Voices: Steve Zakuani

Top 5 MLS players for every position ahead of the 2021 season

With the start of the 2021 MLS season just days away, it's time to take stock of the true cream of the crop, the top five players across every position.

Before we get into it, it's worth noting the injury-related exclusions of standouts wingers Jordan Morris of the Seattle Sounders and Sebastian Blanco of the Portland Timbers. When fully healthy, both are among the league’s elite at their position.

Let's go.


Andre Blake
Goalkeeper · Philadelphia Union

He’s still prone to a mistake or two, but there’s no denying how exceptionally talented Blake is. His command of his area is getting better and better and he’s among the best shot-stoppers in the league.

Stefan Frei
Goalkeeper · Seattle Sounders FC

He’s capable of the big, flashy save, but his bread and butter has been his consistency. Since 2016, Frei's hardly put a foot wrong and he’s saved his team on more than just a few occasions.

Eloy Room
Goalkeeper · Columbus Crew SC

Replacing Zack Steffen was never going to be easy, but Columbus hit the jackpot with this signing. Room's been phenomenal so far in his MLS career and he's part of a backline that can claim to be the best in the entire league.

Tim Melia
Goalkeeper · Sporting Kansas City

Like all 'keepers on this list, Melia is capable of the special save, but it’s his consistency that makes him a solid choice for me. It doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty good in a penalty shootout.

Matt Turner
Goalkeeper · New England Revolution

Though still relatively inexperienced at the top level, Turner has a commanding presence, is a good shot-stopper and deals well with aerial balls.


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Anton Tinnerholm
Defender · New York City FC

Tinnerholm is technically sound, dependable, good on both sides of the ball and always usually in the top 3 best players on the pitch for his team.

Harrison Afful
Defender · Columbus Crew SC

Darlington Nagbe told me Afful is as good of a fullback as he’s played with. He gets up and down the line well, but also makes really good decisions on the ball, of knowing when and where to pass and when he should be more or less aggressive defensively.

Richie Laryea
Midfielder · Toronto FC

Laryea's versatile and can use both feet well, a threat in the final third and combines well with those around him. Very rarely is he caught out of position.

Romain Métanire
Defender · Minnesota United FC

I think Metanire was better in 2019 than 2020, but on his day he’s a force to be reckoned with down the touch line. Defensively sound and his forward runs offer a good outlet when his team needs to relive pressure.

Nouhou Tolo
Defender · Seattle Sounders FC

His improvement from 2019 to 2020 was gigantic. Nouhou can still get better in the final third, but in terms of defending, he very rarely gets beat by any winger and he has drastically improved his positional sense. Still very young but at this rate, he is a lock in the starting XI.

Center backs

Jonathan Mensah
Defender · Columbus Crew SC

As things stand, Mensah is the most dominant defender in the league. Quick, strong, vocal and no nonsense when he has to be, Mensah is a huge reason why the Crew are many people’s favorite to repeat

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Walker Zimmerman
Defender · Nashville SC

Zimmerman's trade to Nashville will go down as one of the greatest in league history. Not many could have anchored an expansion team defense in the way he did. The scary part is he is still growing and getting better.

Yeimar Gómez
Defender · Seattle Sounders FC

Chad Marshall’s shoes can’t be filled, but Yeimar has been as close to perfect as you can be since signing for the Sounders. His ability to match up physically and speed-wise with most forwards has made Seattle stronger against the counter attack.

Miles Robinson
Defender · Atlanta United

Another player who was probably better in 2019 than 2020, but I fully expect Robinson to be at his best in 2021. And when he is, he shows signs of being a player who can dominate for many years.

Aaron Long
Defender · New York Red Bulls

Last season wasn’t his best year, but most teams would still love to have Long anchoring their back lines. The USMNT defender is great on the ball, quick across the ground and good in both boxes as a set piece threat.

Defensive/central midfielder

Darlington Nagbe
Midfielder · Columbus Crew SC

Every time I watch Nagbe, I am reminded he’s still the best in this position. He dramatically improves any team he joins and he’s a player who can do absolutely everything better than almost anyone else — his dribbling out of tight spaces, short passing and first touch are worth the price of admission every single time.

Eduard Atuesta

The fact we can argue whether Atuesta's sometimes more important — not better, just most important — than Carlos Vela for LAFC speaks volumes about his ability. When he’s fit and in form, there are few midfielders who can dictate the tempo of a game like he can.

