Through Matchday 8, we’re a shade over 20% through the 2023 MLS season.
So, as the title suggests, we’re taking stock of way-early standouts across the league. The official Best XI presented by Continental Tire won’t be decided until late fall, but you know how these things work.
It’s a 4-3-3 formation (since most teams play some variation of that), and we’ve included a coach + bench for greater representation. Away we go:
Petrovic has posted a clean sheet in four of his eight games this year, plus he leads the league with 36 saves. In other words, preseason buzz of the Serbian international being an Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year frontrunner is on track. The only inhibitor may be if Petrovic departs New England this summer on a transfer abroad, much like Matt Turner did to Arsenal last year.
The Colombian international has provided some highlight-reel moments as an attack-minded right back, sitting on 2g/2a across seven games. Mosquera’s also in his first full season with Portland after arriving last summer as a U22 Initiative signing, emerging as a bright spot in their injury-filled start to the year. Enjoy Mosquera while you can, Timbers fans. He seems destined for Europe one day.
Zimmerman remains the anchor of the league’s best defense, a unit that’s allowed just 0.5 goals per game. The two-time MLS Defender of the Year (2020, ‘21) is carrying forward his solid form from representing the USMNT at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. And he’s forging a new partnership with Jack Maher at center back following Dave Romney’s offseason trade to New England.
Robinson is back. After missing most of the 2022 season (and last year’s World Cup) with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the 26-year-old has returned to his Best XI-caliber self in the heart of Atlanta’s defense. Whether it’s alongside Luis Abram or Juan José Purata in the Five Stripes’ backline, Robinson’s 1-v-1 defending is so impressive. He’s also in a contract year and becomes available to sign for free, possibly overseas, this summer.
Jones is rock-solid defensively, but what really catches the eye is his ability to advance the ball on the dribble. The Revolution’s left back, who already has two assists on the year, creates offense with his surging runs up the flank and can provide service by cutting inside or going endline. If Jones can link up with Dylan Borrero more often, that’s the makings of one of MLS’s best left-sided duos.
Löwen, one of two Designated Players in St. Louis, has lived up to those expectations and then some. The former German youth international, signed last summer from Hertha BSC, has 2g/5a through eight matches. His leadership and energy from central midfield keys St. Louis’ press, an approach that has the newbies atop the early Supporters’ Shield standings after a historic start to life in MLS. Löwen for Newcomer of the Year, anyone?
Among Concacaf’s top midfielders of the past decade, Herrera experienced a slow start to life in MLS last summer as buy-in clearly waned upon arriving from LaLiga’s Atletico Madrid. But the Mexican international has lived up to his reputation in 2023, deservedly sporting the captain’s armband for the Dynamo and backing it up with his play on the pitch. Herrera has 2g/2a through six games, establishing one of the league’s better midfield trios alongside Artur and Coco Carrasquilla.
Almada, the 2022 MLS Newcomer of the Year, has leveled up in 2023. That all-around confidence is surely the byproduct of helping Argentina win the World Cup in December, and now there’s talk around the 21-year-old possibly breaking Miguel Almirón’s league outbound transfer record (reported $27 million) from when he joined Newcastle United from Atlanta in the winter of 2019. With 4g/5a in six games, Almada is the hub through which Atlanta’s attack functions.
Arguably the most underrated player in MLS, Espinoza is in top form to start the year. The Argentine winger has 5g/2a through eight games, plus boasts a league-leading 20 key passes. As Espinoza’s thrived under new Earthquakes head coach Luchi González, here’s a remarkable stat: since the start of 2022, Jeremy Ebobisse and Espinoza have scored or assisted on 46 of 62 goals scored by the club (74.2%).
At season’s end, it’ll be interesting to see how much time Morris spends playing on the wing for Seattle or as a traditional No. 9. For now, he’s in the Golden Boot presented by Audi lead with 8g/0a through eight games – seizing that spot while DP striker Raúl Ruidíaz has battled some nagging injuries. The US international’s versatility presents Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer with a good problem to solve, one where Morris is well on track to surpass his career high in goals (12; 2016 rookie year).
One of the clear early-season Landon Donovan MLS MVP frontrunners, Bouanga has been electric for LAFC thus far. He has 6g/2a in seven league games, plus 5g/3a in four Concacaf Champions League games as they’ve reached the semifinals of that continental competition. Signed last summer as a DP, the Gabon international provided big moments as LAFC completed the MLS/Supporters’ Shield double. Now, he’s unlocked a new level in 2023.
The year’s top head coach is honored via the MLS Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year award, not in the Best XI. But we still wanted to shout out the job Carnell’s doing in St. Louis. Picked bottom of the league in most preseason predictions, the newcomers have defied expectations and have the makings of a legitimate Audi MLS Cup Playoffs squad in the Western Conference. Carnell’s ability to build a collective around his preferred tactics and maximize talent is the driving force, allowing St. Louis to establish a new best-ever start (five straight wins) for an expansion club.
To mirror the Team of the Week presented by Audi, there are nine bench players spread across various positions.
- GK: Joe Willis (Nashville)
- D: Rodrigues (San Jose), Álvaro Barreal (Cincinnati)
- M: João Paulo (Seattle), Aidan Morris (Columbus), Timothy Tillman (LAFC), Lucas Zelarayán (Columbus)
- F: Federico Bernardeschi (Toronto), João Klauss (St. Louis)
Willis has a co-league-leading five shutouts and tops the league in TruMedia via StatsPerform’s goals prevented metric (4.04). Rodrigues has low-key played at a super high level for San Jose, and Barreal has arguably been Cincy’s best player as a left wingback.
João Paulo is back to his pre-ACL tear self for Seattle, Aidan Morris is thriving in Columbus’ new system under head coach Wilfried Nancy, Tillman (LAFC) is among the offseason’s best signings, and Zelarayán is humming for the Crew.
Yes, Toronto have drawn six of their first eight games. But Bernardeschi has been immense for the Reds, providing 3g/3a while carrying their offense in Lorenzo Insigne’s injury-imposed absence. At striker, João Klauss has 5g/4a in eight games for St. Louis. Not bad!