NFL Coaching Hot Seat Tracker: Preseason Preview

It’s almost time for football! Training camp is getting underway and the NFL rumor mill is in full effect. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and even Chandler Jones could be on the move.

There will be plenty of time to get into all of the potential scenarios for the big names looking for a change of scenery. I wanted to take a look at where every coach in the NFL stands though as we approach the preseason. Every year, we see about seven or eight head coaching openings in the league. Those openings don’t happen without a coach losing his job. Here is an early look at which coaches could be sweating it out at the end of the season. My plan is to update this list at the midway point and again after the regular season.

New York Jets – Robert Saleh
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A rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. It’s the first time the Jets have ever had both heading into the same season in franchise history. That takes the pressure off everyone here. While seeing a massive turnaround from a 2-14 season would be great, it is not expected. As long as Saleh can show signs that he is putting the pieces in place for future success, that’s all that matters. Besides, after dealing with Adam Gase for two years, Saleh will be a breath of fresh air.

New England Patriots – Bill Belichick
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Could the Patriots really fire Bill Belichick? It feels unlikely. At this point, I think it is more likely Belichick retires or leaves on his own accord than being fired. Still, after a very rocky 2020 season, the Patriots spent a ton of money in the offseason to retool their roster. They also spent a first round pick on Mac Jones. If New England takes a step backward though and the offense flops again, maybe the team could think about making a change. Again, it feels incredibly unlikely, but the expectations are certainly higher for the Patriots in 2021.

Buffalo Bills – Sean McDermott
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The Bills are entering a clear championship window in the final two years of Josh Allen’s rookie deal. Allen took a massive step in 2020 and put together an MVP-caliber campaign. If he can come close to replicating that performance, Buffalo will be very capable of winning its first Super Bowl in franchise history. In order to get to that point, Sean McDermott needs to get the defense back to its 2019 form. With higher expectations comes increased pressure. It would take a truly miserable season for McDermott to lose his job, but he has to deliver.

Miami Dolphins – Brian Flores
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Honestly, if the Dolphins went 0-17 and Tua Tagovailoa lost his starting job to Jacoby Brissett, I think Brian Flores might still keep his job. He is a ton setter and a great culture builder. Let’s be clear, I don’t expect the above scenario to come true. Miami came up one game short of reaching the playoffs in an incredibly competitive AFC. Even if Tagovailoa falters again, I think Flores would get a chance to pick another quarterback and continue building the framework of this team.

Indianapolis Colts – Frank Reich
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Which direction are the Colts headed? The team has a championship-caliber roster in a lot of areas. Their front seven is incredible. The secondary should be even better in 2021. The offensive line is definitely among the top five units in the league. They lack a true No. 1 receiver at this point, but they have depth at the skill positions. It now all falls on Frank Reich and Carson Wentz. Indianapolis acquired Wentz this offseason for a decent amount of draft capital, reuniting him with his offensive coordinator from his early days in Philadelphia. If the Colts struggle in what looks to be a fairly weak AFC South and miss the postseason, there could be some significant turnover in Indy.

Houston Texans – David Culley
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If there was ever a team that could be accused of tanking in the NFL, it has to be the Houston Texans. After releasing franchise icon J.J. Watt amid a massive quarterback controversy on the heels of a 4-12 season, it seems like the Texans are entering a long rebuild. With limited draft capital in recent years, this roster has a massive talent deficit compared to the rest of the league. The roster building is confusing as well, as the team continues to target veteran running backs. Deshaun Watson was likely not going to play this season before his pending legal situation unfolded. Now it seems certain he will not see the field in 2021. All of this is to say, there is absolutely no pressure on David Culley to succeed this season.

Tennessee Titans – Mike Vrabel
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Mike Vrabel has the Titans playing at an extremely high level. They are tough, determined and disciplined, which is usually a product of good coaching. After making a splashy move to land Julio Jones, the pressure is on for Tennessee to make a deep postseason run. With Arthur Smith heading to Atlanta, it is going to be interesting to see if the Titans can maintain their offensive success. A major step backward could see Vrabel come under scrutiny. I think his job is safe, but stranger things have happened.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Urban Meyer
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It is very bizarre to say a first-year head coach is on the hot seat, but Urban Meyer is unlike most rookie coaches. Meyer comes with a ton of clout from his days at Ohio State and Florida. He also just drafted arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. The heat here mostly stems from Meyer’s checked history with team culture. The league fined the Jaguars $200,000 for OTA violations and slapped Meyer with a $100,000 fine of his own. The fines stemmed from breaking the non-contact rules of OTAs. This comes on the heels of Meyer hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Doyle resigned one day after his hire following a chorus of former Hawkeyes saying he discriminated against them. The Jaguars have a chance to build something special around Trevor Lawrence. There have already been red flags. Jacksonville needs to be sure it has the best possible system in place for Lawrence to succeed.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin
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With Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh seemingly at its end, could the Steelers opt for a fresh start and move on from Mike Tomlin as well? It certainly feels possible. Despite winning the AFC North and reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh struggled mightily down the stretch, including a dismal playoff loss against the rival Browns. With no clear succession plan in place and a roster coming up against the cap, the Steelers could look to rebuild with a new coach and a new quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens – John Harbaugh
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A few years ago ago, it felt very possible the Ravens were set to move on from John Harbaugh. Baltimore missed the playoffs from 2015-2017. Joe Flacco was struggling. The defense was far from its championship-winning dominance in 2012. Lamar Jackson likely saved Harbaugh’s job. Baltimore is now among the top title contenders heading into 2021. Harbaugh feels very safe, but there is always a scenario where he could not be back. There have been concerns around the Ravens offense being too one dimensional with Jackson at the helm. Finally winning a playoff game took the edge off, but if Baltimore somehow misses the postseason in 2021, the heat will be turned up on Harbaugh.

Cleveland Browns – Kevin Stefanski
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After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1994, Kevin Stefanski is among the safest coaches in the league. His run-heavy approach was incredibly successful, utilizing the two-headed attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to great effect. Stefanski also put Baker Mayfield’s career back on the right path. Now, there are still questions that persist around Mayfield, but after investing heavily in the defense, he might not need to do much for the Browns to be successful again.

Cincinnati Bengals – Zac Taylor
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Through two years on the job, Zac Taylor owns an ugly 6-25-1 record as a head coach. Some of that is a product of joining a team in the midst of a rebuild, but this is the year to start seeing some progress. Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future in Cincinnati. Coming off a gruesome knee injury, expectations will be tamped down some for Burrow, but another double-digit loss season could cost Taylor his job. The team needs to take advantage of Burrow being on his rookie contract and can’t afford to waste another year of his development and that salary cap window waiting to see if Taylor can put together a winning formula.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid
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Unsurprisingly, the pressure seems to be fairly low on Andy Reid. He delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl victory since 1970 in 2019. He led the team back to the big game in 2020 despite having an offensive line decimated by injuries. It cost the Chiefs a chance at repeating, but Kansas City is expected to be among the top contenders to lift the Lombardi in 2021. As long as Reid and Patrick Mahomes are still clicking, the Chiefs are going to be among the best teams in the league.

Denver Broncos – Vic Fangio
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Maybe this is a bit warmer than Vic Fangio truly deserves, but the Broncos are heading into a pivotal season. The team put a lot of faith in Drew Lock by passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones on draft night. Courtland Sutton is back after missing 2020 due to injury. So is Von Miller. Winning the division is an incredibly tall task at this point with the Chiefs leading the way, but it feels like the Broncos need to be in the playoff conversation for Fangio to keep his job. Another five-win season with suspect quarterback play and a subpar defense is going to trigger a rebuild.

Los Angeles Chargers – Brandon Staley
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Brandon Staley walks into a fantastic situation. He has a talented defense with a number of proven playmakers. He inherits one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in the league in Justin Herbert. Los Angeles is also stocked with some reliable playmakers on offense with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The Chargers are simply looking to take a step in the right direction this year. Anthony Lynn was a good coach, but struggled with time management and maintaining leads. If Staley can show an ability to at least be average in those two areas, he will be a major improvement and the Chargers will be at least a league average team.

Las Vegas Raiders – Jon Gruden
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At what point are the Raiders going to put it all together? Heading into his fourth year of his second stint with the franchise, Jon Gruden has yet to post a winning record or reach the postseason. Las Vegas had its moments in 2020, but on the whole it was a disappointing campaign. If the Raiders don’t show signs of progress, expect a rebuild to follow. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have had ample opportunity to shape this team how they want it to. Now it is time for the results to follow.

New York Giants – Joe Judge
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Only entering his second year, Joe Judge might be a victim of circumstance more than anything else if he were to lose his job after this season. New York had a rocky 2020 campaign, finishing 6-10 and struggling to figure out its direction offensively. The Giants are in for a much better season in 2021. Saquon Barkley should be healthy at some point early in the year. Dave Gettleman invested draft capital at wide receiver and edge rusher, two positions of need. However, if Daniel Jones struggles and New York suffers through another 6-10 season, Gettleman will almost definitely be gone and the Giants will be looking to find a new franchise quarterback. If there is already that much turnover, Judge could be gone as well.

