Maxi Moralez - New York City FC - looks upfield
USA Today Sports Images

Analyzing the top 5 MLS players at every position ahead of 2020 | Greg Seltzer

The first kicks of a fresh MLS season are now less than two weeks away, which means it's again time to piece together our preseason positional rankings.

Just to be clear, we're not ranking these league-wide depth charts by accrued achievements or past form. No, this is all about calling the top five players at each position based on their immediate qualities and expected impact during the 2020 campaign. The competition is so razor thin nowadays that if we performed this exercise on a different day, many of the positional groups would likely have a different order. What I'm saying is it was hella-rough to do this in an increasingly deep MLS player pool.

Don't believe me? Just take a gander at what we've come up with and then try to come up with your own top fives. You'll see.

Goalkeeper 

  1. Stefan Frei
  2. Matt Turner
  3. Sean Johnson
  4. Steve Clark
  5. Bill Hamid

As is typical, this position is among the deepest in MLS quality. One could easily jumble the top five and it would look reasonable, while a few guys left off would have valid claims for sneaking on. Frei has been near the top of the heap for years now, and he takes the top spot because his performance tends to spike in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Turner is an absolute monster of a shot-stopper, while Johnson is the one who most helps his club run their system out of the back. Clark somewhat quietly turns away a bushel of shots that look labeled for the net, a talent Hamid is well known for by now.

 

Stefan Frei helped Seattle lift MLS Cup in 2019 | USA Today Sports

Right back

  1. Anton Tinnerholm
  2. Julian Gressel
  3. Romain Metanire
  4. Kelvin Leerdam
  5. Reggie Cannon

In recent years, the right back slot in MLS has become deep as the ocean. Any of the top four would be a worthy No. 1 choice, and we couldn't even find room for the likes of Harrison Afful and Aaron Herrera. Tinnerholm is the field-tilting flank motor NYCFC can't do without. Gressel is probably the league's best crosser, while right-side thoroughbred Metanire isn't far behind him. Leerdam is Seattle's end-to-end beast, and he's probably the best one-on-one defender of the lot. Cannon is the rising star best equipped to crack the top four (provided he hangs around Dallas long enough, that is).

 

Reggie Cannon has started 59 games for FC Dallas across the last two seasons | USA Today Sports

Left back

  1. Ryan Hollingshead
  2. Kai Wagner
  3. Milton Valenzuela
  4. Jordan Harvey
  5. Nick Lima

The league's left back field isn't quite as deep as the bookend position mentioned above, but it's getting there. Hollingshead is FC Dallas' do-it-all drink stirrer, and the one most likely to raid forward to score a big goal. Wagner was a revelation for Philly last season, dependably carrying out all two-way tasks. Valenzuela is the best final-third weapon of the bunch and definitely has the overall game to rank tops here, but we'll just wait for him to show it coming back after missing the 2019 season with a knee injury. Harvey is LAFC's old reliable, even if some of his starts might be siphoned off this year. Lima impressively makes the cut despite playing on his off side for San Jose.

 

Nick Lima plays a key role in San Jose's high-pressure system | USA Today Sports

Center back

  1. Ike Opara
  2. Miles Robinson
  3. Aaron Long
  4. Walker Zimmerman
  5. Lalas Abubakar

It's another very deep position, with plenty of guys capable of breaching the top five (I'm all ready for cries of "How could you leave off Eddie Segura?!? Or Maxime Chanot?!? Or... "). That said, Opara proved last season that he's the standard bearer for MLS center backs until someone knocks him off his perch. One day quite soon, the cool-as-can-be Robinson could accomplish exactly that. Long had a bit of an off-year in 2019, but few can match him at defending on the run. Dependable air marshal Zimmerman will be charged with transforming Nashville SC into a stingy unit, much like the oft-dominating Abubakar did upon his arrival in Colorado last season.

 

Miles Robinson burst onto the scene for Atlanta United in 2019 | USA Today Sports

Defensive midfielder

  1. Alexander Ring
  2. Eduard Atuesta
  3. Diego Chara
  4. Jonathan dos Santos
  5. Thiago Santos

Not to sound like a broken record, but the gatekeeper position has seen a major boost in recent years and now boasts a top tier that extends beyond any top five. Leaving off Ozzie Alonso probably seems like blasphemy, while few can orchestrate from deep like Haris Medunjanin. Nevertheless, Ring stands above this crowd as NYCFC's possession-supporting lynchpin. Atuesta fills a similar role for LAFC with a butter-smooth playing style. Chara needs no introduction, and even at 33 remains Portland's key cog. Dos Santos is the Galaxy's show runner and one of the league's best passers. Expect FC Dallas newcomer Santos to perform many of the same tasks with excellence upon arriving from Palmeiras.

