Armchair Analyst: Each team's most important player for the 2020 season

There have been deep dives on roster builds, and there will be deep dive tactical previews to come. There will be lots, and lots and lots of analysis.

But sometimes it just comes down to "Who's the guy who means the most to your team?"

Let's take a look at all 26:


Atlanta United

Josef Martinez: We should create an Expected Statue metric. If we did that – the likelihood that a specific player would get a statue in their honor after their retirement – I'd have a hard time coming up with more than a handful of guys who'd cross like 2%. Maybe Ozzie Alonso with Seattle, maybe Diegos Valeri & Chara in Portland.

Josef's already at, what, 20% likely to get a statue in Atlanta when all's said and done? He's got a chance to finish his career on the Chipper Jones-Dominique Wilkins-level of beloved athlete, if not quite at the Hank Aaron level.

Anyway, last year at one point he scored in 15 straight league games, and he scored in their 3-2 win over Club America in the Campeones Cup, and he's scored in two of the three finals Atlanta have been in over the past two seasons. He was the MVP in 2018 and arguably had a better, more valuable year in 2020. Here's four-and-a-half minutes of the dude just winning game after game for his team:

Just build the statue now. 


Chicago Fire FC

Robert Beric: Since the Fire's rebuild is still in process, this answer is mostly TBD. There's no guarantee re: who's coming and who still might be going, there's not guarantee on team shape and approach (though I'd guess it'll be a 4-3-3), and there's no guarantee re: who's starting and who's on the bench.

But if you think back to last year... man, Chicago just could not finish, and time after time they left points on the table because of it. That is, presumably, why they went out and got Beric.


FC Cincinnati

Haris Medunjanin: So in the wake of the Gaston Pereiro will-he-won't-he-adios, it looks like – at least for now – FC Cincy won't be playing with a true No. 10. I'm fine with that because there is no regista in the league, save for Michael Bradley, who's as good at organizing the game and releasing attackers in to space as Medunjanin. You don't need to put him in the same midfield as a true 10 (I'd argue that it's defensive suicide to even try it), you just have to put two energetic ball-winners in front of him, two wingers who can get into space and a forward who can finish.

Let Haris run the show.


Colorado Rapids

Auston Trusty: Colorado were a fun story during the second half of last season and spent a lot of that time playing good, compelling soccer. They also conceded 63 goals, third-worst in the league (though I'll grant that things got better down the stretch).

Three of the four starters from that defense and the two starting deep-lying central midfielders are coming back. It is a pretty good group, and Trusty is new to the group, and they spent a lot of allocation cash on him, and he needs to be a major difference-maker.

It's probably unfair to call him "the most important player on the Rapids," but if everybody else's baseline is what they put forth in 2019, then Trust's performance in 2020 is the most important variable to look at.

If he can make the same leap in his age 21/22 season that, say, Miles Robinson made last year, the Rapids are going to be in business.


Columbus Crew SC

Lucas Zelarayan: Look at that Crew attack: Pedro Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Luis Diaz. All three are pretty good players, capable of winning a match or two on their day, but none of them would be considered amongst the league's elite.

It's Zelarayan's job to get them there. He's a No. 10 and the Crew paid a record fee – prying him from the best and most successful club in North America over the past decade – to get him. A No. 10's job isn't just to win games himself, it's to make the guys around him 10 or 15% better.


FC Dallas

Paxton Pomykal: Dallas are now deep and talented everywhere, and have more familiarity with Luchi Gonzalez's system, and the kids all have meaningful minutes under their belt. That includes Pomykal who was excellent most of last season (despite playing through an injury down the stretch), and is capable of dominant, match-winning two-way performances like what he unleashed on France in the Round of 16 of last year's U-20 World Cup:

If that version of Pomykal shows up, say, 25 times during the regular season, Dallas will be legitimate contenders for the Supporters' Shield.


D.C. United

Edison Flores: D.C.'s defense will likely be very good again, and they're going to be tough and industrious in the engine room, and the wingers will be hard-working, dogged, two-way players and Ola Kamara will probably score around 20 goals if he stays healthy. This is a very straight-forward team.

But you need more than straight-forward solidity to win in MLS; you need a little bit of magic. D.C. went out and bought Flores for that magic. If he delivers for the Black-and-Red like he did for Morelia, he'll have been worth the price.


Houston Dynamo

Matias Vera: The Dynamo are not one of the biggest spenders, and if you're not one of those then you have less room for error. That means less room for mistakes, and in no part of the field are mistakes deadlier than right in front of the central defense – Zone 14.

Vera was pretty good last year, his first in MLS. He'll need to up that to VERY good in Year 2 of his Houston journey in order for the Dynamo to keep pace with the big-spenders out West.