Philadelphia Eagles – Nick Sirianni
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It is incredibly rare that coaches are fired after just one season. However, it has also happened twice in the past three years. Steve Wilks only got a single season in Arizona and was fired after 2018. Cleveland canned Freddie Kitchen after a disappointing 2019 campaign. It’s not out of the question for the 2021 season either. I already touched on Meyer. Nick Sirianni is not facing as much pressure as his Jacksonville counterpart, but Philadelphia has never been known for being patient. Sirianni inherits a team with more questions than answers at a number of key positions, namely quarterback. If Jalen Hurts flames out and Sirianni shows no signs of building a positive culture, I could see a scenario where ownership decides to clean house.

Dallas Cowboys – Mike McCarthy
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Speaking of coaches lasting one year with a team, there was some buzz that Mike McCarthy could be done after a single season in Dallas. Even before Dak Prescott went down for the season, the Cowboys looked outmatched. It got much worse after that. McCarthy did enough to somehow earn a second year, but now the pressure is on. Dallas needs to win the NFC East for McCarthy to keep his job. It is an incredibly weak division and the Cowboys have the most talented roster, at least on paper. McCarthy might even need to win a playoff game to truly secure his place in 2022.

Washington Football Team – Ron Rivera
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Ron Rivera seems to have endeared himself well to the fans and to the locker room in D.C. After scraping together a playoff appearance despite a losing record, Washington still has not addressed the quarterback position long term. If it takes a step back in 2021, I don’t think that will be enough to force Rivera out. It would take a truly terrible season to see him lose his job. However, there will be those who feel like Washington’s defense gives them a good chance to repeat as division champions. Expectations lead to increased pressure. Given what we’ve seen in recent years, nothing is out of the question.

Atlanta Falcons – Arthur Smith
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After impressing as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Arthur Smith has earned the chance to lead a team of his own. The Falcons are coming off a tough season full of late-game collapses and bad injury luck. Atlanta is caught in limbo as well. They have some veteran players that would make you believe they want to contend, mainly Matt Ryan. The front office gave Ryan a vote of confidence, or realized they could not afford to move him, when it passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 draft. Instead, they grabbed an elite pass-catcher in Kyle Pitts for Ryan to work with. That feels like a move towards contending in the short term. Then, the Falcons traded Julio Jones to Smith’s former team. Like I said, the team is in limbo. I think that bodes well for Smith’s job security while Atlanta attempts to figure out its direction moving forward.

New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton
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It is the end of an era in the Bayou. Drew Brees’ retirement leaves the Saints with uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in a decade and a half. New Orleans is also in salary cap hell after loading up to contend in the future Hall of Famers’ final few years. Now, the Saints seem set for a step backward. Where does that leave Sean Payton? He has shown he can win games without Brees in recent years with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill stepping in to lead the team when Brees went down with injury. I think the pressure is likely off for Payton in 2021. It is a year for the Saints to retool their roster and identify their new franchise quarterback. If New Orleans tanks, Payton’s seat could get warmer, but I expect him to be back in 2022.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bruce Arians
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The only way Bruce Arians is not the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 is if he decides to retire after the season. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Buccaneers brought back essentially their entire roster to make a run at a repeat. Even if Tampa suffers from a major Super Bowl hangover and misses the postseason, it would be a rash move to fire Arians. He has the trust of Tom Brady, which goes a really long way in securing his position on one of the best teams in the league.

Carolina Panthers – Matt Rhule
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2020 was a rebuilding year for the Panthers. Carolina rebuilt its defense in the 2020 NFL draft, gave Teddy Bridgewater a try at quarterback and lost their best player for most of the season due to injury as Christian McCaffrey played in just three games. Honestly, going 5-11 was a decent feat given how young Carolina’s starters were on both sides of the ball. Matt Rhule has earned the title of one of the best teachers in the game. His coaching skills were showcased during the Senior Bowl this past January. Given that the Panthers made a move to acquire Sam Darnold, I think the expectations will be slightly higher, but I still don’t think Rhule has anything to worry about heading into 2021.

Detroit Lions – Dan Campbell
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If Detroit goes 1-16 in 2021, that might just be mission accomplished for the Lions. Avoiding a winless season and setting the team up to find its quarterback of the future would be a solid start to what will likely be a long rebuild. Dan Campbell likely won’t let any of that happen. He is competitive as hell and I think we could see the Lions win a game or two that they probably shouldn’t simply by putting in a ton of effort. Campbell is going to have his team motivated to play every week. Unless his tough as nails persona rubs players the wrong way in the locker room, I think Campbell will be given a few more years to rebuild this team.

Chicago Bears – Matt Nagy
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Drafting Justin Fields likely takes a little bit of heat off Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. However, I don’t think it changes a tremendous amount for how this duo needs to approach the 2021 season. It needs to be clear at the end of the year that Fields is on track to be a franchise quarterback and that Nagy is the right person to help him reach his potential. Nagy was lucky to keep his job following a 2020 season where Chicago’s offense was nothing short of anemic. The combination of Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky was tough to watch. David Montgomery having a breakout season made up for some of those deficits, but the Bears need to show major progress offensive. It does not mean they will suddenly become the Chiefs or the Buccaneers, but fewer turnovers and sharper play will go a long way.

Green Bay Packers – Matt LaFleur
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Much of how Matt LaFleur will be judged stems from what happens with Aaron Rodgers. Will management blame him for the fractured relationship with the 2020 MVP? Unlikely, seeing as Rodgers’ issues seem to stem more from how the front office operates. There are two ways to spin LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. The Packers have reached back-to-back NFC Championship games and dominated the NFC North. For reference, Seattle was the last NFC team to reach back-to-back conference title games in 2012 and 2013. However, unlike the Seahawks, the Packers have been unable to get over the hump. Could another year where the team comes up short in the postseason raise enough questions about LaFleur’s ability to win the biggest games of the year to cost him his job? That seems bold, but don’t rule it out.

Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer
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Mike Zimmer said after the 2020 season that Minnesota’s defense was the worst he ever coached. Enter Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Dalvin Tomlinson, Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Now, it falls on Zimmer to get the most out of this new talent. Kirk Cousins is locked in through 2022, but another lackluster season from the Vikings could get the wheels turning on a rebuild. Especially if Aaron Rodgers does not play this season, this is Minnesota’s division to lose. Failing to do so would be a major letdown that would likely cost Zimmer his job.

Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll
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An underperforming defense, inconsistent play and a disgruntled star quarterback are a recipe for losing your job as a head coach in the NFL. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks in the mix as a playoff regular, but they have not made it past the division round since their 2014 Super Bowl loss. With Russell Wilson complaining this offseason about his offensive line, it certainly will turn up the scrutiny on Seattle’s performance this season. Another early playoff exit highlighted by a team that can’t quite put it all together could spell the end of Carroll’s tenure.

Arizona Cardinals – Kliff Kingsbury
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Entering his third year in charge of the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury needs to start producing some results. Arizona came close to reaching the playoffs in 2020, losing the tiebreaker to Chicago for the final spot. However, after starting 5-2, the Cardinals limped to a 3-6 finish. I mean limped literally as well because the team started to struggle right around the time Kyler Murray suffered an ankle injury. Murray still has three years left on his rookie deal, which gives Arizona a fairly lengthy Super Bowl window, but this year feels like an important one to show some progress after signing veterans like J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler and James Conner to an already talented roster.

Los Angeles Rams – Sean McVay
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While Cam Akers certainly strikes a blow to Los Angeles’ title hopes, it should not drastically change the team’s expectations for 2021. After making the bold move to acquire Matthew Stafford, the Rams are positioning themselves as championship contenders. Taking all of that into account, I still think Sean McVay is entrenched in the organization that he can weather an underwhelming season. Long praised as one of the great offensive minds in the sport, McVay has proven himself to be valuable to this franchise. After all, the team is only three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Not to mention, the Rams upset the Seahawks in Seattle with an injured Jared Goff at quarterback. I think McVay is likely safe, but expectations are high for this Rams team heading into 2021.

San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan
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After slogging through a ridiculous season of injuries, the 49ers seem poised to bounce back in a big way in 2021. However, the team is also facing a changing of the guard at quarterback after selecting Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in April. I think that actually increases the likelihood Kyle Shanahan keeps his job. He is praised as an offensive guru who has developed several quarterbacks in his coaching career. On top of that, he and general manager John Lynch signed six-year extensions following a Super Bowl appearance. Shanahan will be around for a while in San Francisco.

An Ode to MLS Grizzled Vets: Western Conference

There’s a lot of talk these days about the young up-in-comers in Major League Soccer (MLS), and rightly so. However, some of my favorite players in the league to watch are the elder statesmen who still got it. That’s who this article is devoted to. The 30+ year-olds who have been around the block, seen a few things, and who might just surprise you from week to week. Today we examine the Western Conference teams. Click here for the Eastern Conference piece. I set some minimums of:

  • At least 30 years old
  • Preferably 200 MLS apps
  • At least 8 seasons in MLS
  • At least 1 major club or individual accolade
  • All statistics shared are only for MLS regular season games (pre-2021) unless stated otherwise

I made some exceptions, and some honorable mentions for players who did not meet those thresholds. If a team had no worthy players, I gave a quick blurb on the player on the team with the most MLS appearances. It’s not an exact science so don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy!