 

Eduard Atuesta is coming off a Best XI season for LAFC | USA Today Sports

Center midfielder

  1. Mark-Anthony Kaye
  2. Darlington Nagbe
  3. Alejandro Bedoya
  4. Jan Gregus
  5. Saphir Taider

We've waxed poetic about league-wide positional depth, but the two-way midfield group is actually the strongest of them all. We could replace this top five with the next five and nobody could gripe too much. Latif Blessing and Jamiro Monteiro are textbook examples of tireless midfield engines, while Paxton Pomykal should soon work his way into the top tier. Then there's Cristian Roldan and Jackson Yueill, although both might often play at other positions this season. Enough of that, let's talk head of the class.

Kaye does his job with a touch of elegance, and even a power like LAFC struggles when he's missing. Nagbe is the possession master of this bunch, if not the entire league, and could be in for a career year with Columbus. Bedoya is Philly's midfield handyman, carrying every tool in his belt and always ready to make whatever play is needed. Gregus is Minnesota's smooth facilitator, making the Loons' clock tick with a smart passing game. Taider is often criminally overlooked as the soul of Montreal's game, as likely to bang bodies in midfield as he is to jump forward and provide offense.

 

Alejandro Bedoya looks to again be Philadelphia's midfielder leader in 2020 | USA Today Sports

Attacking midfielder

  1. Maxi Moralez
  2. Nicolas Lodeiro
  3. Carles Gil
  4. Alejandro Pozuelo
  5. Diego Valeri

Unlike most of the groups above, this top five ranks well above the chasing pack. Moralez and Lodeiro really should probably be co-number ones here, but we're not doing that. Both do far more than create for their teams, with a two-way impact that extends far beyond Zone 14. We've given the top spot to NYCFC's string-puller because of his slight end-product advantage. Gil surprised plenty of observers (yours truly included) with his consistent final-third excellence last season and now has more weapons at his disposal in 2020. The same could be said about Toronto FC wizard Pozuelo, so long as a certain US men's national team striker can stay healthy. Valeri, Portland's favorite adopted son, slipped slightly last year but remains a match-winner at the age of 33.

 

Toronto FC hopes Alejandro Pozuelo has even more magic in store for 2020 | USA Today Sports

Right wing

  1. Carlos Vela
  2. Rodolfo Pizarro 
  3. Johnny Russell
  4. Alberth Elis
  5. Paul Arriola

We've arrived at the easiest position to make the No. 1 call, with Vela emerging from a season unmatched in league history. He's almost impossible to keep off the score sheet and makes everyone around him better. We may soon be saying the similar things about his supremely talented El Tri teammate, though Pizarro could also play centrally for Inter Miami CF. Russell and Elis frighten defenders out of their socks every time they hit second gear, even if the latter had some production struggles through the middle of last season. Here's to hoping that D.C. United won't be without their two-way workhorse for long, with Arriola set to miss extended time with a torn ACL. So, Cristian Espinoza and Aleksandar Katai may well fight it out to complete this top five.

 

When in form, Alberth Elis is one of the league's top attacking threats | USA Today Sports

Left wing

  1. Diego Rossi
  2. Jordan Morris
  3. Cristian Pavon
  4. Sebastian Blanco
  5. Daniel Royer

There's a little bit of something for everyone to like at left wing. As long as he remains an LAFC player, Rossi will occupy spaces left by his teammates and finish off attacks. Morris proved in 2019 that he's more than capable of playing set-up man from Seattle's flank, even if he's often a field-stretching forward who flies in from an angle. Look for big things this season from Pavon, who should establish himself as the league's premier chance creator from LA's left side. The crafty Blanco is another of Portland's over-30 cornerstone players, while Royer continually makes big plays when the Red Bulls need one.

 

Sebastian Blanco often makes much of Portland's offense tick | USA Today Sports

Striker

  1. Josef Martinez
  2. Raul Ruidiaz
  3. Javier Hernandez
  4. Jozy Altidore
  5. Mauro Manotas

This is another position where MLS now boasts a deep upper echelon. It pained me considerably to leave out Heber, while Kei Kamara, Kacper Przybylko and Gyasi Zardes could push into this top five. As it stands, though, Martinez is the man to beat. His lethal finishing ability has had no match since he arrived in Atlanta. Some may be surprised to find Ruidiaz ranked so high, but he's not just a deadly scorer. His impact as a defense-shuffling front runner opens up valuable space and passing lanes for teammates. Chicharito will perform the same tasks for the Galaxy, and could easily crack the top two if he gets enough support. Beyond them, Altidore is quite arguably the most complete striker in MLS when he remains fit. If he can avoid injuries this season, Toronto could embark on another title run. Conversely, Manotas is most likely to carry his team to respectability.

Series: 
Topics: