Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Best XI: Top Eastern and Western Conference players thus far

Soccer feels small this week. I’ve written and thought those exact words an awful lot over the past decade.

Sometimes small is what we need. I can’t live every second of every day with chest-tightening anxiety and urgency, even if that’s what our society, fellow man and planet need from every last one of us. I’m angry right now because I’m scared. For myself, for my kids. For you, for your kids.

I needed a diversion from, well, you know what this week, so I put together Best XIs for both conferences through a third of the 2022 season. It was fun. It was distracting. Many of you sent nominations on Twitter, for which I thank you, even if I didn’t follow your wishes. As always, I’m down to discuss my choices on Twitter instead of being more productive.

Please consider supporting this fundraiser organized by Los Verdes if you are able to. This soccer community we have is a beautiful one.


You’ve seen it with your own eyes, but here’s a jaw-dropping statistic from TruMedia via Stats Perform to cement the relative absurdity of St. Clair’s season so far.

Among all goalkeeping seasons (full seasons, mind you) since 2017, the 25-year-old ranks 13th in goals prevented (6.69). That’s in … 990 minutes. Truly and utterly absurd.

For me, he’s been the best left back in the entire league. The performances, the results and the underlying numbers back that up.

It’s a lesson in patience. Palacios spent two years at LAFC getting to this level. Adapting. Growing. Getting comfortable while hitting some bumps in the road. MLS is signing more highly-regarded young players from outside the league, in particular South America, than ever before. Patience and a systemic approach toward scouting and integration into the squad (and league) pay off over time. I say we ought to retire the bust label for players under 24 with fewer than two full seasons in the league.

This is a toss-up spot, but I love Fall, both as a person and a player. Tell me I am wrong and it should have been Jesus David Murillo or Matt Hedges and I’d probably shrug and say you’re right.

It hasn’t been his absolute best season so far, but it’s still basically been better than anyone else. Just put Zimmerman here in pen.

For Nashville, there’s been very little drop-off from Alistair Johnston after his trade to Montréal. Talk about good business at the right back position from GM Mike Jacobs.

Pablo Ruiz
Central midfielder · Real Salt Lake

For reference, the below FBref chart shows Ruiz’s profile against fellow MLS midfielders over the past 365 calendar days.

Is this good? What doesn’t he do at an elite or near-elite level in the middle of the park?

Pablo Ruiz - Wiebe column
Paxton Pomykal
Central midfielder · FC Dallas

I’m stealing this verbatim from Matt Doyle’s most recent column because I can’t say it any better.

Under Nico Estevez, Luchi’s successor in Dallas and predecessor as Berhalter’s assistant, Pomykal has played exclusively as a central midfielder this year and he has developed into the Best XI-caliber player pretty much everyone thought he could be if he ever stayed healthy. Extratime’s Producent Anders just happened to be playing around with Second Spectrum’s tracking data, and the data points he pulled are pretty stunning.

Among all MLS central midfielders this year (minimum 200 pass attempts), Pomykal leads the league in pretty much all the basic numbers (passes attempted, completed, passes leading to a shot, pass-before-the-pass, etc.), but it’s the underlying numbers where he really stands out. Among central midfielders he leads the league in:

  • Defenders bypassed (i.e., the number of defenders his passing takes out of the play)
  • Defenders bypassed per 90 minutes (he’s almost 20% higher than the No. 2 guy on the list)
  • xG generated from possessions in which he’s involved (FORTY PERCENT higher than the No. 2 guy)
  • Passes that break the opposing backline (i.e., passes in behind)
  • Passes hit under pressure (he’s at 281; the No. 2 guy on the list is at 199)
  • Progressive passes per game
  • Progressive passes that end in the final third
Sebastián Driussi
Attacking midfielder · Austin FC

Every MLS expansion team ought to sign an MVP candidate and golazo machine in their prime. It’s a good plan.

Haters gonna hate, and all you USMNT haters are the worst. Arriola was an absolute steal for FC Dallas, even at a record-setting price. He’s been the best winger in MLS this year, on both sides of the ball. Hang up, I’ll wait for your rebuttal.