Team – Player, Age (# Seasons in MLS, # MLS Appearances (Apps), Accolades)

Austin FC

Matt Besler, 34 (12 seasons, 294 apps, 2012 Defender of the year, 2012 Breakout Player of the Year, 2012 and 2013 MLS Best XI, 2014 World Cup Veteran, 1 MLS Cup, 2 US Open Cups)

Austin may be a new to MLS but Besler is not. Before signing for Austin, Matt Besler spent his entire professional career with Sporting Kansas City since 2009, back when team was known as the Kansas City Wizards! He was the 9th overall pick in the 2009 Superdraft. Besler made 47 appearances for the USMNT, mostly in the 2014 World Cup cycle. He participated in the USMNT’s 2013 and 2017 Gold Cup victories. Besler will certainly be an off-field/locker room guy for Austin. We will find out how much he has left in the tank on the field.

Honorable Mention: Hector Jimenez, 32 (10 seasons, 176 apps, 3 MLS Cups, 1 Supporter’s Shield)

Hector Jimenez has a much different story. Jimenez was drafted 34th overall by the Galaxy in 2011. He minimally contributed to all of the silverware listed above. Although he had many years with over 20 apps in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter. More of a rotational player now, Jimenez will add good depth for Austin.

Colorado Rapids

Steven Beitashour, 34 (13 seasons, 247 apps, 3 Supporters Shields, 1 MLS Cup, 3 Canadian Championships)

Beitashour has been around the league since 2010, when the Earthquakes drafted him 30th overall in the Superdraft. Despite being a highly decorated player in terms of silverware, Beitashour has bounced around the league playing for 5 different teams over the course of his 13 year career. He is perhaps one of the few (if not the only?) player to win the Supporter’s Shield with 3 different teams (2012 San Jose, 2017 Toronto, and 2019 LAFC) Beitashour was called into one USMNT camp but was an unused sub in a friendly. Later, Beitashour was called into the Iran national team, where he made 6 apps while the Iranian senior team attempted to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Drew Moor, 37 (16 seasons(!), 382 apps, 2 MLS Cups, 1 Supporter’s Shield, holds one of the longest streaks for consecutive starts at 68 games straight, 6th all-time in MLS minutes played).

6th overall pick in the 2006 MLS Superdraft, Moor played over 100 games for Dallas over 5 seasons, then he played over 100 games for Colorado over 4 seasons, and over 50 games for Toronto over 3 seasons, including Toronto’s treble-winning 2017 season where Moor played 25 games. It is a wonder that Moor was never voted into the MLS Best XI and never won Defender of the Year considering how reliable of a player he was. He was also an off-field presence as he captained Colorado for 3 years straight form 2013-2015

Honorable Mention: Clint Irwin, 32 (9 seasons, 194 apps, 1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, and 3 Canadian Championships)

Irwin has only ever played for the Rapids and Toronto FC. He certainly saw his best years as a part of the treble winning 2017 Toronto FC, however, Irwin only made 6 league appearances that year, losing starting minutes to Alex Bono after Irwin suffered an early season hamstring injury. Irwin was brought into Colorado in 2019 as Tim Howard was making his retirement year lap of MLS. Irwin will hope to solidify himself as the No. 1 for Colorado in 2021.

Honorable mention: Collen Warner, 32 (10 seasons, 214 apps, 1 Canadian Championship)

Warner is another guy who has never settled in the league but continues to get opportunities. Warner has played for 6 different MLS teams over his 10 seasons in the league. He spent a short stint in Denmark in 2019 where he only made 5 apps for FC Helsingor. Warner will likely act as midfield depth for Colorado in 2021.

FC Dallas

Matt Hedges, 31 (9 seasons, 262 apps, 2016 MLS Defender of the Year, 2015 and 2016 MLS Best XIs, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 1 US Open Cup)

Drafted 11th overall in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, Matt Hedges is not only an MLS-lifer, but seemingly an FC Dallas-lifer as well. Excluding a truncated 2020 season, Hedges has never played less than 26 out of 34 MLS regular season games for Dallas. Hedges has been the Dallas captain since 2014, which I am guessing is the longest running team captain in the league. Hedges has more appearances for FC Dallas than any other player in team history. Hedges only has 5 caps for the USMNT, and as I remember he did not show well in those appearances, which is why he was likely never given more looks. Still, Hedges serves a vital veteran role for a youthful FC Dallas squad.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Hollingshead, 30 (7 Seasons, 163 apps, 1 MLS Humanitarian of the Year, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 1 US Open Cup)

Similar to Hedges, Hollingshead is an FC Dallas-lifer. He was drafted 20th overall in the 2013 MLS Superdraft. However, Hollingshead did not play the 2013 season as he had to fulfill a promise to his brother to build a church in Sacramento! You can’t make this stuff up. Once that mission was completed, Hollingshead joined Dallas and never looked back. A versatile player, Hollingshead can fill in at either fullback or either winger positions. Hollingshead is 7th overall in FC Dallas appearances. He too will add much needed veteran perspective to Dallas’ young roster.

Houston Dynamo

Boniek Garcia, 36 (9 seasons, 219 apps, 1 US Open Cup, 2010 World Cup veteran kinda**, 2014 World Cup veteran)

Garcia came into Houston in 2012 from his home country of Honduras and excepting his first year, and the abbreviated 2020 season, Garcia never played less than 20 games for Houston. He is 3rd overall in MLS apps for Houston. Garcia has also been around the CONCACF block with 126 caps with the Honduran national team. **While included in Honduras’ 2010 World Cup roster, he did not make an appearance in any of their games. He made up for that in 2014 when he appeared in all of Honduras’ 2014 World Cup games.

Maxi Urruti, 30 (9 seasons, 208 apps, 1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 1 US Open Cup, and 1 Canadian Championship)

Maxi Urruti may be the only player on this list to win one of each domestic trophy through his MLS career. Another player who has jumped around the league, playing on 4 teams in his first 9 seasons and now finds himself on his 5th with Houston. His best years were 2015 where he contributed 4 goals to Portland’s MLS Cup campaign, followed by 2016 where he contributed 9 goals to Dallas’ Supporter’s Shield and US Open Cup double year. Without many other options up top, Urruti will likely eat up a lot of Houston’s striker minutes in 2021.

LAFC

Jordan Harvey, 37 (15 seasons, 340 apps, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 1 Canadian Championship)

Drafted 9th overall in the 2006 MLS Superdraft, Harvey has played for 4 different MLS teams (five if you count his loan to Seattle before they joined the league). After not playing at all his first two seasons in MLS, Harvey started at least 24 games in 10 of his next 13 seasons. Despite playing a perennial position of need (left back) he was never called into the USMNT.

LA Galaxy

Sacha Kljestan, 35 (11 seasons, 279 apps, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 2008 and 2016 MLS Best XI’s. 3 Belgian League Titles and 4 Belgian Cup Titles with Anderlecht)

5th overall in 2006 MLS Superdraft, Kljestan played over 100 games for the now defunct Chivas USA. He spent his prime years playing for Belgian giants Anderlecht who dominated their domestic league while Sacha was there. With Anderlecht, Kljestan appeared in the UEFA Champions League (14 apps), Champions League Qualifying (6 apps), Europa League (14 apps) for a total of 34 appearances. Not to mention Kljestan’s 5 CONCACAF Champions League appearances with RBNY. Kljestan’s 2016 season with RBNY is tied for 2nd most assists in a single season in MLS history. Kljestan also holds the 8th spot for all-time assists in MLS. Then there was Sacha’s national team career where he earned 52 caps, barely missing the cut for the 2010 World Cup. He was also consistently overlooked by USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsamnn. Now home in California, Sacha hopes to lead a revamped LA Galaxy.

Honorable Mention: Jorge Villafana, 31 (12 seasons, 188 apps, 1 MLS Cup, 1 MLS is Back Tournament(!))

Unlike many of his peers, Villafana was not drafted, but rather won the Sueno MLS competition where he beat out 2,000 Latino competitors to earn a spot on Chivas USA’s youth squad. Villafana gained the nickname “Sueno” from this experience. In his first season he only made 1 appearance off the bench. His fortunes increased over time, unlike his first club of Chivas who collapsed in 2014. Villafana is best known for his time in Portland where he won both his accolades: the 2015 MLS Cup and the unique 2020 MLS is Back Tournament. It was also during his time with Portland that Villafana earned 21 caps for the USMNT. Villafana will hope to claim more silverware this year with a talented LA Galaxy.

