The 2014 MLS season got underway on March 8th and promises to be a very interesting one as the league has generated a lot of attention in the off-season. High profile players in European leagues have began to look at the MLS as a legitimate league to play in. Gone are the days where only high profile players on their last legs came to North America to play soccer. Players in their primes are coming to the MLS with something to prove. Most of these players are searching for regular playing time, which is increasingly more important as 2014 is a World Cup year.
The addition of these high profile players will undoubtedly raise the level of play in the MLS. This article lists ten players in the MLS who have something to prove this season. Some of these players are new arrivals from Europe while others have been in the MLS for years. Regardless of how long they have been in the MLS, these players will be under scrutiny this season and the performances of some will go a long way in determining whether they appear in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
10. Landon Donovan – LA Galaxy
Landon Donovan is the face of American soccer and has been for the past decade. He has played for the Los Angeles Galaxy since 2005. Donovan is one of the most accomplished players in the history of the MLS and has enjoyed unprecedented success. So why is Donovan on this list? 2014 is a World Cup year and if the United States expects to have any level of success, Donovan has to be playing well. This upcoming season is important to gauge Donovan’s form and fans of the United States national team are hoping that Donovan maintains a level of performance consistent with his past exploits.
9. Will Johnson – Portland Timbers
2013 was a great season for the Portland Timbers. The Timbers finished the 2013 season atop the Western Conference. Their ranking was a vast improvement from 2012 when they finished 8th in the conference. A major reason why was the play of 27 year old Canadian midfielder Will Johnson. Johnson sparked the Timbers turnaround and led them to the Conference Finals. In his first season with the team, Johnson managed to be named Player of the Week on two occasions. Johnson was also named to the 2013 MLS All-Star team. If the Timbers are to maintain their success, Johnson has to play at an all-star level in 2014 as well.
8. Mike Magee – Chicago Fire
It is strange to find the reigning MVP of the MLS on the list of players with something to prove. In 2013, Mike Magee of the Chicago Fire scored 21 goals and was named MVP despite the Fire missing the playoffs. Magee’s goal production was a bit of an aberration as the striker scored 14 more goals last season than in any other season during his career. Magee will have to show that he is not just a one season wonder and show that he can score a comparable amount of goals this season. If Magee replicates his play from last season, he could force his way into Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans for the Unites States national team in this summer’s World Cup.
7. Julio Cesar – Toronto FC
Amongst the high profile signings made by Toronto FC was Brazil’s starting goalkeeper, Julio Cesar. Cesar was in between the posts for Brazil during the 2013 Confederations Cup and was also the starting goalkeeper during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He is an accomplished player who has won the Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010. His loan move from Queens Park Rangers was motivated by a lack of playing time at the London club. Cesar needs to have a strong season with Toronto to insure he is a member of Luis Felipe Scolari’s Brazil squad during this summer’ World Cup.
6. Marco Di Vaio – Montreal Impact
The Montreal Impact joined the MLS as an expansion team in 2012. They missed the playoffs in their inaugural season but qualified in 2013. The major difference in the Impact’s play between the two seasons was Marco Di Vaio. The Italian forward only managed 5 goals in 17 games with the Impact in 2012. In 2013, Di Vaio managed to score 20 goals in 27 games leading the Impact in scoring and becoming just the 11th player in MLS history to score 20 or more goals in a season. Di Vaio is crucial to the success of the Impact and accounted for 40% of the team’s goals in 2013. Di Vaio is 37 years old and will turn 38 during the current season. It will be interesting to see whether he can maintain his scoring touch at an advanced age throughout the season.
5. Matias Laba – Vancouver Whitecaps
One of the results of the major influx of players at Toronto FC this off-season was the exodus of 22 year old Matias Laba. Laba was traded to to the Vancouver Whitecaps to accommodate the arrivals of Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Gilberto. Even though Laba had an impressive first season with Toronto, he was deemed surplus to requirements. The Argentine defensive midfielder should have a chip on his shoulder this season and that can only be a positive for the Whitecaps. Laba is expected to be a major contributor to the Whitecaps and he has a reputation for doing the dirty work in midfield.
4. Jermain Defoe – Toronto FC
The second Toronto FC player on this list is England international Jermain Defoe. The 31 year old striker moved from Tottenham Hotspur in search of regular playing time in a World Cup year. He is a very accomplished striker and joins the likes of Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry in the MLS. Unlike his two predecessors, Defoe is still in his prime, although the tail end of it. He believes he can force his way into Roy Hodgson’s England squad if he scores regularly in the MLS. In his debut for the Canadian club, Defoe scored twice as Toronto beat the Seattle Sounders 2-1. Defoe signed a four year contract with Toronto FC and is reportedly making between 68,000 and 90,000 GBP a week.
3. Maurice Edu – Philadelphia Union
Maurice Edu is another loan signing from Europe. The Philadelphia Union signed the midfielder from Stoke City and he is widely expected to improve their team. The Union paid a high price for Edu by trading away their team leader, Jeff Parke. Edu struggled to find regular playing time in Europe but the American is expected to be one of the best midfielders in MLS this season. He should help the Union on the defensive end but his contributions from a creative sense are still a question mark. Edu’s return to the MLS would have garnered greater headlines but his signing was overshadowed by the signing of another high profile American midfielder.
2. Michael Bradley – Toronto FC
The signing of Michael Bradley by Toronto FC sent shock waves throughout the MLS. The American midfielder had spent eight seasons playing in Europe and is currently in the middle of his prime. Bradley was sold to Toronto by Italian club Roma for a fee of $10 million and is reportedly making $6.5 million CAD with the Canadian club. Bradley is expected to be one of the best midfielders in the league this season. His performances are sure to garner scrutiny as he is arguably the best American midfielder and is expected to be one of their best players at the upcoming World Cup. Another reason for the scrutiny is the high salary that Bradley is going to receive.
1. Clint Dempsey – Seattle Sounders
Clint Dempsey is another prominent American player plying his trade in the MLS. He is the captain of the United States national team and is one of their most high profile players. Dempsey has enjoyed a productive career in the English Premier League, mostly with the London Club Fulham. Dempsey joined the Seattle Sounders for a $9 million transfer fee in August 2013. He is one of the highest paid players in the MLS and is making a reported $8 million a season. In his first season, Dempsey was the target of some rough play from opponents and did not enjoy a level of success proportional to his salary. Dempsey is under some pressure to have a good year this season, not least since 2014 is a World Cup year.