It's nearly Christmas which means it's again time to pay tribute to the finest acquisitions from abroad this year and to the MLS general managers/technical directors who brought them home from market.
As usual, we are not including players who spent time on loan last season and then had their move made permanent over the offseason. In other words, guys like Antonio Carlos, Felipe Mora and Joao Paulo weren't eligible for the list. Even without them, there were more than enough standouts to make picking a top 10 hard, and ranking them far harder.
To put it mildly, 2021 was a very rough year for an Atlanta United outfit accustomed to winning. They were a flimsy mess, with little structure to their game. There are several reasons why the Five Stripes were able to post the second-best points-per-game improvement over last season (0.54 per game, to be exact), but the solidity and organization Sosa brought back to the base of their midfield should be high on the list.
Am I lowballing the placement on a guy who led San Jose with a dozen goals even though it took him several weeks to heat up? Maybe. Would Chofis be higher on the list if his teammates had done a better job finishing his set-ups? Yeah, probably. Even if his season was what I'd consider being one-dimensional (final third architect), he handled that dimension quite well for a newcomer.
Chofis scores incredible hat trick for San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake
After a disappointing spell in Liga MX, Acosta returned to log what was probably his second-best MLS season from an individual standpoint. Unfortunately, a lot of folks may not have noticed his seven goals, 10 helpers, 70 key passes, pressure valve work and rush driving because of FC Cincinnati's wooden spoon three-peat. How utterly punchless were they without him? Well, they didn't score a single goal in the 364 minutes Acosta wasn't on the field.
For all those who figured Chofis would be the highest-ranking Quake on this scale: Surprise! All Nathan did was finish top five in the league in both tackles and interceptions despite playing just 20 games. Prior to his arrival, San Jose were 4-8-2 and allowing a hair under two goals per game. With him on patrol, they went 6-5-9 and cut their goals-against average down to a respectable 1.35.
The 20-year-old came over from St. Pauli and fit in like a glove with the Philadelphia Union midfield. Flach played every game in 2021, starting all but three. He covered tons of ground (ninth in MLS in total distance covered) with a healthy dose of horseradish in his game (tops in the league in successful pressures, sixth in tackles won). His grit and determination were routinely noteworthy on a club that narrowly missed its first trip to MLS Cup.
The Brazilian netminder was solid during his 2019 cup of coffee with Philadelphia, but that small sample didn't prepare anyone for how good he'd be upon returning to MLS in 2021. Coronel consistently came up with big saves for a Red Bulls side that rallied hard to make the playoffs. He was tied for the league lead in clean sheets, and near the top in save percentage, cross captures and the telling xG-GA analytical stat.
The Argentine playmaker came precisely as advertised, helping Austin FC's offense perk up a good bit. Driussi's attack guidance gave the expansion side the ability to drive up the gut and his patented late overload runs into the box sparked some decent production (five goals and five assists in under 1400 minutes). And just imagine how much he can get done if the club builds a better defensive base for him to operate from.
GOAL: Sebastián Driussi, Austin FC - 29th minute
Though it took several games for his end product to kick in, the summer DP signing from French champs Lille immediately gave Atlanta United something they'd been lacking out wide. Araujo tormented opposing fullbacks, created chances for teammates and always found space for his own shot. Before he came on board, the Five Stripes were scoring 1.18 goals per game and pocketing 1.11 points per match. After he joined up, they bagged 1.56 goals and 1.93 points per contest. That's impact.
Here's another guy who provided just what the doctor ordered after coming to MLS midseason. Arango gave LAFC a genuine cobra head for the No. 9 position, netting 14 times in 17 games to nab the Newcomer of the Year award. Some might nit-pick that his hit total included five penalty kicks, but it's hard to complain when he buried every attempt he got. He wasn't just a one-dimensional scorer, either. The newly-capped Colombia international also busily handled the menial tasks that help an offense run well.
MLS Newcomer of the Year - Cristian Arango
Yep, I'm going against the award voters on this one. It's not all that often a Designated Player comes in and he's instantly the exact thing his new team has been lacking for a long time. This was one of those rare times, as Gauld not only covered previous weaknesses, he made Vancouver's strengths stronger. A terror in transition or on restarts, the Scottish playmaker put up four goals and six assists in just over 1300 minutes. The Caps opened the season 3-7-6, but Gauld led them on a fun 9-2-7 closing kick that earned the club's first winning season since 2017.