Minnesota United

Ozzie Alonso, 35 (12 seasons, 314 apps, 2012 MLS Best XI, 1 MLS Cup, 4 US Open Cups, 1 Supporter’s Shield)

Alonso started his career playing in his homeland of Cuba before he defected to the United States in 2007 while with the Cuban national team for a Gold Cup game in Texas. He was never called up again by the Cuban national team, as is their tradition to excommunicate defectors. After playing a year in USL with the Charleston Battery, the Seattle Sounders signed Alonso. Alonso became a legend with Seattle, where he won all of his silverware. Additionally, Alonso has played more MLS games for Seattle than any other player (277 games). During his time in Seattle, Alonso gained his US citizenship in 2012. He expressed interest in playing for the USMNT, which he might have been allowed to do if Cuba revoked his citizenship. However he was never called up by the US. Now in his third season in Minnesota, we will find out how much Alonso has left in the tank.

Ike Opara, 32 (11 seasons, 180 apps, 2017 and 2019 MLS Best XI’s, 2017 and 2019 MLS Defender of the Years, 1 MLS Cup, 2 US Open Cups)

Drafted 3rd overall in the 2010 MLS Superdraft, Opara only made 35 appearances for San Jose across his first 3 injury plagued seasons. Opara is best known for his time with SKC, where he won all of his above accolades excepting his 2019 Defender of the Year award. Opara is also one of only 4 players to win MLS Defender of the Year more than once. San Jose probably feel silly for trading Opara to SKC for … *checks notes*… a 2013 2nd round draft pick (who the ‘Quakes eventually used to draft Dan Delgado, who never ended up signing with San Jose). Opara’s injuries followed him after leaving San Jose, cutting short two seasons in Kansas City, and seemingly his 2021 season with Minnesota. Hopefully, Ike will see the field again soon.

Honorable Mention: Ethan Finlay, 30 (10 seasons, 215 apps)

Drafted 10th overall in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, Finlay is another player who flies under the radar. He was a member of Gregg Berhalter’s Columbus Crew teams who consistently challenged for silverware but never acquired any. He was traded to Minnesota for around $400K in allocation money ahead of Minnesota inaugural MLS season. In his career, Finlay has 46 goals and 39 assists, making the coveted 50 goals-50 assists club feasible if he has a couple of solid seasons going into his 30’s. Perhaps Finlay will help propel Minnesota back into the playoffs this season.

Portland Timbers

Diego Valeri, 35 (8 seasons, 233 apps, 2013, 2014, and 2017 MLS Best XIs, 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year, 2015 MLS Cup MVP, 2017 League MVP, 1 MLS Cup, 1 MLS is back tournament, currently 10th in all-time assists in MLS)

Diego Valeri is, surprisingly, the first league MVP winner on this list! Valeri started his career is Argentina with Lanus, where they won the Apertura in his first season. Valeri actually made 3 appearances for the Argentina national team back in 2011. In 2012, a few years after Valeri’s daughter was born, his family was carjacked, leading to Valeri wanting to move out of Argentina. Valeri then joined the Timbers in early 2013. Since then Valeri has been the talisman for the Timbers, central to much of their success in the last decade. He has 84 goals, and 88 assists all-time in MLS. On top of all of his on field contributions, Valeri is known for having a strong relationship with the Timber’s Army, Portland’s supporters group. He also supports the Portland NWSL team, citing the team as a major inspiration for his daughter.

Diego Chara, 35 (10 seasons, 282 apps, 2020 MLS Best XI, 1 MLS Cup, 1 MLS is Back Tournament)

Chara was Portland’s first ever Designated Player as the team joined MLS in 2011. He leads Portland in career games played, games started, and minutes played. You can also tell he is a defensive midfielder as he leads Portland in career fouls committed (683, next closest is 200), yellow cards (87, next closest is 29), and red cards (5, next closest is 2). Chara exemplifies the “player that does the dirty work” for their team. Chara made two appearances for Colombia’s national team. Chara’s younger brother, Yimmi, now plays on the Timbers as well.

Real Salt Lake

Justin Meram, 32 (10 seasons, 264 apps, 1 US Open Cup)

Meram was drafted 15th overall in the 2011 MLS Superdraft. He made a name for himself on Gregg Berhalter’s Columbus Crew teams as a dangerous winger. Since his 9 seasons with the Crew, he played for three other teams (Orlando, Atlanta, and now Real Salt Lake). Meram’s above accolade came from his one seasons with Atlanta, where he made 20 appearances. Meram has also made 33 appearances for the Iraqi national team. Despite being born and raised in the United States, Meram said he always wanted to play for Iraq. Both his parents immigrated to the US from Iraq, which is how Meram is eligible for Iraqi citizenship. Meram will lead a relatively young RSL team in 2021.

San Jose Earthquakes

Chris Wondolowski, 38 (17 seasons in MLS, 381 apps, 2010 and 2012 MLS Golden Boot, 2010 2011 and 2012 MLS Best XI, 2012 MLS League MVP, 2 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields, 2014 World Cup Veteran, All-time leader in MLS goals)

Drafted in the fourth round of on the … *checks notes* … (now defunct) 2005 Supplemental Draft, Wondo is a MLS Legend amongst legends. He continues to push his goal scoring record higher and higher. He has played more games for the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS than any other player. Many know him for his crucial missed goal for the US against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup. However, Wondo’s career should not be defined by one poor moment. Wondo made 33 appearances with the US where he score 11 goals, and helped the US win the 2013 World Cup. Wondo is also half Native American through his mother. His tribal name is “Bau Daigh” which fittingly means “the warrior coming over the hill”.

Shea Salinas, 34 (13 seasons, 335 apps, 1 Supporter’s Shield)

Drafted 15th overall in the 2008 MLS Superdraft, Shea Salinas has spent all but a few of his seasons with the ‘Quakes. He only left after being drafted by Philadelphia in the 2009 Expansion Draft. He was then selected again in the 2010 Expansion Draft by the Vancouver Whitecaps. He returned to San Jose in 2012, the same year San Jose won the Supporter’s Shield. He holds the all-time assist record for the San Jose Earthquakes and is only second in appearances for the ‘Quakes to Wondo.

Seattle Sounders

Stefan Frei, 35 (12 seasons, 302 apps, 2016 MLS Cup MVP, 2018 Save of the Year Award, 3 Canadian Championships, 2 MLS Cups, Supporter’s Shield, and 1 US Open Cup)

Stefan Frei was drafted 13th overall in the 2009 MLS Superdraft by Toronto FC. He played 5 seasons in Toronto, the first 3 of which he was the starter, losing the second two seasons to injury. Before the 2014 season, Frei was traded to the Seattle Sounders for a draft pick. Frei became a rock for Seattle as he started nearly every MLS game for the Sounders since getting traded, only missing a half dozen games since 2014. Frei is likely best known for his incredible performance in the 2016 MLS Cup against his former team Toronto. He made acrobatic save after acrobatic save in order to preserve a 0-0 draw which Seattle eventually won on penalties. Seattle did not even register a single shot on goal before the penalty shootout. Frei became an American citizen in 2017 at the age of 31. He was called into one USMNT camp but never made an appearance.

Will Bruin, 31 (10 seasons, 262 apps, 1 MLS Cup)

“The Dancing Bear” was drafted 11th overall in the 2011 MLS Superdraft. He spent 6 seasons with Houston, and 2021 will be his 5th season with Seattle. Bruin was acquired by Seattle for an undisclosed amount of allocation money. While having 71 goals across his 10 seasons, Bruin has never scored more than 12 goals in a single season. Bruin made two appearances for the USMNT in the 2013 Gold Cup, but was never called up again. Born in St. Louis, Bruin would be a great MLS veteran target for the upcoming St. Louis expansion team.

Sporting Kansas City

Graham Zusi, 34 (12 seasons, 294 apps, 2011 Breakout Player of the Year, 2012 and 2013 MLS Best XIs, 1 MLS Cup, 3 US Open Cups, 2014 World Cup Veteran)

Drafted 23rd overall in the 2009 MLS Superdraft, Zusi is a Kansas City lifer. Over his years with SKC, Zusi has accrued 29 goals and 66 assists. He started his professional careers as a winger, but as he aged Peter Vermes moved Zusi back into more of an attacking fullback position. Perhaps the greatest Graham Zusi story is when he scored a goal on the final day of 2014 World Cup qualifying which meant nothing for the US but switched the goal differential tie breaker so that Mexico made the World Cup instead of Panama. Panamanian players were visibly upset at Zusi and the rest of the Americans on the field. Mexico, however, lauded Graham as “San Zusi” in the newspapers the following day. He is still beloved by many Mexican fans to this day. Overall Zusi made 55 appearances for the national team.

Roger Espinoza, 34 (12 seasons, 254 apps, 3 US Open Cups, 2010 and 2014 World Cup Veteran, FA Cup Winner with Wigan Athletic!)

Espinoza was selected 11th overall in the 2008 MLS Superdraft. He played 5 seasons in Kansas before moving to Wigan Athletic on a free transfer. With Wigan they upset Manchester City in order to win the 2013 FA Cup. Espinoza played all 90 minutes of that final game. After another half season in Wigan, he returned to SKC. Internationally, Roger represented Honduras at the London 2012 Olympics. He also made 55 appearances for the senior team, including 2 World Cups, before retiring from international soccer in 2019.