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Diego Chará
Midfielder · Portland Timbers

He’s still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down. Chara and Ozzie Alonso are the two best ever in this position. But while Alonso has had a lot of injuries and is winding down his career, Chara has stayed relatively healthy. At this point, there’s probably no one better at putting out fires and his ability with the ball is often overlooked because of how good he is without it.

Jonathan dos Santos
Midfielder · LA Galaxy

Dos Santos is the most important player on his team. His ability to dictate the game through short and long passing and strong runs with the ball make the Galaxy look like a different — less than average — team whenever he is not playing.

Michael Bradley
Midfielder · Toronto FC

A lot of people won’t like this pick, but Bradley's always been one of my favorite players and although he’s not what he once was, in a one-off game I’d still take him ahead of most in his position.

Attacking midfielder

Alejandro Pozuelo
Midfielder · Toronto FC

Legitimately both footed, Pozuelo's ability to pick out runners from anywhere on the pitch is outstanding. When we last saw him, he was MVP for a reason.

Nicolás Lodeiro
Midfielder · Seattle Sounders FC

When it’s all said and done, Lodeiro will go down as a top-five signing in league history. When you have a DP willing to run more than anyone, it elevates the whole team. He chips in with goals and assists as well, but it’s his constant movement with and without the ball that causes opponents so many problems.

Lucas Zelarayán
Midfielder · Columbus Crew SC

Zelarayan is excellent at using his body to create separation from defenders and he usually picks out the right pass in the final third. As long as he stays fit, the Crew have every chance of making a serious defense of their championship.

Carles Gil
Midfielder · New England Revolution

When Gil was injured last season, it wasn’t just a loss for the Revolution, it was a loss for the whole league because very few players are as fun to watch as he is. He’s very difficult to dispossess when he’s in full flow.

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Diego Valeri
Midfielder · Portland Timbers

Valeri is still a sublime player who can impact the game better than most. As he’s gotten older, he’s gotten better at picking and choosing when and where to exert his energy which is probably why Valeri's still a top five player in his position.


Diego Rossi

Arguably the best goal scoring winger in league history, Rossi showed last year that he can carry the offense in the absence of Carlos Vela. I still feel he can become even more clinical in front of goal, which is nothing short of scary.

Kevin Molino
Forward · Columbus Crew SC

Molino was the MVP of the 2020 playoffs in my book. He’s always been a good dribbler and dangerous in the attacking half, but the Trinidad and Tobago international went to a new level with his impact on the score line. He got better at moving off the ball and is now capable of being the most dominant winger in the league if he wants to.

Johnny Russell

One of my favorite wingers to watch, Russell can play on both sides, he’s powerful and once he gets around the box, it’s almost impossible to stop him. His consistency continues to get better as well.

Pedro Santos
Midfielder · Columbus Crew SC

Pedro Santos doesn’t always get the headlines on his team, but his consistency and ability to show up in big games make him a top 5 player in this position.

Chris Mueller
Forward · Orlando City SC

Mueller had a great 2020. Any time a winger can get to double digit in goals, people will take notice. I see no reason why he can’t replicate and even elevate what he was able to do last season.


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Carlos Vela

Vela is the best player in the league and it isn’t close. The goals and assists speak for themselves, but the beauty of Vela isn’t just in what he does, it’s in how he does it. He routinely pulls off absurd pieces of play other players can only dream of, with what looks like minimal effort.

Josef Martínez
Forward · Atlanta United

Anyone who essentially guarantees you a goal a game is going to be near the top of any list. Josef's consistency in the 18-yard-box is what sets him apart from others. Even if he’s having a quiet game, when the opportunity arrives he normally always takes it.

Raúl Ruidíaz
Forward · Seattle Sounders FC

Similar to Martinez, Ruidiaz does his very best work inside the box. He doesn’t need many touches in the buildup since he is usually the one putting the final touches on any move. His ability to score with either foot, and in multiple ways, also elevates him above most of his peers.

Gyasi Zardes
Forward · Columbus Crew SC

We spend a lot of time focusing on the things Zardes doesn’t do well that we sometimes gloss over his incredible goal scoring record for the Crew. He gets paid to score goals and even his biggest critics can’t deny it’s something he’s been doing very well for a number of years now.

Daryl Dike
Forward · Orlando City SC

The sky is the limit for Dike. He has been sensational so far in his young career and if he continues to develop at this rate, it won’t be long before he’s leaving Orlando for more than a loan.