plata suffered a fractured left foot in the first practice of preseason on January 25, which ruled him out for three to four months. 

    If all goes well, we should see the Ecuador international earn a chance to light the nets on fire around April or May.

30. Matt Hedges, FC Dallas

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    Matt Hedges is another player who won over most of the public thanks to his exploits in 2014. 

    The center back commanded the FC Dallas defense in a season that saw the Hoops reach the playoffs in Oscar Pareja's first year as manager. 

    Hedges impressed enough over the past 12 months to earn a call-up, albeit a late one, to the United States national team January camp. 

    In his second season under Pareja's tutelage, Hedges is expected to take his game to new heights and potentially become a stalwart in the USMNT defensive setup.

29. Matias Laba, Vancouver Whitecaps

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    One of the signs of being a good defender is people not knowing your name. 

    Matias Laba rarely earned a ton of praise in public for his terrific season with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the defensive part of midfield. 

    Laba was the top tackler in the league last season with 4.9 tackles per game, which was 0.5 more than Diego Chara and 1.3 more than Alonso. 

    One of the reasons for the high number was the inexperience surrounding him in the Vancouver lineup. But despite the slew of action coming his way, the Argentinian was able to withstand all the pressure. 

    With Vancouver expected to improve under second-year boss Carl Robinson, Laba should see his name in the headlines a bit more over the next few months. 

28. Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew

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    Ask any USMNT fan about Wil Trapp's potential and they will begin gushing with praise. 

    Trapp was one of a few Columbus players who experienced a terrific season during Berhalter's first year in charge. 

    Now that expectations have been set high for Trapp and his teammates, they must find a way to succeed in what many people presume to be a weakened East. 

    Just like some of the other defensive midfielders on this list, Trapp controls the tempo of the game through his accurate passing. 

    The American earned the ninth-highest pass-accuracy percentage in 2014 at 86.8. If that number is close to 90 percent in 2015, the Crew could challenge New England for the top spot in the East. 

27. Gyasi Zardes, LA Galaxy

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    No young player on this list has had a better start to 2015 than Gyasi Zardes. 

    The electric forward was the breakout star of the USMNT January camp, and the 23-year-old could be in line to back up Jozy Altidore at the Gold Cup this summer if all goes right. 

    Alongside Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan last season, Zardes netted a career-high 16 goals in the regular season. He also added a crucial strike that opened the scoring in the MLS Cup Final. 

    Zardes will face more pressure this season now that Donovan is out of the picture. But based off what we saw against Panama, he will have no problem dealing with whatever is thrown at him.

    As long as he doesn't relapse into his old ways, Zardes should score at least 10 goals for the Galaxy. 

26. Steve Birnbaum, D.C. United

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    Steve Birnbaum's name will be associated with Zardes and Trapp for quite some time if he continues progressing as a top-notch defender in MLS. 

    In his rookie season with D.C. United, Birnbaum partnered with veteran Bobby Boswell and conceded a league-low 37 goals

    After playing in 23 total matches in 2014, Birnbaum earned a call-up to the USMNT January camp. He impressed Klinsmann enough to earn a starting spot in the 3-5-2 experiment against Chile. 

    Alongside two experienced defenders in Besler and Jermaine Jones, Birnbaum put in the best defensive performance of any United States player in the 3-2 defeat. 

    With everything trending up in regard to his progression, Birnbaum is set for a splendid sophomore season in MLS. 

25. Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

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    The 2014 Golden Boot winner lost a key ally over the offseason, as Thierry Henry announced his retirement. 

    Without Henry providing him world-class assists, Bradley Wright-Phillips will have a chance to prove how much of a true scorer he really is. 

    Wright-Phillips will get to do all this while adjusting to the new system under manager Jesse Marsch, who took over after the controversial firing of Mike Petke. 

    The English forward doesn't have a true backup behind him on the depth chart, which means he will likely be starting regardless of his form. 

    He still has players like Peguy Luyindula, Lloyd Sam and McCarty to rely on for support in attack, but Wright-Phillips will be the focal point of every opponent's defensive game plan with Henry gone. 

