There have been a number of star midfielders to sign with MLS over the past eight months, including Miguel Almiron, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Jonathan dos Santos and Paul Arriola, but one who came with a lot less fanfare should be drawing your attention.
Blerim Dzemaili arrived in Montreal before the end of the primary transfer window, playing in his first game on May 13. This was a boon to Mauro Biello's team as the Swiss international originally intended to join the Impact once the secondary transfer window opened on July 10. With Bologna safe from relegation, Dzemaili was allowed to make his move to Montreal in time to appear in 25 games instead of just 17.
His production since his arrival has been outstanding. Among players who have played at least 800 minutes this season, only three have averaged more non-penalty goals plus assists per 90 minutes.
That kind of end product wasn't necessarily expected when Dzemaili arrived. More known as a box-to-box midfielder, the 31-year-old had 11 goals and five assists in two seasons in the Serie A with Bologna. With the Impact he plays in a more advanced role, more often than not playing as an attacking midfielder in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.
"I'm more of a box-to-box player, but I'm a player that likes [a lot] of the ball," Dzemaili told MLSsoccer.com when asked what he sees as his role on the field with the Impact.
Playing in this role, he's a lot to drift into spaces between opponents' lines and his touch almost never lets him down when he receives the ball. Once that happens, he's able to pick his head up and find any one of the attackers in front of him or open up to score himself.
"It's a guy that has a lot of experience at the highest levels. He did very well for Bologna in Serie A and at one point they were talking about [him] as one of the top performing midfielders in the league in terms of his performances," Biello told MLSsoccer.com this week when asked about Dzemaili.
"I think for sure he's arguably one of the best midfielders in the league. He's been here for 10, 12 games and has put up numbers. He's starting to get the attention of opposing teams because now [they need] to keep an eye out on him and try to limit his space."
Dzemaili's influence is not only measured by his boxscore stats, you can also see it when looking at his shot and chance creation figures. His combined figure of 5.57 shots and chances created per 90 minute is the sixth-highest average in MLS behind only David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Joao Plata, Clint Dempsey and Romain Alessandrini.
"If you give him too much space, he's got this tremendous shot, so he can hurt you from distance. If you try and close that off, he can try to beat you with his pass. There are those qualities that he has that makes it difficult for teams to manage."
That kind of ability is evident in all of his highlights that you can see above and his ability in transition situation was on display last Saturday night, when his slipped pass through to Anthony Jackson-Hamel ended in a game-winner in a match the Impact sorely needed to win.
With the Impact among a tight pack vying for the last playoff spot in the East, Dzemaili's continued excellence will be crucial if Montreal hopes to make another run in the playoffs.