Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Best XIs in MLS history: Where does Bale-Chiellini-Vela's LAFC rank?

Want people to get mad at you on the Internet? If you’re talking about sports, it turns out there are two magic words:


Worst tweet of the year. On Twitter. In the year 2022. Let the hot takes fly. Nothing is too spicy for public consumption. Get it all out before (or after?) El Trafico on Friday and Heineken Rivalry Week for the next day or so.

To be fair, whoever is behind that account is right about one thing! Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini haven’t played a single minute in this league – that is 100 percent correct – and here we are already talking best-ever XI (again, on paper). I should have known lionizing LAFC before they’ve won a single cup-shaped trophy would rile up the masses, especially who self-identify as Kevin Cabral stans. After all, the Galaxy would NEVER sign a 30-something European star.

Anyway, on to our noble thought experiment, ranking the best ON PAPER lineups in MLS history. I’m a sicko so I put together my Top 11 all-time, from 1998 D.C. United to last year’s record-setting Revs, in addition to LAFC’s current eye-popping XI. It’s almost like a Best XI of Best XIs, which ought to blow Bobby “Hey, Wiebe … Why don’t you do another Best XI column?” Warshaw’s mind.

The key phrase here, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is “on paper.” These aren’t always the exact lineups managers rolled out, in personnel or formation. Sometimes they are, but sometimes they’re just plausible teams designed to shoehorn as much on-paper talent as possible. Think of it sort of like if you were playing FIFA with these teams/players in their prime. Which would you pick?

Recognizing “on paper” talent, for me, goes three ways: internationally recognized (i.e. Bale and Chiellini), MLS proven (i.e. Todd Dunivant, Jeff Larentowicz, Ozzie Alonso or C.J. Brown) or some combo of both (Landon Donovan, Miguel Almiron, Carlos Vela, etc).


2016 LA Galaxy

On paper, this is a mind-blowing group. Only Daniel Steres and Brian Rowe are a bit out of place in the annals of the game/MLS. I just couldn’t bear to see this team finish higher than 11 given their struggles to turn all that talent into a successful season. The stink of disappointment lingers.

2019 LAFC

No disrespect, clearly they were a juggernaut, but Tyler Miller, Eddie Segura, Latif Blessing and Adama Diomande don’t quite match up to their “on paper” counterparts on the teams to come.

2021 New England Revolution

There are no bad teams in this exercise, just quibbles. The 2021 Revs are undeniably one of the best MLS teams of all-time, but the “on paper” resume is just a tad short of the other contenders here. Carles Gil is an absolute boss, but is he better on paper than the top players from the teams that follow? Probably not, yet at least.

One thing I know: This team’s resume is only going to grow. That Revs group could win a trophy or two. Adam Buksa, Tajon Buchanan and Matt Turner have a World Cup (Cups?) to play in, while Jones and Bye may break into the national team or enjoy European careers.

2018 Atlanta United

OK, it just got hard. More like, impossible.

Believe me Five Stripes faithful, I feel no joy in this decision. I stared at these XIs for half an hour and threw my hands up. This team is stacked. MLS Cup winners, obviously. MLS legends. All-time transfers. National team heroes. Just peruse the teams to come and tell me on Twitter what I should have done differently. I am all ears.

2022 Seattle Sounders

Don’t hate me, Sounders supporters. This isn’t a ranking of teams that won the Concacaf Champions League (a list of one). Before you complain, go position by position with the other teams on the list. Yes, you’ll probably still think I’m an idiot, but I’ve chosen my fate … and there is another Sounders team to come.

2022 LAFC

Shock and awe. The top-end of this roster – Bale, Chiellini, Vela – is drool-worthy and perhaps the best-ever on paper in MLS, but the depth doesn’t match up to the other teams that round out the top five. I could be completely wrong about this! You tell me.

2017 Toronto FC

I told you, there’s no real science to this list. Shuffle the top five. Any order is “right.”

2014 Seattle Sounders

The 2022 team’s results – that group has multiple MLS Cup rings as well – are better, but this team takes it, again, on paper. Just a salty, salty group with sparkling resumes across the globe.

2012 LA Galaxy

The big three. The backline of MLS all-timers. Prime Juninho and Sarvas. Mike Magee!

1998 D.C. United

You can tell nostalgia was my guide for the top two. If that is the wrong way to approach this, then I don’t want to be right. Don’t sleep on prime El Diablo.

2000 Chicago Fire

Stoichkov in his prime alone would push them into the top five. Just look at this team. Now imagine how good Tony Meola had to be to deny them MLS Cup.