24. Lee Nguyen, New England Revolution

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    Lee Nguyen did not lose a living legend to retirement over the offseason, but he is under the same amount of pressure as Wright-Phillips to prove last season's success wasn't a fluke. 

    The midfielder scored a total of 20 goals in 37 matches for the New England Revolution in 2014, and he was named one of three finalists for the Most Valuable Player award. 

    During his terrific season, Nguyen scored 11 goals in his final 11 regular-season matches, including two braces against Houston and Sporting KC. 

    Over the past few months, Nguyen has been a constant fixture on the USMNT roster. But to keep his current standing with Klinsmann, he needs to impress in 2015. 

23. Nat Borchers, Portland Timbers

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    It is going to take a little while for us to get used to seeing Nat Borchers in a Portland Timbers shirt. 

    The 33-year-old was a rock in the Real Salt Lake back four over the past seven seasons, but he moved to Cascadia in one of the biggest transactions of the offseason. 

    Borchers will be presented with a new challenge in Portland, as Caleb Porter's side conceded on 52 occasions in 2014. 

    Based on his reputation, Borchers should help cut that total down a bit. But he will need help from others, including his center back partner, Liam Ridgewell. 

    With plenty of experience at the position, Portland should contain one of the best defensive duos in the West by the end of the season. 

22. Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake

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    Nick Rimando has been a model of consistency in between the pipes for Real Salt Lake since he joined the club in 2007. 

    Since his arrival, Rimando has earned 10 or more wins in seven of his eight seasons in Utah. His lone weak season came in 2007, when he won six games in the club's third-ever campaign. 

    Rimando is known for standing on his head time and time again, and he is a master at the art of penalties. In the last three seasons, Rimando has saved eight of the 12 penalties he has faced. 

    With the 35-year-old in net, Real Salt Lake usually earns key points against some of the league's top opposition. 

    Rimando may also bring more motivation into the new season after the Claret and Cobalt were smoked by the Galaxy, 5-0, in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal. 

21. Fabian Espindola, D.C. United

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    If there is such a thing as an underappreciated model of consistency, Fabian Espindola fits the billing. 

    No matter where he has played over the last four seasons, Espindola has found a way to put the ball into the back of the net. 

    Espindola achieved career highs in goals (11) and assists (nine) in his first year in the black and red of D.C. United. 

    Thirty-nine of the 55 goals netted by Espindola in his MLS career have come in the last four seasons, as have 21 of his 28 assists. 

    D.C. United will be able to benefit from Espindola's production in 2015 after he serves a six-game suspension that he earned following the club's elimination from the playoffs. 

20. Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

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    Ten goals and four assists in 27 games were enough to earn Fabian Castillo a five-year contract extension with FC Dallas, which was signed on February 10

    The young Colombian winger sent shock waves through the league last summer, when he erupted for four goals in three matches in August. 

    The blistering pace shown by Castillo during that brief span proved to some observers of the league that he has the potential to become one of the best players in MLS. 

    Potential is still the key word in the discussion about the future of the 22-year-old. But if there is any manager in the league who can get the best out of a young player, it is Pareja. 

    If Castillo, Diaz and Akindele start the majority of the club's matches this season, FC Dallas could contain one of the best young attacks in league history. 

19. Dom Dwyer, Sporting Kansas City

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    The English half of soccer's latest power couple has had an eventful last 12 months to say the least. 

    Not only did Dwyer turn himself into one of the top scorers in MLS, he also married one of the top players in the women's game in Sydney Leroux. Thanks to his stardom on and off the pitch, Dwyer will be under the microscope throughout the 2015 season. 

    After starring on loan at then-USL Pro side Orlando City in 2013, Dwyer unleashed his scoring fury on MLS in 2014 by scoring 22 goals in 31 matches. 

    As we noted in previous slides, Sporting KC has brought in a few new faces in attack to support the English forward. But Dwyer is still expected to be the top scorer when the season ends. 

    With 47 goals to his name in all competitions over the last two seasons, we think Dwyer can handle the pressure and thrive for a third consecutive year. 

18. Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers

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    Without Diego Valeri pumping out goals and assists, the Timbers would have had the fifth-worst goal total in 2014. 

    The Argentinian playmaker scored on 11 occasions and turned into the role of provider on 14 other strikes netted by Portland. The strong numbers came a year after he recorded 10 goals and 13 assists in his first season in a Portland shirt. 

    Valeri also increased his shots on target and dropped his totals in fouls committed and offside calls, which are two underrated aspects of his progression in the league. 

    We will witness the true impact Valeri has on the Timbers during the first two months of the season, as the 28-year-old recovers from a torn ACL he suffered near the end of last season. 

17. Shaun Maloney, Chicago Fire

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    The Chicago Fire finally got their man in January, when they completed the signing of Shaun Maloney from Wigan Athletic. 

    Chicago was in pursuit of the Scottish international for quite some time, but it brought the player in at the right time. The Fire are in the process of once again rebuilding their squad after the 2014 season proved to be a disaster. 

    Maloney, who is a key part of the Scotland setup at the international level, is expected to bring an injection of life to a midfield that struggled to create chances on a consistent basis. 

    Maloney will be one of three new designated players on the Chicago roster this season. Forwards Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam were also added to the squad in the offseason. 

16. Pedro Morales, Vancouver Whitecaps

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    Pedro Morales became the latest South American success story in MLS by earning the 2014 Newcomer of the Year award. 

    The Chilean was the top player in the Vancouver attack all season long, as he scored 10 goals and provided 12 assists. 

    Morales was also responsible for one of the most ridiculous stat lines of the season on July 27, when he attempted 12 shots, made six key passes and scored a penalty against FC Dallas. 

    While he may not reach those levels on a consistent basis in 2015, Morales is expected to improve his goal and assist totals with Rivero up top. 

    Morales' role as a distributor will also be valued more, as the pacey wingers on the Whitecaps roster continue to grow under Robinson. 

15. Bill Hamid, D.C. United

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    If you are a fan of United States soccer and haven't associated yourself with Bill Hamid yet, please do so before the 2015 season. 

    Hamid is grooming himself as the heir to the American goalkeeping throne, and he might have enough talent to take the No. 1 shirt away from Brad Guzan on a permanent basis in the future. 

    In his best season to date with D.C. United, Hamid earned 14 wins, made 110 saves and recorded 10 clean sheets. 

    With the D.C. defense only expected to get better, Hamid could improve further on those numbers. 

    If his form keeps trending in a positive direction, we could see Hamid leave MLS and test his talents abroad. 

14. Federico Higuain, Columbus Crew

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    Since he joined the Columbus Crew in 2012, Federico Higuain has been the driving force of the club's attack. 

    Gonzalo's other brother has recorded 27 goals and 23 assists in 71 games over the last two-and-a-half years in a Crew uniform. 

    Higuain's distributing skills will only get better over the next few months with the addition of Kamara at the forward position. 

    The Argentinian's main job is to collect the ball from Trapp and feed the likes of Finlay and Kamara in the final third, but he is also an excellent marksman on set pieces. 

    Due to his well-rounded skill set, Higuain has been one of the most consistent attackers in MLS during his time in the league. 

13. Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake

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    Just like a fine wine, Javier Morales' play in an attacking midfield role for Real Salt Lake has only gotten better with age.

    The 35-year-old was second in key passes per game to Donovan in 2014, and he was one goal away from recording a double-digit tally in goals and assists. 

    While there is plenty of talent in the RSL attack, they are useless if there is no one to provide them with quality passes. 

    That is exactly what the Argentinian brings to the table, and luckily for Jeff Cassar's side, he is one of the best creators in MLS. 

    With his production levels on the rise over the last two years, it would not be a shock to see Morales record close to 10 goals and assists in 2015. 

12. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC

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    Altidore's move to Toronto FC is a big deal for his career at the club and international levels. 

    The top forward on the USMNT depth chart failed to settle in at Sunderland over the last two years, and now he must deliver for a franchise in need of some positive growth. 

