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Who are the top goalscorers in MLS history? Our best XI

Last week Jesse Marsch sat down with Taylor Twellman in ESPNFC’s Boot Room bus for an in-depth chat on many topics ahead of his New York Red Bulls’ Heineken Rivalry Week clash with New York City FC.

It was a fascinating conversation, and several of his remarks really got us here at MLSsoccer.com thinking, starting with his effusive praise of Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.

“He's the best goalscorer in the history of this league,” said Marsch of BWP. “He can score in so many different ways; there's not one way to shut him down. He's clever, he's gifted, he's athletic and fast. He can finish with both feet, he's great in the box. There's almost nothing he can't do around the goal.”

So who else might have a claim on that title? Well, Twellman himself, for one. Here’s my best XI of the league’s all-time greatest marksmen, including their career regular-season goal totals and goals-per-90-minutes stats.

11. The Godfather: Jaime Moreno

133 goals in 340 games; 0.46 G/90min

No one in MLS has won more trophies than D.C. United, and the Bolivian striker has been centrally involved with the capture of most of them. He was also MLS’s all-time leading scorer for a time, the leading light of MLS’s opening decade.

Dubbed “the Godfather of Goals” by some D.C. fans in a playful nod to the English translation of his name, Moreno was the league’s first iconic finisher – though he cleverly adapted his game as his body aged, becoming just as much of a setup man in his latter days. He did net many of his goals from the penalty spot, which (perhaps harshly) dings his place in this ranking a bit.

10. The Sniper: Ante Razov

114 goals in 262 games; 0.50 G/90min

A strong personality who clashed with several of his coaches over the years, Razov might’ve had a more famous career for both club and country if he’d been a less cantankerous character. But that probably would have meant a less single-minded obsession with scoring, a trait that powered his prolific ways. No one in MLS history has taken more shots.

His sweet left foot could hit a ball with rare levels of power and accuracy. His clever movement and deceptive quickness constantly fooled defenders. And he was utterly cold-blooded in front of the net.

9. The Little Fishy: Carlos Ruiz

89 goals in 183 games; 0.57 G/90min

“El Pescadito” might be remembered most for his jaw-dropping clash with Rico Clark in a 2007 edition of the Texas Derby. And Ruiz’s deployment of the dark arts was indeed unmatched: the Guatemalan loved to get inside the heads of his opponents with flops, trash talk, stray elbows, jersey-tugging and more.

But he was also one of the purest scorers MLS has ever seen, with finishing abilities as clean as his tricks were dirty. He led the LA Galaxy to a rare MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double as he won league MVP honors in 2002, and kept on banging them in for four other MLS clubs for more than a decade.

8. The Mercenary: Jeff Cunningham

134 goals in 365 games; 0.53 G/90min

Nearly as well-traveled as Ruiz, Cunningham led the line for five MLS teams and banged them in everywhere he went. And like Razov, he didn’t always get along with everyone along the way.

But the Jamaican-born US international carried a packed toolkit that tortured opposing defenses: Blazing speed, deceptive movement, a keen nose for space and a seasoned instinct around goal. He won the Golden Boot twice and ranks second on the all-time scoring charts.

7. The Late Bloomer: Chris Wondolowski

132 goals in 286 games; 0.53 G/90min

The story is legendary among MLS insiders. In 2009 the Houston Dynamo shipped Wondo off to the San Jose Earthquakes along with a conditional draft pick, in exchange for … [checks fine print] a targetman named Cam Weaver.

The Dynamo could hardly have known they’d just traded away – for a song – the man who would become one of the greatest US-born finishers in MLS history. Wondolowski had been a middling reserve for the Orange, stuck behind club legend Brian Ching on the depth chart.

Wondo would blossom on his return to his native Northern California, spearheading the “Goonies”-era Quakes and carving out a USMNT career that continues today. Rarely the biggest, fastest or most head-turning player on the field, he scored in bunches with smart runs and a cerebral knack for finding the ball in the penalty box.

6. The Stuntman: Taylor Twellman

101 goals in 174 games; 0.60 G/90min

Commitment. It’s one of the most underrated qualities in a productive striker.

In this context we’re referring to the fierce, brave, and sometimes even foolhardy desire to get on the end of every delivery into the goalmouth, every loose ball in the box, every hopeful ball played down the channels.

