Major League Soccer unveiled its 2017 Best XI on Thursday night, with several of the league’s biggest attacking stars headlining the list of the season’s top performers.
MLS players, club executives and media members named one goalkeeper, three defenders, three midfielders and four forwards to the Best XI. Only Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa return from the 2016 Best XI, while four players made this list following their first year in MLS.
2017 MLS Best XI
Player illustrations by Stanley Chow
Goalkeeper - Sporting Kansas City
What a year for the former MLS pool goalkeeper. Melia, who couldn’t even find a spot on an MLS roster after being cut by Chivas USA midway through the 2014 season, had a remarkable season. The 31-year-old led MLS with a 0.78 goals-against average and a 78.4 save percentage and keyed an SKC defense that conceded a league-best 29 goals, the third fewest since MLS moved to a 34-game schedule in 2011. Though his year was cut short by a hamstring injury that kept him out of SKC’s final three regular season matches and their Knockout Round loss at Houston, Melia registered career highs with 31 regular season appearances, 12 wins, 10 shutouts and 91 saves in 2017. The runaway MLS Goalkeeper of the Year also played a critical role in SKC’s run to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup crown, making a pair of shootout saves in the club’s semifinal win before anchoring the backline in their 2-1 final victory against New York.
Defender - Toronto FC
Capable of playing as a center back or on the left side of Toronto’s 3-5-2 formation, the versatile Morrow didn’t just excel in defense in 2017, he had an outstanding year in the attack, too. The 30-year-old recorded eight goals and one assist in 28 appearances, and played a huge role for a dominant TFC defense that conceded just 37 goals. Morrow also got some love from the US national team, earning a call-up for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup and playing in two matches in the US’s run to the continental title. He finished second in MLS Defender of the Year voting.
Defender - Sporting Kansas City
It’s always been obvious that Opara is an immensely talented center back. The only question about the imposing defender is whether he’d be able to put together an injury-free campaign. In 2017, he finally managed the feat, ending a streak of three straight injury-curtailed campaigns to put together a dominant regular season that netted him MLS Defender of the Year honors. Sporting’s league-best backline allowed just 23 goals and went 12-6-12 in Opara’s 30 appearances. They were 0-3-1 with six goals conceded in the four matches the 28-year-old didn’t play.
Defender - Vancouver Whitecaps
A national hero in Costa Rica after scoring the goal that booked their place at next summer’s World Cup, Watson enjoyed yet another solid season with Vancouver. A MLS Defender of the Year finalist, Waston appeared in 25 games for the Whitecaps, helping the club return to the postseason after missing out on the playoffs in 2016. In addition to anchoring Vancouver’s backline, Waston remained a dangerous threat on set pieces, scoring four goals and adding an assist during the regular season. This is his second MLS Best XI selection after earning a spot on the list in 2015.
Midfielder - Portland Timbers
Perhaps the top player in MLS this season, Valeri enjoyed the best year of his sparkling Portland Timbers career in 2017. The 31-year-old was truly outstanding, leading the Timbers to the top seed in the Western Conference with an astonishing 21 goals and 11 assists in 32 league appearances. The Argentine set an all-time MLS record by scoring in nine consecutive games from July 29 to Sept. 24, powering Portland to a 5-2-2 record in that stretch. This is his third time on the MLS Best XI; he first made the list in 2013 and 2014.
Midfielder - Atlanta United FC
Atlanta United’s biggest offseason signing more than lived up to the hype for the expansion club. The 23-year-old Paraguayan international set the tone for the Five Stripes’ excellent first year, recording nine goals and 14 assists in 30 appearances and leading Tata Martino’s lightning quick high press and counter system. The No. 1 player in MLSsoccer.com’s annual 24-Under-24 ranking, Almiron will be a star for as long as he remains in MLS. With big offers floating around from Europe, we’ll see how long Atlanta hold on to their star midfielder.
Midfielder - Toronto FC
They didn’t exactly need the help, but Vazquez turned things up a notch for Toronto’s already potent attack this year. The Spaniard excelled in his first year in MLS, leading the league in assists for most of the season before being pipped for the lead at the end of the year by Sacha Kljestan. The Targeted Allocation Money signing ended the regular season with eight goals and 16 assists in 31 games, and played a key role in helping Toronto win the Canadian Championship and Supporters’ Shield titles.
Forward - New York City FC
He couldn’t beat out Nikolic for the Golden Boot, but Villa earned his second straight Best XI selection thanks to another stellar season with NYCFC. The 35-year-old recorded 22 goals and nine assists in 31 appearances for New York City, playing the most important role for a strong attack that hit the back of the net 56 times in the regular season. Villa even earned a recall to the Spanish national team for his play, getting named to their squad for World Cup qualifiers against Italy and Liechtenstein in September.
Forward - Toronto FC
Another year, another MLS Best XI nod for Giovinco. Despite playing in just 25 league matches due to a couple of injury spells, Giovinco was once again his dominant self in 2017, playing a huge role in Toronto’s record-setting regular season. The Italian recorded 16 goals and six assists in 2017 and was again deadly on set pieces, scoring several memorable free kick goals throughout the campaign. Perhaps the most talented attacking player in all of MLS, Giovinco has been named to the Best XI in each of his three seasons in the league.
Forward - Atlanta United FC
Though he missed nearly half the season due to injury and international duty, Martinez recorded one of the best strike rates in MLS history in 2017. The Venezuelan scored an astonishing 19 goals in just 20 appearances for Atlanta United, tallying three hat tricks, two of which came in back-to-back games in September against New England and Orlando. Like Almiron, the immensely talented 24-year-old will be a MLS star for as long as Atlanta hang onto him.
Forward - Chicago Fire
Debut seasons don’t come much better than this. Though initially overshadowed by fellow first-year Fire players Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty, Nikolic put up huge numbers in 2017, winning the MLS Golden Boot with 24 goals in 34 appearances. The Hungarian international, who also chipped in with four assists, played arguably the biggest role in helping Chicago transform from a last-place club in 2015 and 2016 to the third-best team in MLS in the 2017 regular season.