Every year there are a group of players that almost stealthily get the job done without sufficient fanfare, and every year there's a late attempt made to give those players a props boost.
This is that attempt, and honestly it's always an enjoyable exercise to shine a light on all the woefully underrated guys excelling in partial shadows across the league. Because of the nature of spotlighting top performers on any given soccer team, midfielders and defenders tend to get overlooked more than attackers putting up snazzy stats. As such, it's always a pleasure to "spill some ink" talking up these under-heralded aces.
Before we jump into the top 10, let's salute the honorable mentions: Sean Johnson, Gadi Kinda, Damir Kreilach, João Paolo, Romell Quioto, Dave Romney and Dayne St. Clair.
Frankly speaking, the hard-nosed Columbus Crew midfielder could probably make this type of list almost any season. Longtime running mates Federico Higuain and Wil Trapp moved on before the season and capable replacements Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan have been absent for stretches, but the team's midfield carries on with business as usual.
Much of the credit for the smooth transition should go to Artur, who has been forced to transform his game a little. That has proved little problem, as the Brazilian has dutifully become safer with the ball and tougher guarding the league's most miserly defense.
GOAL: Robert Beric, Chicago Fire FC - 52nd minute
There's nothing complicated about it. The offseason signing is giving the Chicago Fire just about everything they could want in a DP forward. And almost nobody is talking about Beric, even though he's scored in six of the last eight games to charge into the Golden Boot frame. On top of his eight tallies, the lanky striker is also the most active high presser in the league and wins bushels of dangerous free kicks with his hold-up moves.
It seems like no one outside of esteemed colleague Matt Doyle is of the mind to hype the New England Revs' right back, and this has to stop. I mean, Bye hasn't grabbed a single Team of the Week nod all season. It stands to reason, as Bye is merely functional going into attack. Nevertheless, he's raised his game to key cog status in the fourth-stingiest defense in MLS. The 24-year-old has leveled up in some important areas for a team with small margins (shutting down dribblers, his defensive block game and breaking pressure with the ball), and it shows in the table.
Antonio Carlos & Robin Jansson
I don't call this a cheat pick. This is a tandem pick, and that's how it should be. This offseason's main center back pick-up has joined last offseason's main center back pick-up to form a dynamic duo that is still surprising observers. There are several reasons for the defensive improvement that has Orlando City certain to post their first season goals-against-average under 1.50 in franchise history (and in with a fair shot to come in under 1.00), but it all starts with Carlos and Jansson. They formed a solid work-sharing partnership from the get-go and show no signs of letting down.
Gaston Gimenez & Alvaro Medran
Chicago Fire's Alvaro Medran goal vs. Cincinnati | Enhanced Highlight
Here's another tandem pick for you, and again it's because the players go together like peanut butter and jelly. Gimenez and Medran arrived last winter to remake the engine room on a Fire club in heavy transition. Earlier this year, Chicago were playing above their results, and these two ball-hogging flow controllers were a large factor in that. About a month ago, those results started more accurately reflecting Chicago's play and now a postseason return is well within reach.
The Toronto FC glue midfielder has arguably been underrated for years. This season, though, it's egregious and unmistakable. Plain and simple, Delgado is starring in 2020 for the current MLS top dogs and has yet to even sniff the Team of the Week bench. Fresh off six weeks covering for Michael Bradley's absence, the 25-year-old is basically doing the same things he's always done ... he's just doing appreciably more of all of them. A great and stunning example: Only Alejandro Pozuelo, Darwin Quintero and Anton Tinnerholm have created more shots through run-of-play passing than the Reds' No. 8.
Felipe Mora & Jaroslaw Niezgoda
Portland Timbers' Felipe Mora 2nd goal vs. LA Galaxy | Enhanced Highlight
It can be easy to get lost in the glare of the two Diegos. That goes with or without now-injured ace Sebastian Blanco on the field, and Jeremy Ebobisse is finally starting to get some well-deserved press. That's a lot of fanfare to go around for the second-best attack in the league, so it's understandable that the contributions of the two supplemental strikers they grabbed during the offseason often get overlooked. All Mora (fourth in the league in goals per 90) and Niezgoda (scoring on an MLS-best 50% of his shots) have done is combine for a dozen goals in 1357 minutes, which is the finest hair shy of Diego Rossi's scoring rate for the season. They may not be the headliners in Portland, but they do make sure the goals never dry up.
It's safe to say that the MLSsoccer.com staff does no underrate the Red Bulls right back; he's made Team of the Week five times in the last 21 times out, with the last four coming in 2020. It's not enough recognition for Duncan, who has become an end-to-end dynamo in his third MLS season. Would it surprise you to learn that the 23-year-old has nearly matched Ruan's total of positive distance carrying the ball up field? Or that he stands second in the league in ball recoveries? Probably not if you've been watching the Big Apple bunch this term.
Jose Andres Martinez
2020's best d-mid has been... | Extratime
I'm proud to say that I was on the Philly Union defensive midfielder's bandwagon before it even arrived. Martinez has been exactly what Jim Curtin ordered to take over and transform Haris Medunjanin's line-up slot. Instead of a deep-lying playmaker, the club's evolution to a top contender has been boosted by installing the Venezuela hard man at the gate to the back line. He faithfully, rudely harasses every opponent who comes his way, gathers up the ball they inevitably cough up with his prodding and moves it along to one of his fancier teammates.
Must-watch: Inter Miami CF winger Lewis Morgan scores on two spectacular strikes vs NYCFC
We started the year focused on Rodolfo Pizarro, and then Leandro Gonzalez Pirez made headlines with his MLS return. Come summer, spotlight-grabbers Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi joined up from global giants Juventus. Through it all, Morgan has been Inter Miami's most influential player. He has five goals and six assists (but could have about double that with better finishing from teammates). The winger is fourth in the league in key passes, and top 10 in numerous other important attacking stats. If anyone is paying attention in Scotland, Morgan should rightfully be back on the national team call list soon.