9 Days 'til MLS: Who's the best target striker in the league?
As the MLS season approaches, MLSsoccer.com marks each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for March 2.
9 – Who's the best traditional No. 9 in MLS today?
Brian McBride is the most wonderful example of why applying the English classic numbering system to the modern world of soccer doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense.
McBride, who is arguably the greatest forward in US soccer history and the perfect example of the antiquated system’s quintessential No. 9 striker, never wore that actual jersey. He wore No. 20 all the way back to the good old days with the Columbus Crew and then on to England with Fulham, and never donned the jersey for the US national team while, oddly enough, teaching an entire generation of American kids how the No. 9 player should play the position.
And yet the No. 9 player still persists with a somewhat secure definition: the big, principal target striker who can play with his back to goal and, if you’re McBride, score a whole lot of goals.
If you’re playing by those rules, a number of players in Major League Soccer are vying for the title of best No. 9 in the game today. But who’s the best?
There was a time only two years ago when there was little argument: Edson Buddle was the man. His 2010 season with the LA Galaxy was an absolute revelation, and had some wondering if he could supplant Jozy Altidore as the heir apparent to McBride for the US at the World Cup in South Africa. It wasn’t to be, however, and Buddle hasn’t quite regained his form since bolting for Germany after the 2011 season. He opens this year nursing a knee injury in Colorado, looking to get his groove back.
The man Buddle replaced in Colorado, Conor Casey, was also in the running just two years ago. He scored a combined 40 regular-season goals in three seasons from 2008-10, helped get the US team to the World Cup and won the MLS Cup 2010 MVP with the Rapids. But nothing’s really been the same since his Achilles tendon in July 2011, and now, like Buddle, he’s looking to reclaim his career in Philadelphia.
There’s reason to believe that Toronto FC striker Danny Koevermans could be the best of the bunch, if he can stay healthy and Toronto FC don't move him out. A torn ACL ended a promising 2012 season, but there’s no denying the numbers since he came to MLS in July 2011: 17 goals in 26 games for a team that’s been in turmoil ever since he arrived. Not easy.
There’s a double threat out in San Jose: Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart both fit the No. 9 bill, and both are coming off career years. Gordon scored 13 goals and added seven assists in 23 games (and earned a US call-up), while Lenhart riled up opposing defenses all season and finished with 10 goals. Both, however, are banged up as the season inches closer.
And last but certainly not least, the winner: FC Dallas big man Blas Pérez. There was no mystery surrounding the Panamanian international when he came to MLS last summer, and he’s made good on FCD’s investment. He scored nine goals and added four assists in 20 games last year on a Dallas team that never really found its rhythm, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be just as effective this year with a fully healthy David Ferreira pulling the strings.
The only drawback is that Panama will lean on him just as hard as Dallas, with World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup stealing away his summer. He won’t put up the numbers because he simply won’t get the minutes in MLS, but FCD have the best in the business in big, bad, Blas.