    Altidore was a completely different player plying his trade in a smaller league when he last pulled on a MLS shirt for the Red Bulls in 2008. 

    Now that he has a wealth of experience to bank on from his failed European club adventures, Altidore should be able to pounce on opposing defenses with ease. 

    Altidore's success at the club level will be watched closely by many in the USMNT camp since the 25-year-old has been in spotty form with the Yanks since his move to Sunderland. 

11. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC

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    Few players were forced to work harder than Michael Bradley last season, as he tried to single-handedly fill the gaps in the Toronto midfield. 

    The Reds' midfield engine will not have to overwork himself in 2015 thanks to the signings of Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco and Benoit Cheyrou. 

    Bradley's role on defense will not change, but his influence on the attack should drop a bit due to the plethora of talented scorers ahead of him on the pitch. 

    His focus on the defensive midfield role will also benefit the USMNT, as the Yanks are in need of a steady force at the position to help with the chaotic messes left by the defense. 

    Bradley's connection with Altidore should also reap plenty of rewards at the international level as the Yanks look to regain their form ahead of the Gold Cup. 

10. Jermaine Jones, New England Revolution

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    The summer acquisition of Jones was the reason why New England was able to make a run to the MLS Cup Final. 

    Jones was a menace on both ends of the pitch for Jay Heaps' side, who fell 2-1 to the Galaxy at StubHub Center in the championship match back in December. 

    Now that he has had a full offseason to work with his teammates, Jones should play even better than he did over the last four months of 2014. 

    Jones will also be able to flex his muscle in attack due to the presence of Scott Caldwell next to him in the 4-2-3-1 system. 

    With that in mind, it would not be crazy to predict that Jones will record close to 10 assists to go along with his normal influence on defense. 

9. Obafemi Martins, Seattle Sounders

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    Obafemi Martins makes up one half of the most dangerous forward duo in MLS. 

    Martins, who has combined with Clint Dempsey to produce some attacking magic for the Sounders, has scored 25 goals in 51 regular-season matches since joining Seattle in 2013. 

    One of his biggest attributes is his accuracy in front of net, as nearly half of the 36 shots put on target by the Nigerian found the back of the net in 2014. 

    Martins also plays with one of the highest confidence levels in the league, which is brought upon by the cerebral understanding he has with Dempsey. 

    At 30, the well-traveled Martins still has a few years of scoring left in the legs, which is something defenders across MLS do not want to hear. 

8. Erick "Cubo" Torres, Houston Dynamo

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    Before the LA Galaxy stole their thunder with the Gerrard acquisition, the Houston Dynamo made the biggest splash of the offseason by landing Torres. 

    Torres' future was left in limbo following the dissolving of Chivas USA, but Houston ponied up a large fee to Chivas de Guadalajara and kept the player in MLS for the long term.

    His debut in Dynamo orange will be delayed until the end of the Liga MX side, as Torres was loaned to Chivas for six months as a part of the deal with Houston. 

    Once he arrives for good in Texas, fans of the league are expecting big things out of the 22-year-old. He found the back of the net 15 times in 29 matches last season. 

    The signing of Torres as a designated player also ushered in a new era for MLS. Torres became the first big name from Latin America to sign with the league in his prime instead of moving to Europe. 

    At just 22, Torres has a bright career ahead of him with the Dynamo and Mexico if he continues to progress like he has since first stepping foot in the United States. 

7. Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The captain of the USMNT will enter his second full season in Seattle with plenty of motivation after the Sounders came up short in the playoffs. 

    Dempsey can now say without a doubt that he is a part of the best attacking combination in the league now that Donovan has retired. 

    Since his move from Tottenham Hotspur, Dempsey has scored 16 goals for Seattle, who has to enter the year as one of the favorites to hoist the MLS Cup in December. 

    In his partnership with Martins, Dempsey has become quite good at making passes in tight spaces, which has led to a few visually pleasing combinations between the two. 

    After losing to the Galaxy in the Western Conference Championship, Dempsey should approach the 2015 season with plenty of drive that should lead him to another season with 10 or more goals. 

6. Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

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    The second landmark signing of the offseason came from Toronto in January, when it inked Giovinco to a contract. 

    By locking down the Italian, the Reds became the first club in MLS to successfully bring over a European star in his prime. 

    The 28-year-old midfielder has made 21 appearances for Italy, and he will be available for the start of the season unlike another player signed from a major European side. 

    If everything goes right for the Reds, Giovinco will turn into the star provider in the attacking layer of the midfield behind Altidore. 

    In an ideal world, Giovinco, Bradley and Altidore would lead the Reds to a playoff berth. But that may rely on whether the club can produce a reliable defense. 

5. Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy

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    When he arrives in California this summer, Gerrard will replace Donovan as the third designated player on the Galaxy roster. 

    Before he leaves Liverpool on a permanent basis, Gerrard will look to win one final trophy with the illustrious club. After being knocked out of the UEFA Europa League, Brendan Rodgers' side will have to put all its effort into winning the FA Cup to send the club legend out on top. 

    After he is done at Liverpool, Gerrard will slot into the central midfield role next to Juninho, who is one of the most reliable players in the league. 

    Gerrard will be a key asset on set pieces as well as in building the attack with Keane and Zardes surging forward with him.

    His chemistry with Keane will be something worth watching since the Irishman developed a great connection with Donovan before he left the game. 

4. Frank Lampard, New York City FC

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    Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

    If we wait long enough, we might actually see Frank Lampard in a NYCFC jersey in 2015. 

    The former Chelsea player was involved in a disastrous contract melee that was resolved by staying at Manchester City on loan until the end of the English Premier League season. 

    The NYCFC faithful should expect to see Lampard in their version of sky blue at some point this summer, but many will not believe it until they see it in person. 

    Lampard brings with him a decorated resume that includes three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a UEFA Champions League winners' medal. 

    Despite all of his past success, Lampard should not expect to contend for a trophy right away with NYCFC. But maybe by the time he leaves MLS, he might earn a MLS Cup victory. 

3. David Villa, New York City FC

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    We know for sure that David Villa will be a part of NYCFC's inaugural starting lineup Sunday against Orlando City. 

    The Spanish forward came to the club after a successful stint at Atletico Madrid in which he earned a La Liga title and second place in the UEFA Champions League. 

    Villa, who is 33, could experience a few successful seasons in America if he follows the trend set by Keane in L.A. 

    As his club's top scoring threat, Villa is expected to net at least 10 goals and mentor Patrick Mullins and Tony Taylor.

    If he can leave a positive influence on NYCFC, the club might feature a three-headed monster at the forward position by the time the season ends. 

2. Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

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    To say Keane has enjoyed a good amount of success in MLS is an understatement. 

    Keane has been terrific over the last four seasons for the Galaxy, as he has scored 53 goals in 81 regular-season matches. He has scored an additional nine goals in 17 playoff games since 2011. 

    In his time with the Galaxy, Keane has won three MLS Cups and was voted league MVP after his tremendous 2014 season. 

    It will be hard for Keane to improve on his 21 goals and 17 assists, but it would not be a total shock if he at least reaches double digits in each stat category. 

    Keane's leadership up top will also be tested now that Donovan has departed and he has to mentor Zardes by himself. If he can develop the same chemistry with Zardes that he did with Donovan, the Galaxy should be seen as the favorite to win the MLS Cup again. 

1. Kaka, Orlando City SC

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Few people ever thought that a Ballon d'Or winner would star in MLS, but that is the case with Kaka at Orlando City. 

    The 32-year-old, who spent 2014 on loan at Sao Paulo, still has plenty left in his tank after spells at Real Madrid and AC Milan. 

    The Brazilian will be the focal point of the Orlando City attack, as he will have plenty of young faces surrounding him in the final third. 

    A lot of pressure will be on Kaka to help mold the group of forwards and attacking midfielders into regular contributors. But we expect him to pass the initial test as the Lions attempt to challenge for a playoff position. 

    As for individual marks, it would not be unrealistic to think Kaka will lead the league in assists and add a few goals in his first MLS season. 

    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

    All statistics obtained from and


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