The basics are five goals and two assists. The deeper you go, though, among wingers…

  • Chances created from open play: 1st
  • Crosses from open play: 1st
  • Expected Assists: 1st
  • Big Chances Created: 1st
  • Expected goals (non-PK): 1st
  • Shots: 2nd
  • Tackles: 1st
  • Duels: 2nd
  • Aerials: 2nd
  • Recoveries: 3rd

Yeesh. Bet Charlotte wishes they ponied up the dough!

I’m not sure any Sounders would be in the MLS Best XI, and I am sure you’ll get at me to emphasize that point.


This is credit for the season Roldan's had so far across all competitions, which is absolutely Best XI-worthy.

Golden Boot presented by Audi leader. Enough said.

West update Wiebe column XI


Get ready for a Union-heavy Eastern Conference Best XI (that could be even heavier). This is as no-brainer as it gets. Blake is second in goals prevented. He takes the solo mantle as the league’s best ‘keeper the moment Matt Turner’s transfer to Arsenal goes through.

Kai Wagner is going to feel hard done by here. So might Joao Moutinho. This is my Best XI, so I’m taking Jones, who is half of arguably the league’s most dynamic outside back duo. The Revs’ width comes from their outside backs, and Jones serves as a possession fulcrum, chance creator and occasional danger man himself.

Walker Zimmerman has enough Defender of the Year awards. It’s Callens’ year to get the plaudits for his play, which has been at a league-best level for years now.

Take your pick between Elliott and Jakob Glesnes. I gave Matt Doyle the choice. His words: “Neither pick is wrong. Elliott for his versatility.”

I had Brooks Lennon in the first draft of this column. The Atlanta United man has arguably been the best chance creator from the outside back/wingback position in MLS in 2022. Thing is, no right back is even remotely close to being the defender Harriel has been for the Union. The 21-year-old Homegrown won the job and he’s done everything Jim Curtin’s asked and much more.

Here’s how he ranks in defensive actions among right backs with more than five games played at the position:

  • Tackles: 1st
  • Interceptions: 1st
  • Clearances: 1st
  • Duels: 1st
  • Aerials: 2nd
  • Recoveries: 4th
  • Blocked crosses: 1st

That speaks for itself. CONFIRMED: he’s got that dawg in him (and the Union academy is a dang pipeline).

José Martínez
Defensive midfielder · Philadelphia Union

El Brujo isn’t going to pass it through you. He isn’t going to make the game beautiful, unless you’re into a dude going into ugly situations and coming out with the ball. Martinez tops my personal and mostly unscientific Misery Index, which is to say there’s no midfielder in the East more miserable to play against.

Keaton Parks
Box-to-box midfielder · New York City FC

Cristian Casseres Jr. has a shout here. So, too, do Alejandro Bedoya and Leon Flach. Go with Victor Wanyama and I wouldn’t argue a bit. Parks links back to front as well as any two-way midfielder in MLS and he finds a way to score some goals, to boot.

Luciano Acosta
Attacking midfielder · FC Cincinnati

MLS ranks, from TruMedia via Stats Perform…

  • Expected Assists: 2nd
  • Chances Created: 1st
  • Chances Created From Open Play: 1st
  • Big Chances Created: 1st
  • Passes Made in the Final Third: 2nd

That’s decent.

Djordje Mihailovic
Attacking midfielder · CF Montréal

You gotta love an American No. 10 balling out (7g/4a). I’m savoring every single late-arriving run into the box. It’s going to be a beautiful summer in Quebec (isn’t it always?) … but also in Bologna, I assume. You’ve got to play in the league to win MVP, and Djordje could win it (if he’s still in the league)!

This spot might belong to Daniel Gazdag by the end of the season. Talles Magno or Thiago Almada could have a shout, if we’re going the 22 Under 22 route. For now, it’s Taty’s until he’s gone, and I assume he’s going to be gone.

It was a choice between Buksa, Brandon Vazquez and Leo Campana. Who are you taking? I know who I am taking.

East update Wiebe column XI