Inter Miami CF

Nicolas Figal: Miami's build thus far has been less big names, bright lights and more slow-and-steady acquisition of solid veterans. That includes deep-lying midfielders Wil Trapp and Victor Ulloa – I'm assuming as of now that's the starting pair, though obviously that can change – both of whom can ping the ball around but neither of whom is a top-tier defensive presence at d-mid.

There will be pressure on the backline. Figal, who's in his prime (25 years old) and on the fringes of the Argentinean national team (he's been called up but not yet capped) is in town to be the guy who handles that pressure. The center back will need to both keep things organized and put out fires, and will be expected to do his fair share of distribution as well.

For context: Figal is more highly rated than Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was when he arrived in MLS, and we all saw what kind of impact LGP had for three years in Atlanta. Figal needs to be that guy and maybe a little bit more.



Carlos Vela: Sometimes the easy answer is the right one.

Nobody's had a season quite like this in MLS history. If he's 75% as good in 2020 as he was in 2019, that'll give the rest of the team enough padding to work out whatever kinks and cruise into the playoffs with, at the very least, a high seed and higher expectations.


LA Galaxy

Sebastian Lletget: We don't get to see this version of Lletget a ton for the Galaxy for some reason:

He's one of the most press-resistant midfielders in all of North America, and when he's wearing the Red, White & Blue he goes out there and shows that, while still sprinkling in a little bit of flair and attacking vision (look at the pass at the 53-second mark). If Guillermo Barros Schelotto can coax that kind of performance from Lletget at the club level, how many goals will this attack score? 70? 80? More than that? 


Minnesota United FC

Ike Opara: All due respect to Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus and Michael Boxall and everyone else on this roster, but Ike was the difference-maker last year. Dude erased mistake after mistake after mistake while, at the same time, giving right back Romain Metanire freedom to overlap as far upfield as often as he liked. Look at some of these plays:

If he regresses or gets injured, everything about how the Loons can play changes.


Montreal Impact

Saphir Taider: So much about this roster seems to be in flux – including the status of Ignacio Piatti – that it's actually kind of tough to pick one name.

Even so, Taider is probably a good choice. The Algerian international central midfielder is a massive two-way presence, winning second balls in midfield, spreading the game out with his passing and constantly making dangerous, delayed runs into the box in possession. He's capable of both setting the tempo as a conductor and being match-winner in a smash-and-grab situation.


Nashville SC

Hany Mukhtar: Basically the entire backline and deep-lying midfield is made up of tried-and-true MLS veterans, guys who've done it for good teams in the past (both the presumptive starting center backs were starting center backs for playoff teams last year, for example). For an expansion team that's pretty good – not a lot of question marks.

The attack is nothing but question marks. Nashville's one big bet is Mukhtar, the German DP playmaker they bought from Brondby last summer.

He needs to be the one who provides answers for all those questions in attack.


New England Revolution

Matt Turner: The Revs were a playoff team last year, and as befitting a team that makes the postseason they've brought most of their lineup back. That includes pretty much their entire central midfield depth chart and most of their central defensive depth chart, both with minimal reinforcements.

That's troubling coming from a team whose results masked some harsh underlying truths about both the quantity and quality of chances they were giving up (read: myriad and sundry, and often big). Turner was often asked to be the one-man wall between the Revs and a multi-goal deficit, and he almost always delivered.

It is entirely possible the Revs simply improve from within thanks to chemistry and a full year under Bruce Arena. It seems more likely, however, that they'll ask Turner to be Superman again.


New York City FC

Maxi Moralez: Moralez isn't just "important," he seems to be "irreplaceable" for NYCFC, who were generally excellent when he was on the field last year and generally a dumpster fire when he wasn't. And they have no back-up on the roster for him.

Moralez became just the third player in league history to pick up 20 assists, and at 32 was still one of the best pressing No. 10s in the league, and did all of that while being a key piece in simple build-up as well. Basically: He is to NYCFC what Nico Lodeiro is to Seattle, and now he'll be doing it for his third different coach in the past three years.

NYCFC fans better hope he's great again.


New York Red Bulls

Josh Sims: Ok, there are a few different ways of approaching this for the Red Bulls. The first way is to look at the likes of Aaron Long, Tim Parker and Sean Davis, and say "this one particular person is the most important player because they need him to get back to his 2018 level," and that's not wrong. Then there's the second way which is to look at Brian White/Tom Barlow, or Patrick Seagrist/John Tolkin, or Kyle Duncan/Mandela Egbo, or David Jensen/Ryan Meara, or Cristian Casseres Jr. and say "this one particular player, or tandem of players, is the most important player because they need to replace guys who were top three starters in the league at their respective position two years ago," and that's not wrong either.