Tim Melia, 35 (11 seasons, 175 apps, 2015 Comeback Player of the Year, 2017 GK of the Year, 2017 MLS Best XI, 2 US Open Cups)

Tim Melia moved around US lower league soccer pre-2012 (i.e. Melia played for the Long Island Rough Riders, and Rochester Rhinos) before making his MLS debut for the now defunct Chivas USA. He was technically on RSL’s roster for two seasons but he never made an appearance and just went on loan. After 3 seasons as a back up for Chivas, Melia was released becoming an “MLS pool goal keeper” meaning Melia’s contract was paid by the league, and if any team was struck with multiple GK injuries, they could call on Melia’s services. He sat on SKC, Dallas, and DC’s benches one time each in case of emergency. The next year, 2015, SKC decided to sign Melia on a permanent basis. 2015 is where Melia broke through as the clear starter for SKC, and he never looked back. His 2017 season set a new low for goals against per game at just 0.78

Vancouver Whitecaps

Most MLS Appearances: Russel Teibert, 28 (10 seasons, 184 apps, 1 Canadian Championship) Teibert has been with the Whitecaps since before they joined MLS back in 2011. He has played more MLS games for the Whitecaps than any other player and is second all-time for the club in assists. If he were a little older, he would qualify as an honorable mention here.

An Ode to MLS Grizzled Vets: Eastern Conference

There’s a lot of talk these days about the young up-in-comers in Major League Soccer (MLS), and rightly so. However, some of my favorite players in the league to watch are the elder statesmen who still got it. That’s who this article is devoted to. The 30+ year-olds who have been around the block, seen a few things, and who might just surprise you from week to week. Today we examine the Eastern Conference teams. Click here for the Western Conference piece. I set some minimums of:

  • At least 30 years old
  • Preferably 200 MLS apps
  • At least 8 seasons in MLS
  • At least 1 major club or individual accolade
  • All statistics shared are only for MLS regular season games (pre-2021) unless stated otherwise

I made some exceptions, and some honorable mentions for players who did not meet those thresholds. If a team had no worthy players, I gave a quick blurb on the player on the team with the most MLS appearances. It’s not an exact science so don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy!

Team – Player, Age (# Seasons in MLS, # MLS Appearances (Apps), Accolades)

Atlanta United

Brad Guzan, 36 (9 seasons, 183 apps, 2007 GK of the Year, 2007 MLS Best XI, Aston Villa’s ’12-’13 Player of the Season, 1 MLS Cup, 1 US Open Cup, 2014 World Cup Veteran, kinda**).

Guzan started his professional career with the now defunct Chivas USA in 2005. Guzan doesn’t quite meet my thresholds but he likely will by the end of 2021. Plus he spent a sizeable amount of time with Aston Villa in England (144 apps between 2008-2016 to be exact) which adds to his veteran status. Guzan often played second fiddle to Tim Howard in the USMNT picture, but still accrued 64 caps with the senior national team. **He went to the 2014 World Cup with the US but did not play. Guzan now mans the net for the 5 Stripes.

Chicago Fire

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Bornstein, 36 (7 Seasons, 154 Apps, 2006 Rookie of the Year, 2007 MLS Best XI, and 2010 World Cup Veteran)

Bornstein is probably best known for his national team career where he made 38 appearances under Bob Bradley. Most notably, Bornstein started the group stage games of the famed 2009 Confederations Cup, before Carlos Bocanegra returned from injury to assume the leftback spot for the knockout games. For those new to US men’s soccer, that 2009 USMNT is often lauded as the best USMNT performance of all time, knocking out peak-Spain the year before Spain won the 2010 World Cup. Bornstein spent 8 years playing in Liga MX and played 1 season in the Israeli Premier League. One of Bornstein’s two goals for the national team helped Honduras clinch their 2010 World Cup birth, which resulted in Bornstein being invited to Honduras’ capital by the nation’s president! Only in CONCACAF.

Honorable Mention: Bobby Shuttleworth, 33 (12 Seasons, 202 apps)

Shuttleworth peaked with the New England Revolution where he appeared in the 2014 MLS Cup final and the 2016 US Open Cup final. He was also the starting ‘keeper for Minnesota United in their inaugural MSL season, which … was not known for its defensive prowess. In fact, that Minnesota 2017 expansion season was one of the worst defensive teams of all time. But, hey, Shuttleworth could only do so much given some of the players in front of him. He looks to hold onto his starting position with Chicago in 2021.

FC Cincinnati

Most MLS Appearances: Lucho Accosta, 26 (4 seasons, 126 apps, 2018 MLS Best XI) Cincinnati is our fist team who simply does not have any MLS living legends on their team. Lucho became famous for his partnership with Wayne Rooney in DC and almost was sold to PSG for $10 million. Alas, he now finds himself at the heart of FC Cincinnati’s rebuild.

Columbus Crew

Darlington Nagbe, 30 (10 seasons, 285 apps, 3 MLS Cups, 2 MLS Goal of the Year awards).

Nagbe was drafted 2nd overall in the 2011 MLS Superdraft by the Portland Timbers. Nagbe spent most of his career in Portalnd, where he never played in less than 27 regular season games, winning the 2015 MLS Cup. He also made a huge move to Atlanta United for $1.05 million in allocation. He won an MLS Cup with Atlanta, then moved to Columbus for a similarly large sum of allocation money, and then won an MLS cup with Columbus. People may forget, but before leaving Portalnd, Nagbe had interest from European teams. It is unclear why he never left. Nagbe got his US citizenship later in life but still managed to make 25 apps for the USMNT. Shocks me that Nagbe never made an end of season Best XI.

Bradley Wright-Phillips, 36 (8 seasons, 213 apps, 116 goals, 6th all-time in MLS goals, 2014 and 2016 Golden Boots, 2014 and 2016 MLS Best XIs, 2020 Comeback Player of the Year, 3 Supporter Shields, RBNY all-time leading goal scorer).

One of my personal favorite players, BWP is a legend. He joined RBNY as a trialist and became one of the best MLS strikers ever. His dad, Ian Wright, was a famous Arsenal player. BWP wears the number 99, and when he scored his 100th MLS goal, he ripped off his usual 99 jersey to reveal a 100 jersey underneath. I got to see that goal in-person and despite the goal itself not being all that impressive, it is my favorite goal I have ever seen live. BWP will act as Zardes relief/ fill-in while Zardes is on national team duty. He only needs 15 more goals to become the 5th highest goal scorer in MLS history. Unlikely, yes. Impossible? Who knows…

Honorable Mention: Evan Busch, 35 (9 seasons, 184 apps, 3 Canadian Championships)

Busch was the starter for Montreal back when they were known as the Impact (2014-2019). Busch actually played with Montreal before they entered MLS and played in the NASL. He stayed with the team as they made the transition to MLS in 2012. He holds many of Montreal’s club records for goalkeeper statistics. His connection to Columbus is the current head coach Caleb Porter, who Busch played under in college at the University of Akron along with fellow Crew teammates Perry Kitchen and Darlington Nagbe.

DC United

Bill Hamid, 30 (11 seasons, 248 apps, 2014 GK of the Year, 1 US Open Cup)

Hamid was DC United’s first ever academy player signed to the first team. Since 2011 he has been DC’s presumed No. 1, excepting one season where he spent some time in Denmark with FC Midtjylland. While in Denmark, Hamid only made one appearance and so he returned to DC later that year on loan. The loan was made permanent a year later. Somehow, Hamid has been undervalued on the international stage as well, only making 8 apps for the USMNT. He has expressed some discontent for not being given a fair shot with the national team after Howard announced his international retirement. Perhaps this season Hamid will make an argument to be included in the senior team.

Felipe Martins, 30 (10 seasons, 256 apps, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 2 Canadian Championships).

Felipe is perhaps the most-hated players in MLS. He is known for cheeky tackles, flagrant flops when he is touched, and an overall mastery of soccer’s “dark arts”. He is also one of those underrated players who seems to bounce around the league and always make himself useful. In his first 7 season in MLS he had no less than 29 apps. And those first 7 seasons were spread across 3 different teams. Felipe will provide depth for DC United’s midfield this season.

Honorable Mention: Steve Birnbaum, 30 (7 seasons, 173 apps)

While Birnbaum may not have the accolades, he has been a relatively steady rock in the back for DC United. He was selected 2nd overall in the 2014 MLS Superdraft. In 2018, Birnbaum played every minute of DC United’s 34 regular season games. Birnbaum can further solidify his veteran status leading DC’s backline.

Inter Miami

Brek Shea, 31 (11 seasons, 229 apps, 2011 MLS Best XI)

Brek was a rare high-school-aged Superdraft pick when taken 2nd overall in 2008 by FC Dallas. Brek impressed in his 3rd, 4th, and 5th seasons with 19 goals across 77 MLS games. This earned Shea a contract with Stoke City of the Premiere League after a 2.5 million pound transfer. Shea only made 3 Premiere League appearances across 3 seasons as he was cursed with a littany of nagging injuries. After spending two loan spells in the English Championship, Brek returned to MLS via Orlando City in 2015. Ever since, Brek has bounced around MLS, mostly playing as a fullback. Shea makes more headlines off-the-pitch for his style than he does for his on-pitch contributions these days.

