Ranking the top 10 individual debuts in MLS history

Brian McBride was the #1 pick in the 1996 MLS Inaugural Draft.

Both the fans in Toronto and league observers in general are still buzzing over Alejandro Pozuelo's sterling debut for the Reds, which begged an obvious question: Where does his introductory two-goal, one-assist display rank among the best MLS coming-out parties of all time?

As you'd expect, we got on the case to rank the players with the top Major League Soccer hellos in league history. We factored in the quality of individual performance, effect on the result and significance of the occasion to come up with the 10 names to beat for all future debutants.

Three guys who narrowly missed making the list inhabit our honorable mentions: Jermain Defoe (whose debut brace downed Seattle), Jesus Ferreira (who became the second-youngest league scorer just 18 minutes into his first pro outing) and Alhaji Kamara (his first — and as it would turn out, only — MLS strike came in the form of a late 1-0 winner after a mere 33 seconds on the field as a late sub).

No. 10: Eric Hassli

The Frenchman was Vancouver's first Designated Player, so it was only appropriate that he scored the first goal of their MLS tenure. Hassli fired home an opportunistic strike 15 minutes into their 2011 opening day tilt with visiting Toronto FC to set the crowd alight. He would later cap a Whitecaps jailbreak to notch their final tally in the memorable 4-2 victory.

 No. 9: Omar Bravo & CJ Sapong

Would this even be a list without a cheat pick two-fer? Sapong got Sporting KC’s re-brand party off to a rousing start by taking advantage of a flub at the back to score less than two minutes into his league debut. However, the hero of this 2011 opening-day win at Chivas USA was Bravo.

Freshly arrived from Chivas Guadalajara (where he remains the all-time top scorer), the Mexico ace did a number on their American sister club. He bagged a nifty chip on the edge of halftime and later doubled his fun with a 74th-minute winner.

No. 8: Danny Cepero

Pressed into service just two days before the MetroStars’ (now New York Red Bulls) crucial penultimate game of the 2008 season when starting goalkeeper Jon Conway was hit with a performance-enhancing drug ban, Cepero enjoyed a first MLS match to remember against league-leading Columbus.

The rookie made a pair of saves, including a stunner to deny Ezra Hendrickson with the game still scoreless near intermission, but that was just the tip of his debut iceberg that sank the eventual double winners at Giants Stadium. With seven minutes to play, Cepero became the first MLS 'keeper to score a goal, capping a 3-1 win that saw the MetroStars squeak into the last playoff spot.

No. 7: Charlie Davies

There wasn't anything especially noteworthy about the actual scoring of the Davies brace that made the difference in D.C. United's 3-1 win over Columbus in the 2011 season opener; the special part was that he was even on the field at all.

Making what had once seemed a highly improbable return to the playing field nearly 18 arduous months after the fatal car wreck that could have easily taken his life, the forward came on for his MLS debut in the 52nd minute. Davies buried the winning spot kick just past the hour and then tacked on an insurance marker with 13 minutes left to provide an emotional catharsis for both the forward and all his fans across the country. Against all odds, the stanky leg was indeed back. 

No. 6: Carlos Ruiz

The mercurial Pescadito kicked off his 2002 Golden Boot campaign by pulling one out of the fire for the LA Galaxy with a late double against esteemed opening-day visitors from D.C.

The visitors struck through Ali Curtis to take the lead with a quarter-hour remaining, but Ruiz rose highest to nod home the equalizer five minutes from time. He wasn't done, converting a stoppage-time penalty to send the Rose Bowl crowd home happy.

No. 5: Alex Pineda Chacon

Like Ruiz, the Miami Fusion playmaker made an instant impact by flipping the scoreline of his first MLS game with a pair of second-half goals (the first two shown in the clip above) on the way to bagging both the Golden Boot and the MVP award.

After John Spencer had put visiting Colorado up in the 50th minute, Pineda Chacon latched onto an Ian Bishop through ball to slot home the equalizer midway through the frame. Just four minutes later, he was the fox in the box, bagging the winner from a corner-kick scramble to earn Miami an opening-day rally win.

No. 4: Brian McBride

The top overall draft pick wasted no time in displaying his considerable wares in Columbus' inaugural league match. McBride became the first of just three players to account for two goals and an assist on his MLS debut (sneak preview: the other two are still to come), sparking the Crew to a 4-0 rout of eventual champions D.C. United.

With the hosts already up near the half-hour thanks to a D.C. own goal, McBride scooped up a bad giveaway to smash a rocket with his left foot from the top of the area. Just after the interval, he knocked down a cross into the path of Pete Marino, who obliged with an easy finish. Four minutes from time, the Crew star capped a big opening night with a highlight-reel strike at after a long boot from the 'keeper.

No. 3: Alejandro Pozuelo

The new TFC playmaker isn't so high on this list because his big debut came in the club's first-ever game or an important late-season contest or even due to comeback heroics. No, Pozuelo made it to this rare air solely through the pleasing quality of his MLS bow.

Pozuelo helped start the scoring in this past weekend's 4-0 cruise past New York City FC with a clever area wheel-and-deal to tee up Jozy Altidore. Near the hour, he doubled their lead with a cruelly confident panenka. The real eye candy, however, came with 12 minutes left, when the Reds newbie even had his own teammates clawing their temples in disbelief over his delicious scooped finish into the top corner.

No. 2: Fredy Montero

Now with rivals Vancouver, Montero first came to MLS as a 21-year-old and was an instant Seattle Sounders smash. After hitting nine times in as many preseason matches, the slippery forward earned the first Player of the Week prize of the 2009 season after leading the Sounders to a 3-0 defeat of the Red Bulls at a raucous (then-named) Qwest Field.

Just 11 minutes in, Montero buried a shot inside the far post from the right channel to give the franchise its first-ever MLS goal. Midway through the period, the youngster's excellent splitting pass eliminated three RBNY defenders and sent Brad Evans in alone for the Sounders second. With less than 15 minutes on the clock, he capped a great day by picking Mike Petke's pocket to race free for a coolly-taken third.

No. 1: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

You don't mess with the Zlatan. One of the more memorable games in league history went down with the arrival of the mighty LA Galaxy lion. The brash striker boldly made his mark in the Galaxy's debut meeting with new nemeses LAFC, ensuring that their city rivals and its fans would never be able to forget how this local derby started.

Remember all the anticipation leading up to his transfer, all the hype upon the signing, all the questions of whether he would be able to make an El Trafico debut despite not having played in over three months due to a knee injury? All Zlatan did was shrug aside any concerns over his fitness and fully live up to (if not beyond) the unavoidable hoopla.

The Galaxy's comeback from 3-0 down started without him and their second strike came after he entered play in the 71st minute. A mere moment later, Ibrahimovic leveled matters with that volley from 45 yards that would later net Goal of the Year honors. And if that wasn't enough, Zlatan would then complete the comeback by rising fastest in a crowd of LAFC foes to nod home Ashley Cole's cross. Quoth jazzed Fox commentator Stu Holden: "It doesn't get much better than this, folks!"