The third way is to look at Kaku and say "when Club America came calling, the Red Bulls valued him at $10 million, so he needs to play like a $10 million No. 10," and nope, that's not wrong at all. Any of those three ways of looking at it is just fine.

But I'm going in a different direction. From 2015 through 2018 RBNY were constantly one attacking piece short of being the very best team in the league. So let's assume all of the above happens – that Long, Parker & Davis return to their 2018 form; that White & Barlow produce 20-something goals; that Seagrist & Tolkin lock down the LB spot while Duncan and Egbo do the same at RB; that Casseres turns into the next Tyler Adams, and that Kaku ascends to Lodeiro-esque heights, and that one of the goalkeepers becomes Luis Robles.

Even with all that, they're still that one piece short, right?

Well, Sims is a DP winger – he's supposed to be that piece. And he needs to be if the Red Bulls are going to get to where they want to go.


Orlando City SC

Dom Dwyer: Yeah, we had Dom in this spot last year, too. If he'd finished off his chances at the rate he did when he was in his prime (are we officially considering him to be past his prime now that he's fallen short of double-digit goals twice in the past three years?), Orlando City would've at least come close to making the playoffs. But too often in big spots Dwyer had the yips.

If he gets 15-20 goals, there will be a postseason in central Florida for the first time in league history.


Philadelphia Union

Sergio Santos: I think half the reason Philly didn't go with two up top last year is that Santos spent most of the season injured, playing just 622 minutes. To his credit he was pretty productive in that time, putting up 4g/1a and generally looking the part of an energetic and occasionally decisive forward. He has brought that with him into preseason:

Look at how he starts this play on the sideline contesting a header, drifts central, then makes an early, blazing, cross-field run into the gap between the Montreal defenders before sliding it to Kacper Przybylko to slot home. There was no actual lane there until Santos created it with his speed and penetration.

This is what the Union are going to have to be if they're going to take a step forward over last season. It can't just be the Ilsinho show all over again.


Portland Timbers

Diego Chara: We should just call this "The Diego Chara Memorial Most Important Player on Your Team" award, to be honest.


Real Salt Lake

Albert Rusnak: I had to deliberate on this one for a while, but here's what it comes down to for RSL – who look like they're about to sell Jefferson Savarino, the obvious choice for this spot if he was staying: If you're going to compete at the top of the league you need at least one attacker who can perform at a Best XI-caliber week after week. Look at that roster and... it has to be Rusnak.

RSL were third in the West and won a playoff game last year. They took a giant step forward, year-over-year, from a defensive standpoint. All of that should at the last hold steady in 2020.

The attack needs to be better. It's on their DP playmaker to make that happen.


San Jose Earthquakes

Cristian Espinoza: Speaking of DP playmakers... sure, Espinoza plays on the wing and Magnus Eriksson's volume of chances created as the No. 10 was impressive, but yeah, Espinoza's the playmaker on this team. He's also the record signing, and he (along with Eriksson and Vako) was in large part culpable, through his lack of finishing, for the Quakes missing last year's playoffs. They needed someone besides Wondo to put the ball in the net and they didn't get it.

Espinoza had just two goals last year. He needs to come close to double digits for San Jose to climb the standings and make the postseason.


Seattle Sounders

Nico Lodeiro: As with Chara there's just no other real argument to make. Lodeiro is the system (though maybe new DP string-puller Joao Paulo will begin to change that at least a little bit).


Sporting Kansas City

Roberto Puncec: It's something of a cop-out to pick a new signing for this "column" (ok, it's a listicle – sue me), but we all saw what happened to Sporting's defense last year without Opara, and we all know why they went out and got Puncec this winter. Everybody understands the job he has to do.

If he can't do it... I don't know. I think Sporting will still score enough to be pretty good in 2020 no matter what happens to their defense, but they won't be the kind of team Peter Vermes definitely wants them to be, and they definitely won't compete at the top of the standings as they did pretty much annually from 2011 through 2018.


Toronto FC

Jozy Altidore: There was no replacing him down the stretch, and then there was no replacing him in MLS Cup itself. Even injured, Jozy was able to hobble around and get himself a goal.

Without him Toronto almost always struggled to turn their possession into moments of real danger, and lacked any sort of finishing from the center forward position. And they've added no new depth at that spot.

TFC are fine everywhere else – including d-mid despite Michael Bradley's absence for the first half of the season. Without Jozy, though, they will struggle. 


Vancouver Whitecaps

Inbeom Hwang: He produced a few moments in Year 1, but his maiden voyage was neither smooth nor productive. Much more was expected from the South Korean international, who's had Bundesliga interest (and was open about returning said interest this winter).

He needs to be better – more influential with the ball, more dynamic in attack – in Year 2. He's supposed to be the midfield star of this team, and in order for Vancouver to improve, he needs to play like one.