The MLS is back and whilst it may not have the allure of the major European leagues, there is still plenty to look out for this season. After a less than ideal Orlando Tournament that at times descended into farce, fans are looking forward to an uninterrupted season of thrills and spills in American soccer.
The betting online is already heating up with Los Angeles FC, Seattle Sounders and Orlando City all heavily tipped to do well. There’s also plenty of excitement around individual players in the league but who should you be looking out for this season? Read on to find out.
Blaise Matuidi – Inter Miami
33-year-old World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi became the latest European superstar to join the league in August when he terminated his contract with Italian giants Juventus and signed with Inter Miami.
During Matuidi’s time in Italy the French international was deployed mainly in a defensive midfield role, breaking up the play and recycling the ball. However, prior to his stint in Italy Matuidi made his name as a dynamic box-to-box midfielder.
If Matuidi is allowed more freedom by his coach then he could prove to be one of the most exciting midfielders in the league this season, especially if he can link up with former teammate Gonzalo Higuain in the final third.
Alejandro Pozuelo – Toronto FC
There was a groundswell of excitement in South Wales back in 2013 when Michael Laudrup added Spaniard Alejandro Pozuelo to the League Cup winners’ roster. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite so well for Pozuelo in the Premier League and he soon returned to his native Spain with Rayo Vallecano.
For the next 5 years Pozuelo’s career stagnated until he decided to swap Europe for North America in 2019 by signing for MLS heavyweights Toronto FC. The Spaniard had big boots to fill, being signed as a replacement for the diminutive creator Sebastian Giovinco.
Pozuelo hit the ground running, scoring twice and providing an assist on his debut and he never looked back. His performances last season saw him inducted into the MLS Best XI selection and he looks set to repeat the feat this season.
Toronto’s forward pairing of Jozy Altidore and Pablo Piatti can afford to miss chances with Pozuelo behind them providing an endless conveyor belt of goalscoring opportunities.
(Alejandro Pozuelo rediscovered his form in emphatic fashion on his MLS debut.)
Carlos Vela – Los Angeles FC
During his time at Premier League club Arsenal, the Mexican forwards penchant for a dinked finish became somewhat of an in-joke for Gunners fans. Whilst Vela was ultimately unable to forge out a career in England, he has shown his quality in North America since signing for Los Angeles FC in 2018.
The Mexican’s playing time has been limited so far this season as he fought back from a particularly nasty MCL injury. However, he has netted twice in three appearances this season and when he does return to full fitness will be a thorn in the side of many MLS defenses.
Last season Vela broke an MLS scoring record, netting 34 times to propel his side to the Supporters’ Shield Trophy. Whilst he may struggle to repeat that feat this season, he is still a dead cert to score 20+ goals for Los Angeles FC.
Ezequiel Barco – Atlanta United
If you’ve ever played hit simulation game Football Manager, you’ll be well aware of the staggering potential that Atlanta’s Barco has. The Argentine wonderkid signed from Independiente in 2018 for a reported $15 million and looks set to make 2020 his breakthrough year in MLS.
In his first two seasons with Atlanta Barco struggled to adapt to the North American game, but there were signs toward the end of last season that he was getting into his groove. Barco’s end of season performances saw him finish runner-up in last season’s 22 Under 22 voting and he has picked up where he left off this campaign.
Frank De Boer’s departure to take the reins of the Netherlands national team seems to have given Barco a new lease of life in Atlanta too. With his side struggling to make a mark this season, Barco has been a rare bright spot for supporters and could be a rising star to watch for the rest of the campaign.
(Ezequiel Barco has all the tools to become one of the best players in MLS.)
Alejandro Gamarra (Kaku) – New York Red Bulls
You might be scratching your head and wondering why a player that struggled in a poor side last season is being included in this list. The reason for Kaku’s inclusion in this lsit comes in the form of 5-foot 8 Austrian coach Gerhard Struber.
Earlier this month Struber made the move from EFL Championship club Barnsley to the beleaguered New York Red Bulls and that’s good news for Kaku. Struber stepped into the hotseat at Oakwell in November 2019 when Barnsley were firmly entrenched in the Championship relegation zone.
The Austrian was a breath of fresh air, guiding the South Yorkshire team to safety not through a defense-first approach but through the execution of an exciting, high-intensity pressing game. Struber opted for a midfield diamond at Barnsley with particular emphasis on wide players cutting inside and forming a front three in offensive phases.
If Struber opts for a similar approach in MLS with New York Red Bulls, Kaku is the player most likely to benefit. His energy and creativity could see him become one of Struber’s most important players so don’t be surprised to see him included in the talking for MVP at the end of the season.