Christian Ramirez - Houston Dynamo - goal celebration

As evidenced by last year's Seattle midfielder Victor Rodriguez earning MLS Cup MVP honors off the bench, it certainly never hurts for championship chasers to have sub options that can contribute.

The MLS is Back Tournament will provide even more opportunities for players to hop out of the dugout to play hero, with each team granted five substitutions per game.

Now, who’s primed to be the biggest bench weapons when play starts July 8? That's what we're here to workshop. Since it can be difficult to quantify the sub impact provided by defenders, do forgive us for mainly going with attacking spots. Naturally, some of these players will get spot starts in a fast-moving tournament, but we tried to stick to those who will likely start on the bench a majority of the time.  

As one last bit of ceremony, let's quickly unveil the honorable mentions: Jeremy Ebobisse, Marc Rzatkowski and Mason Toye.

Valentin Castellanos

The NYCFC attacker isn't here just because he produces off the bench, as evidenced by last summer’s brace against Houston. As much, Castellanos is here for the variety of ways he can aid the attack. The Argentine, who should also get a start or two in Orlando, can get behind the defense, run combo play and is splendid in the air for his size.

Miguel Ibarra

Because of Nicolas Lodeiro's return to fitness and Harry Shipp's retirement, Ibarra is the next man up for Seattle’s super-sub role. The former Minnesota United fan favorite is a proven MLS contributor, and looked lively during his early days in the Pacific Northwest, even if a goal proved elusive.


After last season, Philadelphia's bench wizard needs no introduction to leg-weary defenders. Ilsinho swashbuckled his way to three goals and seven assists as a substitute in 2019, and many of those big plays helped sway results the Union's way. If there was such a thing as a 12th man award, Ilsinho would be the no-brainer pick.

Richie Laryea

We obviously had to sneak at least one defender on the list, and this Toronto FC right-sider is as good a choice as any. Laryea offers a healthy dose of urgency mixed with two-way verve when he enters a game. He came up big during last year’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, playing the hero role against D.C. United.

Chris Mueller

The Orlando City youngster brings all the desired facets when he pulls off the warm-ups: versatility, energy and, of course, scoreboard impact. Four of Mueller's 10 career MLS goals have come as a substitute, and two of those pulled the Lions level in the waning moments of games they'd ultimately win.

Lee Nguyen

Though the Inter Miami veteran has been a starter for most of his MLS time, he’s no guarantee to feature in the Herons’ XI. Of course, stats alone don't really capture Nguyen's value to a midfield when coming off the bench. He settles the side and gets things moving faithfully in the right direction.

Orji Okwonkwo

The live-wire Montreal right winger has only made five MLS sub appearances to date, though he’s bound to be rotated by head coach Thierry Henry in Florida. Okwonkwo can press tiring defenses and then help conjure a big play when they get careless.

Diego Rubio

The Chilean forward was a starter for the lion's share of his first season in Colorado, but Kei Kamara got the nod up top early into 2020. It's actually a comfy part to play for Rubio, who has registered six goals and three helpers as a late-game pinch hitter over his MLS tenure.

Christian Ramirez

Like several others listed here, Ramirez once shined as a regular starter and has reacted well to seeing more sub shifts. Houston's back-up striker has tallied four times as a sub. Wily around the box, he can step in for Mauro Manotas or combine on the Dynamo front line when a late goal is the only medicine.  

Chris Wondolowski

Yes, it seems that the all-time MLS top scorer has finally reached the career chapter where sub assignments will be piling up thicker and faster. San Jose shouldn't expect a great dip in goals, though. After all, the 37-year-old remains a never-say-die Goonie: Wondo has hit nine times after coming off the bench over his career.