I wrote up this Best XI explainer last week, but Decision Day presented by AT&T content got priority. Understandable enough. Instead of re-writing it, let’s edit it together, with one major change from Friday to Monday when I officially submitted my award ballot. Red pens at the ready.
I believe in a couple of core tenets when it comes to the Best XI. They’re non-negotiable for me.
First, the team must include at least one outside back, potentially two. Show me a team that plays without fullbacks. Why would the Best XI skip a position so crucial to success in the modern game? Second, a defensive midfielder is required. Gotta have one to win MLS Cup. Gotta have one in the Best XI. Third, players are chosen for a combination of the excellence of their performances, which includes statistical production, and their impact on the success of their team. One of the two is good, both is best. Finally, there will be deserving snubs. It’s unavoidable.
As always, tell me how and why I’m wrong on Twitter or in the comment section.
GK: Andre Blake (PHI)
Also in consideration: Matt Turner (NE), Eloy Room (CLB), Sean Johnson (NYC)
You can make a credible/logical argument that Blake has been the team MVP for the Supporters’ Shield winners, which logic tells you ought to make him a Landon Donovan MVP candidate as well. If something outside the norm like a goalkeeper winning MVP was ever going to happen again – Tony Meola (2000) is the lone honoree between the posts – 2020 would be the year.
Alas, it won’t be the year, but no goalkeeper combined point-saving shot-stopping ability with game-in, game-out consistency and excellence than Blake. He routinely sealed and saved results with stops that most goalkeepers either can’t or don’t make. Crucially, he eliminated the unforced errors that popped up the past few years. This is a no-brainer in my opinion, and he ought to win his second Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award, too.
RB: Anton Tinnerholm (NYC)
Also in consideration: Kelvin Leerdam (SEA), Richie Laryea (TOR)
Tinnerholm’s the most complete outside back in MLS. Miserable to play against on both sides of the ball. Here’s Matt Doyle’s explanation, via Extratime.
CB: Walker Zimmerman (NSH)
Also in consideration: Jonathan Mensah (CLB), Matt Hedges (DAL)
Nashville SC are a playoff team because of their well-laid foundation. Joe Willis might be the most underrated goalkeeper in MLS; Dave Romney made a massive leap in … let’s say … a more stable environment; and Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy are the metronomes that make it tick. But it’s Zimmerman who’s the unquestioned centerpiece of the project. GM Mike Jacobs paid all that allocation money for the 27-year-old’s combination of physical dominance, technical ability and infectious personality. All three bleed through into everything the club does.
CB: Mark McKenzie (PHI)
Also in consideration: Antonio Carlos (ORL), Henry Kessler (NE)
The 21-year-old made the leap, and the injury issues seem to be in the past. Knock on wood. He’s reading the game at a high level, stepping in to snuff out attacks before they can trouble the Union backline, and absolutely pings balls with both feet. My guess is Jonathan Mensah will make the Best XI, too. Most voters – EXPLAIN YOURSELVES!!! – won’t include outside backs. That would be deserved for the Crew man, who was the best defender in MLS for the first half the season. I just think McKenzie’s combination of defensive nous and game-breaking passing (without a late-season dip in form) gives him the edge.
LB: Ryan Hollingshead (DAL)
Also in consideration: Kai Wagner (PHI), Ronald Matarrita (NYC), Sam Vines (COL)
Boy, this is cruel, huh? I sure felt cruel doing it. Hollingshead has been the best left back in the league, but is he better than the player I added when it was time to hit submit on my ballot? I can’t say he is, so he’s relegated to the All-MLS 2nd Team. Helluva year, either way, and I still get to stick to my core tenets since Tinnerholm got the nod.
MID: Diego Chara (POR)
Also in consideration: Jose Martinez (PHI)
I’m not so naïve as to think Diego Chara is going to make the Best XI. Surprise me! I’m doing my part because Portland would be not where they are without his tireless contributions. You’re not going to find Chara at the top of defensive categories for midfielders, but that’s not the measurement of the man or his contributions. I think about the d-mid position like a toddler thinks of their favorite stuffed animal or saliva-soaked blanket. Who does a manager reach for when he needs comfort? Who gives their teammates the feeling that nothing bad can happen as long as they’re around? When it gets dark and there might be a monster (counterattack) in the closet, who slams the door?
MID: Nico Lodeiro (SEA)
Also considered: Alejandro Bedoya (PHI)
His level has dropped a bit in recent weeks, but that’s because the Uruguayan has done nothing but grind out game after game at a high level for what I think is the best team in the Western Conference. Ho-hum, a seven-goal, 10-assist season while covering more ground than any other player in the league. No, really. Nobody is within a kilometer of the 31-year-old, who runs, on average, 12.494 km/game. That’s nearly eight miles per game. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz are elite players, but Lodeiro is far and away Seattle’s MVP and, in my opinion, the most complete midfielder in MLS.
MID: Alejandro Pozuelo (TOR)
Also considered: Mauricio Pereyra (ORL)
Just watch Toronto FC play. Nobody controls possession and chance creation, both in the final third and transition, the way Pozuelo does. Everything the Reds do moves through the Spaniard, and they can pin teams back and possess close to goal because they have the ideal fulcrum to play through. He’s the league’s most complete and influential attacking player. Take him off Toronto FC and their league-best ceiling drops considerably.
FWD: Chris Mueller (ORL)
Also considered: Jordan Morris (SEA)
Mueller was my first-choice here for my XI — yes, ahead of Morris. I await the Sounders hate mail. Let’s just say I’m a big Wisconsin guy. Believe in the Badger. Mueller, under Oscar Pareja, has unlocked his potential. His production is elite, sans penalty kicks, and he’s helped fuel a renaissance in Orlando where it was years of playoff plague prior.
Why was Morris not first pick? I did my best to explain on Extratime.
FWD: Diego Rossi (LAFC)
Also considered: Gyasi Zardes (CLB), Robert Beric (CHI), Raul Ruidiaz (SEA)
No, I don’t have a No. 9 on my Best XI. You’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “That’s pretty rich/hypocritical considering how you lectured other voters about outside back and defensive midfielders,” and fair! Zardes would be my choice. Beric’s late run up the Audi Golden Boot chart has been impressive, and Ruidiaz is the most ruthless goalscorer in the league sans Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez … but Rossi scored the most goals. He might not be a traditional No. 9, but he fills the role in this team.
FWD: Cristian Pavon (LA)
Also considered: Jordan Morris (SEA)
Is this the right choice? By my own metric of individual performance + team success = Best XI, probably not. If I was dogmatic about that measuring stick, Morris is the clear choice. Rules are made to be broken, and the only reason I’m breaking them now is because Pavon is one of the five best players in the league on ability and certainly Best XI worthy when it comes to production. Ask his peers. It just doesn’t feel right to punish his individual excellence when he can’t do anything about the dysfunction of the Galaxy as a whole. He can’t give the team a tactical identity. He can’t score goals AND stop them. And yet, he still dragged them to results.
Late entry! FWD: Jordan Morris (SEA)
I slept on it. I watched him on Decision Day. I looked myself in the mirror. I couldn’t leave the Mercer Island Zion off the 2020 Best XI. It would have been the wrong decision, full stop. Yes, two fullbacks is an admirable goal, but there’s no need to be dogmatic when the obvious answer is staring you in the face. I had to get Morris (10 G, 8 A) into this team. He’s near unplayable these days, and though my “formation” is wrecked by the decision, who cares? It’s a Best XI. We’re not playing a game. We’re honoring the very best MLS had to offer this year, and Morris is certainly that.