Federico Higuain, 36 (10 seasons, 209 apps, 2012 MLS Newcomer of the Year)

No not Gonzalo Higuain, who is the big money Miami signing, but rather is elder brother Federico who has played in MLS for far longer. Federico started his pro career in 2003 with Argentine giants River Plate but he moved around Latin America until coming to Columbus in 2012 where he became central to the Crew’s attack. He is 6th in appearances, 4th in games started, 3rd in goals, and 1st in assists all-time for the Crew. Shockingly, Federico was not more often recognized on the league level. It recently came out that the Higuain’s grandmother passed away in 2021 and one of her last wishes is that her two grandsons would play together. They get the opportunity to do that in Miami this year.

Club de Foot de Montreal

Most MLS appearances: Erik Hurtado, 30 (8 seasons, 135 apps) A career super-sub, Erik Hurtado has the fewest MLS minutes of anyone else on this list. And yet he leads Montreal in MLS experience.

Nashville SC

Dax McCarty, 33 (15 seasons, 382 apps, 1 MLS Best XI, 2 Supporter’s Shields)

McCarty was drafted 6th overall in the 2006 MLS Superdraft. He is currently 9th all-time in career MLS minutes played. Dax is one of the most undervalued players in league history, evidenced by how no team has held onto him for the long term. His longest stint was with RBNY where he won all of his above accolades. He scored 13 goals with RBNY, many of them headers, despite his slight demeanor (only 5ft 9in). Dax captained those RBNY teams under head coach Jesse Marsch until he was traded to Chicago for a mere $400K in allocation money. Dax helped lead Chicago back to the playoffs for the first time in years, with a little help from World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger. McCarty was later traded to expansion club Nashville for only $100K in allocation and a Superdraft pick. In an abbreviated 2020 season Dax helped lead Nashville to the playoffs, scoring a crucial goal to secure their playoff birth.

CJ Sapong, 32 (10 Seasons, 276 apps, 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year, 1 MLS Cup, 1 US Open Cup)

Following his above teammate, Sapong was drafted 10th overall in the 2011 Superdraft. His most successful years were with SKC where he earned all of his above accolades. He won Rookie of the year with a modest 5 goals and 5 assists. His best statistical season was in 2017 when he scored 16 goals and 5 assists for the Union. With career totals of 71 goals and 25 assists, Sapong is not far from 100 points, which less than 50 players have ever achieved in MLS history. Perhaps he can find those last 4 goals/assists in 2021 with Nashville.

Honorable Mention: Jalil Anibaba, 32 (10 Seasons, 231 apps)

Anibaba was drafted 9th overall in the 2011 MLS Superdraft by Chicago. He has played for 6 different teams across his 10 seasons in MLS. He has been traded for draft picks, selected in the Expansion Draft, exchanged for another player, straight dropped from a roster, had his option declined, and selected in *another* Expansion Draft. Talk about MLS. Hopefully he can help Nashville in 2021!

New England Revolution

AJ DeLaGArza, 36 (12 seasons, 266 apps, 2014 MLS Humanitarian of the Year, 3 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields, 1 US Open Cup)

DeLaGarza was drafted 19th overall in the 2009 Superdraft, back when a second round pick might be useful to an MLS team. He was a defensive rock for the LA Galaxy dynasty which won so much silverware between 2010-2014. He was usually outshine in the media by his defensive partner, Omar Gonzalez, an American. AJ did play for the US in 2 friendlies but eventually committed to Guam who he was eligible to play for through his father’s side of the family. He made 14 apps for the Guam national team, including their first two victories ever in World Cup qualifying. DeLaGarza was traded to Houston for $175K in allocation. He won a US Open Cup with the Dynamo. He was then signed as free agent for Inter Miami’s inaugural season. Now he find’s himself reunited with his old Galaxy coach Bruce Arena on the New England Revolution.

Honorable Mentions: Teal Bunbury, 31 (11 seasons, 291 apps) and Scott Caldwell, 30 (8 seasons, 216 apps)

Both of these guys have a ton of appearances for the Revs which is impressive in one regard but it also means neither of them have won any silverware or individual accolades of note. Bunbury was drafted 4th overall in the 2010 SuperDraft by Kansas City. He was later traded to New England in 2015 for a first round pick and allocation (SKC used that pick on Amadou Dia, who’s made 44 apps for them). Caldwell was the second ever NE Revolution homegrown player, a rare 1-team player to cross 200 appearances.

New York City FC

Honorable Mention: Sean Johnson, 31 (11 seasons, 292 apps)

Drafted 51st overall in the 2010 Superdraft, Johnson is one of the most successful 4th round Superdraft pick in league history. After his first season, Johnson never started fewer than 21 games in a season. He played for Chicago for seven years and then moved to NYCFC after his rights were held by Atlanta for a short while. Johnson is 2nd all-time in MLS apps for the New York club. He also holds practically every NYCFC goalkeeping record, as he has been their starting GK for 4 out of the team’s 6 seasons since starting play in 2015.

Red Bull New York

Most MLS Appearances: Sean Davis, 28 (6 seasons, 138 apps, 2 Supporter’s Shields) Sean is New York’s first ever homegrown player to become captain of the team. He is currently 6th in career appearances for RBNY and will likely be 5th by the end of the 2021 season.

Orlando City SC

Most MLS Appearances: Tesho Akindele, 29 (7 seasons, 178 apps, 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year, 1 Supporter’s Shield and 1 MLS Cup) Tesho had his best years with Dallas, where he won all of the listed accolades. He was reunited with his old FC Dallas coach, Osacr Pareja in Orlando.

Philadelphia Union

AurΓ©lien Collin, 35 (10 seasons, 182 Apps, 2012 MLS Best XI, 2013 MLS Cup MVP, 1 MLS Cup, 1 US Open Cup, 2 Supporter’s Shields)

Collin started as a youth player in his homeland of France before bouncing around the lower leagues of Europe. His best European season was with Vitoria Setubal in the Portuguese 1st division where he made 33 aps. After that he joined Sporting Kansas City where he won MLS Cup, scoring in PKs at the end of the game to secure the win for SKC. He then helped Orlando in their expansion season. Then me moved to RBNY, where he technically won a Supporter’s Shield with them, although he only played 350 mins that season. Now he is in Philly, where he again *technically* won a Supporter’s shield last year, but he play 0 mins for Philly in 2020. Perhaps more of a locker room presence these days, Collin will aid in developing a young, strong Union side.

Honorable Mention: Andre Blake, 30 (7 seasons, 148 apps, 2016 and 2020 GK of the year, 2016 and 2020 MLS Best IXs, MLS is Back Tournament Goldent Glove, 2017 Gold Cup Golden Glove, 1 Supporter’s Shield)

Blake was drafted 1st overall in the 2014 Superdraft. He’s been Philly’s starter for 5 straight seasons. He is one of only 5 players to win GK of the year more than once. Blake is also the presumptive starter for the Jamaican national team, were he has 45 apps. Blake has quite a few accolades for being on the younger side for a keeper. He is an honorable mention here simply because of his low number of appearances relative to others on this list (I made my bare minimum threshold 150 apps).

Toronto FC

Omar Gonzalez, 32 (9 seasons, 217 apps, 2009 Rookie of the Year, 2011 Defender of the Year, 2010 2011 2013 and 2014 MLS Best XI, 3 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields, 2014 World Cup Veteran).

Gonzalez was drafted 3rd overall in the 2009 MLS Superdraft by the LA Galaxy. He won all of his above accolades with the Galaxy as they created their 2010-2014 dynasty. While playing for the Galaxy, he became the first centerback to be a Designated Player. Omar is likely infamously remembered for scoring the own goal which caused the US to miss the 2018 World Cup. He accepted full blame for this mistake, talking to media after the game. Like Wondo, who is featured in the Western Conference version of this piece, this one moment on the international stage should not define Gonzalez’s career. He made 52 appearances for the national team including 2 games at the 2014 World Cup. Now he steadies the backline for Chris Armas in Toronto.

Michael Bradley, 33 (9 seasons, 205 apps, 1x USSF Player of the Year, 1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 3 Canadian Championships, 2010 and 2014 World Cup Veteran)

Bradley was drafted 36th overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft at 16 years old. He was drafted by his father, Bob Bradley, the then coach of the MetroStars. He was later sold for $250K plus a sell-on to Dutch side Herenveen. In the following years Bradley bounced around Europe playing for ‘Gladbach in Germany, as well as Chievo and Roman in Italy. In 2014, Toronto FC payed Roma $10 million for Bradley. They wanted him to be at the center of their project to turn Toronto into a contender. They did just that as they won 5 trophies between 2016-2018. Bradley also played plenty for the national team, making 151 apps. Bradley is actually 3rd overall in USMNT apps, just 6 apps behind Landon Donovan. Bradley is likely finished with the national team, but looks to still meaningfully contribute to Toronto in 2021.