“TT” hustled like a madman, eagerly sticking his nose into spots others thought twice about. And when you married that to his keen finishing instincts and quality service from New England Revolution teammates like Steve Ralston and Pat Noonan, you got one of the best strike rates in MLS history.

Unfortunately it also brought his career to a premature close, with several collisions leading to multiple concussions and an ongoing battle with post-concussion syndrome. Twellman has made it his mission to address soccer’s growing scourge of head injuries with Think Taylor, a foundation that works to educate and advocate for concussion safety.

5. The Atomic Ant: Sebastian Giovinco

54 goals in 83 games; 0.69 G/90min

He’s got a ways to go before he hits triple digits like others here. But Toronto FC’s Italian superstar might get there faster than anyone ever has. The 2015 league MVP has punched a hole in MLS since arrival, conjuring up a stunning array of highlight-reel strikes for a team presently gunning for a place among the all-time greats.

Don’t dare get distracted by his short stature. Giovinco can beat you in so many ways, from unparalleled free-kick mastery to mazy individual dribbles to tic-tac-toe passing combinations with the likes of Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez. If he can stay healthy, “Seba” will take aim at several MLS milestones in record time.

4. The King: Robbie Keane

83 goals in 125 games; 0.69 G/90min

One of the only players at the top end of the all-time scoring chart with a better strike rate than Twellman, Keane was the spearhead to this decade’s dominant LA Galaxy teams, winning a Supporters' Shield and three MLS Cup titles in four years while claiming league MVP honors in 2014 and an All-Star nod the following season.

Sure, he benefited from the presence of deadly teammates like Landon Donovan and David Beckham. But on both numbers and “eye test” basis, the Irishman’s productivity is undeniable. And he deserves credit for the intensity and leadership that set the tone for a true dynasty.

3. The LegenD: Landon Donovan

145 goals in 340 games; 0.45 G/90min

LD’s resume is well known to even a casual observer of North American soccer. He’s MLS’s all-time leading scorer as well as tops in assists and game-winning goals. He’s got six MLS Cups, two Supporters' Shields and a US Open Cup trophy on his ledger as well as a whopping seven MLS Best XI nods, to say nothing of his many USMNT exploits at the sport’s highest levels.

Able to play multiple positions and roles according to his team’s needs, Donovan spent long stretches of his career as a wide midfielder. But he was always goal-dangerous and efficient with his chances. Capable of both starting and finishing those lightning counterattacks, he could create his own shot and also threaten on free kicks.

2. The World Champ: David Villa

60 goals in 88 games; 0.72 G/90min

Like Giovinco, NYCFC’s top star and first-ever signing hasn’t hit the gaudy career MLS goal totals that others on this list have – not yet. But his scintillating excellence in his first three seasons suggests that it’s only a matter of time, and makes him a simply mandatory presence here.

Arriving in the league as the leading scorer in Spanish national team history, “El Guaje” had already tasted World Cup and European Championships glory. But he attacked his new challenge with gusto, leading the City line with ferocious work rate, devastating movement and ruthlessly efficient finishing. He won the 2016 MLS MVP award and is a leading contender to repeat this season.

1. The Prototype: Bradley Wright-Phillips

83 goals in 131 games; 0.71 G/90min

Some attacking players are hybrids or utility men, asked to roam the attacking third one day and race up and down the flanks the next. Not this one.

Just as the great white shark represents the pinnacle of oceangoing predators, the Red Bulls hitman is the Platonic ideal of a modern MLS frontrunner. Though his skillset is fully furnished with hold-up and combination play, high-pressing nous and runs off the ball, BWP is a pure finisher first and foremost – and his numbers prove it.

Set-piece threat, fox in the box, killer counterattacker: Wright-Phillips uses a variety of situations to get the ball to his feet or head in dangerous areas. And once he’s there, he’s clinical, with a scoring-chance percentage (goals scored divided by the number of shots) of 20.4.

Among the great all-time MLS scorers, only Donovan (20.5%), Keane (20.8%) and Roy Lassiter (22.1%) run north of 20 percent in SC%. (Though further down the charts, Giovanni Savarese, Jozy Altidore, Ignacio Piatti and Stern John are also sky-high in that category.)

The bottom line: Whether you’re considering rate, volume, quality, ingenuity, contribution to a strong team or all of the above, BWP is simply that dude.

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