As teams make their Final Push to the Playoffs, one wild card sure to spoil many a certain result is the 12th Man – those super subs who enter after the kick and frustrate fans as they put points out of reach … or elate them with completed comebacks.
Respect must go where it's due. This year's leader in substitute appearances (22) is San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas. He's racked up a goal and five assists in 1,174 minutes across 31 games in this ninth MLS season, but those modest totals belie his impact: according to Opta Sports, Salinas has produced 23 chances, attempted 84 dribbles (succeeding on 30.1%) and completed 119 of 198 passes into the final third (60.1%).
While this week's opponent, the Vancouver Whitecaps, have already been eliminated, Sporting Kansas City host the Quakes on Decision Day, and SKC's hopes of a home game – or even an appearance in the 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs – could hinge on whether they weather a late showing by the speedy Texan.
The Way Forward
Canadian international Tesho Akindele has scored at least five goals for a third straight season, though he's yet to lock down a starting role with a grossly talented FC Dallas. Subbing on in 16 of his 29 appearances in 2016, the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year could provide the attacking spark for FCD if Maxi Urruti hits a dry spell. And if Dallas do take a lead, look for Homegrown product Victor Ulloa to hold down the defensive midfield. Despite 18 starts to 12 substitute appearances, Ulloa's subbed on in three straight league showings, and could prove the cooler to any FCD competition for MLS Cup.
Rookie Fabian Herbers ranks third on the substitute list, with 19 in 30 games for the Philadelphia Union, though he hasn't subbed on since late August – it's been seven straight starts for the German-born Creighton product, whose seven assists are the most by any rookie since 2010.
Also, one time he did this:
The Old Heads
Mike Magee and Alan Gordon have not only the history, but enough flashes this season to keep the Galaxy threatening to complete the #RacetoSeis. Magee opened the year with a stunning 45-minute showcase, scoring two goals, notching an assist and winning a penalty in the same game. The former MLS MVP has earned three goals and three assists in 15 spot starts, providing crucial depth for LA's multi-talented midfield. Gordon has subbed on 14 times, mostly serving as a gravitational pull on set pieces, but has started four times in the Galaxy's last seven games, scoring both of his 2016 goals during that stretch.