Justin Morrow, 33 (11 seasons, 257 apps, 2017 MLS Best XI, 1 MLS Cup, 2 Supporter’s Shields, 3 Canadian Championships)

Morrow was drafted 28th overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft by San Jose. With San Jose, Morrow appeared in 33/34 regular season games of their 2012 Supporter’s Shield winning season. In 2013 Morrow was traded to Toronto for an undisclosed amount of allocation money. With Toronto, he won the rest of his MLS accolades. Morrow being named to the Best XI is more significant than usual as fullbacks are rarely named to the Best XI, in favor of centerbacks and more attacking players. Morrow is now the Executive Director for the Black Players for Change, which was created in 2020 in response to rising rational tensions across the nation.

Jozy Altidore, 31 (9 seasons, 164 apps, 2017 MLS Cup MVP, 2x USSF Male Soccer Player of the Year, 1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 3 Canadian Championships, 2010 and 2014 World Cup Veteran)

Jozy was drafted 7th overall in the 2008 MLS Superdraft by the then NY/NJ MetroStars. Jozy played 3 seasons there before being sold for about $10 million to Villareal. After some unsuccessful loans, he played 2 seasons in the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar, probably his best two seasons for any club, scoring 39 goals in 67 games. Then he moved to Sunderland for $13 million. Things did not go well for Jozy in Sunderland with only 1 goal over 42 games. Sunderland and Toronto FC agreed to a rare trade deal where they swapped Jozy and Jermaine Defoe. Jozy then joined the dynastic Toronto side who won 5 trophies over 3 years. Jozy also has a storied USMNT career, with 115 appearances and 42 goals. His best performances came in the 2009 Confederations Cup, where the US took down global powerhouses Spain. Jozy’s entire career was hampered by injuries. Today, given how injury-prone he is, it is fair to question whether he will ever dress for the US again and how much he can contribute to Toronto FC in 2021.

Dom Dwyer, 30 (9 seasons, 195 apps, 1 MLS Cup, 2 US open Cups)

Dom Dwyer was drafted 16th overall in the 2012 MLS Superdraft to Kansas City. The striker scored 57 goals over 128 apps for SKC while winning all of his above accolades there. In 2017, Dwyer was traded for $900K in allocation with potential for the fee to rise another $700K if certain performance criteria was met. This was the largest intraleague transfer up to this point. Dwyer’s time in Orlando was probably not worth that price tag as he only scored 24 goals over 67 games. He was recently picked up by Toronto (who are training/playing in Orlando due to COVID) who already have a litany of strikers. It is unclear what comes next for Dom Dwyer.

Honorable Mention: Nick DeLeon, 30 (9 seasons, 233 apps, 1 US Open Cup)

Drafted 7th overall by DC United in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, DeLeon was runner-up for the 2012 MLS Rookie of the year. After 7 seasons with DC, his option was declined, and Toronto picked him up in the Re-Entry Draft. Since coming to Toronto, DeLeon has continued his time as a utility player over 50 games across two seasons.

Reviewing USMNT Player Pool in Europe 2020-2021 Part 4

Welcome back! For more of an intro and context, check back in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Again, I will be looking at each players’ minutes, games played, assists, and goals (mostly all available at https://fbref.com/en/ with some help from https://www.transfermarkt.us/). I didn’t include stats for youth players or if I couldn’t find them. Here in Part 3, we will be examining the top USMNT players in Europe.

Reminders: I narrowed my focus to just players in Europe. Sorry Johnny Cardoso fans. Also if you don’t see a name in their expected section, keep scrolling, as there are some special sections throughout, or go back and check Part 1 (where all the players who left Europe can be found) Part 2 and (where the undeclared dual-nationals are) and Part 3 (where older players like Ream are as well as recent transfers from MLS like Reynolds).

These tiers are *supposed* to be in order from worst-to-best and for this part they probably are! Within each section I listed the players in order from most-to-least interesting. Overall this is kind of a “who is the best player in a vacuum” ranking while also being a “who had the best season” ranking. So, like, don’t take it too seriously? I don’t know I just do this for fun.

Penultimate Leagues (Ranked 6-10 by UEFA; Portugal, Russia, Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria)

  • Matt Miazga**, 25 (Anderlecht loaned from Chelsea; 33 apps, 2890 mins, 1 goal, 1 assist)
  • Reggie Cannon**, 22 (Boavista; 33 apps, 2727 mins, 1 assist)
  • Luca de la Torre**, 22 (Heracles Almelo; 32 apps, 2379, 1 goal, 2 assists)
  • Chris Durkin, 20 (Sint-Truiden; 30 apps, 2116 mins, 1 goal, 3 assists)
  • Erik Palmer Brown, 23 (Austira Vien, loaned from Man City; 29 apps, 2610 mins)
  • Taylor Booth, 19 (St. Polten, loaned from Bayern Munich II; 15 apps, 999 mins, 3 goals, 2 assists)
  • Ethan Horvath**, 25 (Club Brugge; 4 apps, 360 mins, 0 clean sheets)
  • Joe Efford, 24 (Waasland Beveren; 28 apps, 1289 mins, 2 goals, 5 assists)
  • Desevio Payne, 25 (FC Emmen; 2 apps, 32 mins)

These leagues are mostly better than MLS as they are the leagues younger MLS players tend to move-on to (e.g. Miazga, Cannon, Durkin, and EPB; Plus McKenzie, Aaronson, et al. who were in the last section). Miazga and EPB continue their never-ending loan sagas. Reggie Cannon barely avoided relegation with Boavista. There are rumors that the big teams in Portugal are eyeing him for a move. Luca de la Torre had a breakout season with Heracles and impressed in some USMNT cameos in March. Durkin quietly got over 2000 minutes in a solid league, at a young age. I’m surprised more people aren’t asking for him to get a look with the national team. Ethan Horvath needs to move somewhere where he is going to get playing time. Hopefully his good USMNT shift against the Swiss helps. Taylor Booth made a little noise with some goals and assists in limited minutes. Also quite young, Booth is a name remember. I literally never heard of Joe Efford before writing this series of articles and I don’t know what to think about him. I mean he is older but not *that* much older.

Good Situation, Small Sample Size

  • Zack Steffen**, 25 (Manchester City; 12 apps, 1080 mins, 6 clean sheets)
  • Konrad de la Fuente**, 19 (Barcelona; 3 apps, 39 mins)
  • Owen Otasowie**, 19 (Wolverhampton; 6 apps, 187 mins, 1 assist)

These three guys made a dozen appearances or less but they are on good teams who play in a Top 5 League. If you told me last summer Steffen would get 12 appearances for Man City, I would have happily taken that. I was expecting him to get half of that. Konrad rode Barca’s bench (over 20 times this season) and rocked it for Barca B. I hope he gets a loan or sale somewhere else this summer if he is not in the first team plans next year. Rumors have it that Barca are willing to sell, especially considering their financial troubles. Similarly, Otasowie was regularly on Wolves’ bench but got selected slightly more often than Konrad did for Barca. Otasowie could also use a loan move if he is not going to be in Wolves’ regular rotation. There’s an argument Steffen is in the same boat, and could use a loan move. Personally, I’m a little more on the fence about whether Steffen should move or stay put next year. Eventually he has to get more playing time though.

Top 5 League (England, Spain, Germany, France, or Italy)

  • Gio Reyna**, 18 (Dortmund; 46 apps, 2693 mins, 7 goals 6 assists)
  • Christian Pulisic**, 22 (Chelsea; 43 apps, 2458 mins, 6 goals, 4 assists)
  • Weston McKennie**, 22 (Juventus; 46 apps, 2406 mins, 6 goals, 3 assists)
  • John Brooks**, 28 (Wolfsburg; 34 apps, 2954 mins, 2 goals)
  • Tyler Adams**, 21 (RB Leipzig; 37 apps, 2423 mins, 1 goal, 1 assist)
  • Sergino Dest**, 20 (Barcelona; 41 apps, 2715 mins, 3 goals, 1 assist)
  • Josh Sargent**, 20 (Werder Bremen; 37 apps, 2962 mins, 7 goals 3 assists)
  • Yunus Musah**, 18 (Valencia; 35 apps, 1642 mins, 2 goals)
  • Tim Weah**, 20 (Lille; 37 apps, 1360 mins, 5 goals 1 asisst)
  • Chris Richards**, 20 (Hoffenheim, loaned from Bayern Munich; 13 apps, 1124 mins, 1 assist)
  • Antonee Robinson**, 23 (Fulham; 32 apps, 2462 mins)
  • Matthew Hoppe, 19 (Schalke; 24 apps, 1419 mins, 6 goals, 1 assist)

This group is exciting to say the least. First, I am somewhat shocked at how many more games high-level players play. Since this article is all about the stats, I put Reyna on top, as he had the best statistical season of any of these players. You could make an argument that any of the top 6 players was the best American in Europe this season. Tyler Adams played more minutes for Leipzig this year than he did in his best season with RBNY. He is low key one of the best young midfielders in the Bundesliga and not many are talking about it. Brooks led one of the best defenses in the Bundesliga and secured a Champions League birth for next year. Wes surpassed everyone’s expectations at Juventus. Dest played alongside Messi for a full season. Pulisic contributed to a Champions League winning run. As for the bottom half, these guys are still exciting, they simply received fewer minutes, or played on worse teams. Any one of them could break out next year and have a big year, except Robinson and Hoppe assuming they stay on their relegated teams (not necessarily a safe assumption as there are rumors that both are moving). Hoppe had the best goals + assist per 90 of any teenager in the Bundesliga (Reyna was 4th best). Weah was a rotational player for Ligue 1 champions Lille. More importantly, Weah was healthy the whole season. Richards received his first regular professional minutes with Hoffenheim and impressed. Musah was in the rotation for a mid-table team and it was his first ever professional season. For every player here, except maybe John Brooks, the sky is the limit right now. It will be extremely exciting to see them all develop in the years to come.

Thanks for reading! Feel like someone was missing? go back and check out my first two parts as there were some special categories where players may have been placed. Have any questions or qualms with how I organized this? Then leave a comment below or yell at me on Twitter @BeardedJack!

Reviewing USMNT Player Pool in Europe 2020-2021 Part 3

Welcome back! For more of an intro and context, check back in Part 1. And check back at Part 2 to see the USMNT prospects in Europe. Again, I will be looking at each players’ minutes, games played, assists, and goals (mostly all available at https://fbref.com/en/ with some help from https://www.transfermarkt.us/). I didn’t include stats for youth players or if I couldn’t find them. Here in Part 3, we will mostly examine the fringe of the USMNT player pool in Europe. Come back for Part 4 where we talk about the top USMNTers in Europe.

Reminders: I narrowed my focus to just players in Europe. Sorry Johnny Cardoso fans. Also if you don’t see a name in their expected section, keep scrolling, as there are some special sections throughout, or go back and check Part 1 (that’s where the undeclared dual-nationals are).

These tiers are *supposed* to be in order from worst-to-best but I’ll admit I got a little lost in the sauce. Also, who’s to say whether its better to be in the English Championship or Greek League? I sure as heck don’t know. Within each section I listed the players in order from most-to-least interesting. Overall this is kind of a “who is the best player in a vacuum” ranking while also being a “who had the best season” ranking. So, like, don’t take it too seriously? I don’t know I just do this for fun.

Player Name, Age (Club/League; Total appearances, total mins, goals, assists)

** – Has appeared for USMNT under Gregg Berhalter

2nd Division Heroes (2nd Divisions of France, England, Spain, Italy, and Germany)

  • Julian Green, 25 (Greuther Furth; 33 apps, 2488 mins, 10 goals, 3 asissts)
  • Nicolas Gioachinni**, 20 (Caen; 32 apps, 2133 mins, 5 goals, 1 assist)
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers**, 22 (Bournmouth, loaned from Tottenham; 24 apps, 2115 mins, 1 goal)
  • Andrija Novakovich, 24 (Frosinone; 34 apps, 2226 mins, 11 goals, 5 assists)
  • Shaq Moore, 24 (Tenerife; 41 apps, 3340 mins, 2 assists)
  • Matt Olosunde, 23 (Rotherham; 33 apps, 2037 mins, 1 goal, 3 assists)
  • Duane Octavius Holmes**, 26 (Huddersfield Town; 19 apps, 1235 mins, 2 goals, 2 assists)
  • Timothy Tillman, 21 (Gruether Furth; 27 apps, 715 mins, 3 assists)
  • Charlie Kelman, 19 (Queens Park Rangers; 12 apps, 202 mins)
  • McKinze Gaines, 22 (Hannover 96; 1 apps, 6 mins)
  • Giuseppe Barone, 22 (Salernitana; 0 app, 0 mins…?)
  • Daniel Osuji, 19 (Alcorcon; couldn’t find stats)

These guys are all playing about as well as they can given that they play for a second division team. All of the young guys here should continue to prove themselves for the rest of the season and hope for a transfer upwards in the future. Green led Furth to a promotion to the Bundesliga. He was arguably one of their best players this season. Gioachinni is getting lots of minutes but not showing tons of end product. Novakovich and Moore got plenty of minutes and might warrant moves to better clubs? I’ll admit I didn’t watch any film of either of them this season. Fun fact: Shaq Moore played the most minutes of any American *field player* in Europe this season. CCV steadied Bournemouth’s backline and lost in the promotional playoffs. Rumors are Bournemouth want to make his loan permanent, but they will have to fight off other suitors. Holmes saw an uptick in form after moving to Huddersfield in January. There are apparently more Americans at Alcorcon with Osuji, but I have not been able to confirm that off of Twitter so I only included Osuji here.

Middling Leagues (Ranked 11-20 by UEFA; Turkey, Scotland, Denmark, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia, et al.)

  • Jordan Pefok “Siebatcheu”**, 24 (Young Boys; 43 apps, 1748 mins, 15 goals, 4 assists)
  • DeAndre Yedlin**, 27 (Galatasary; 11 apps, 668 mins)
  • Haji Wright, 22 (Sonderjyske; 37 apps, 2328 mins, 13 goals, 2 assists)
  • Emmanuel Sabbi, 22 (Odense; 32 apps, 1916 mins, 6 goals, 4 assists)
  • Christian Cappis, 21 (Hobro; 27 apps, 2172 mins, 2 asissts)
  • Tyler Boyd**, 25 (Sivasspor, loaned from Besiktas; 14 apps, 726 mins, 5 goals)
  • Mix Diskerud, 30 (Denizlispor; 18 apps, 1125 mins)
  • Gbohly Ariyibi, 26 (Panetolikos; 29 apps, 1873 mins, 4 goals, 2 assists)
  • Ian Harkes, 25 (Dundee United; 35 apps, 2659 mins)
  • Dillon Powers, 29 (Dundee United; 14 apps, 581 mins)
  • Danilo Radjen, 26 (DFK Backa; 21 apps, 1537 mins)
  • Mukwelle Akale, 24 (Pafos FC; 6 apps, 177 mins)

To continue my MLS comparisons, I think most of these leagues are slightly worse than MLS, minus some top teams in each league. Like Celtic and Rangers probably have more talent than MLS teams, but the rest of the Scottish Premiere League probably has less. Same could be said of the top Swiss teams, Turkish teams, etc. Pefok, the Hero against Honduras, played a significant role for Young Boys in winning the Swiss title and making a Europa League run. Yedlin got a much needed move to Galatasary in January. The Danish contingent of Wright, Sabbi, and Cappis all got plenty of minutes. I wouldn’t hate seeing any of them get called up for a USMNT friendly at some point. Hey remember Mix Diskerud? He moved to Turkey in January and he’s doing alright for himself. Can we talk about how Gbohly Ariyibi had a solid season in Greece and very few people noticed? I watched one game of Harkes in Scotland and there is a reason I did not watch a second one. Anyone know why the UEFA rankings have the Cyprus league this high? Seems a little out of place if you ask me.

Declining Veterans (Used to regularly play in Top 5 Leagues at some point)

  • Tim Ream**, 33 (Fulham; 10 apps, 930 mins)
  • Timmy Chandler, 30 (Frankfurt; 17 apps, 463 mins)
  • Eric Lichaj, 32 (Faith Karagumruk; 10 apps, 736 mins)

In some ways I think this is the most controversial section. This list used to have Cameron, Morales, and Diskerud but they all found new homes this season. Chandler should probably follow their suit a leave Frankfurt for more playing time. Ream and Lichaj may want to follow Cameron’s example and jump ship to MLS. But Ream recently signed a new deal with Fulham to stay with the club despite their relegation. The fact that Fulham re-signed Ream tells me he is still in their plans for now. But Father Time is undefeated, and it is unlikely Ream will get any better going forward. He is a St. Louis native, so perhaps he is holding out one more year until St. Louis enter MLS.

MLS-to-Europe Pipeline

  • Darryl Dike**, 20 (Barnsley, loaned from Orlando City; 20 apps, 1323 mins, 9 goals)
  • Brenden Aaronson**, 20 (RB Salzburg; 25 apps, 1654 mins, 7 goals, 5 assists)
  • Mark McKenzie**, 21 (Genk; 16 apps, 899 mins)
  • Bryan Reynolds**, 19 (AS Roma; 5 apps 283 mins)
  • Brandon Servania**, 21 (St. Polten, loaned from FC Dallas; 10 apps 641 mins)
  • Justin Che, 17 (Bayern Munich II, loaned from FC Dallas)
  • Joe Scally, 18 (Borussia MΓΆnchengladbach U19)
  • Andrew Wooten, 31 (Admira Wacker; 19 apps, 1348 mins, 3 goals, 2 assists)

These are all of the Americans who jumped across the pond from MLS during the January transfer window. Dike is the guy everyone is talking about, partially because he scored some bangers, and partially because it’s relatively easy for Americans to watch the English Championship. Aaronson has adopted the Red Bull Way well under Marsch, and there are rumors he might follow Marsch to Leipzig. McKenzie needed to adjust a little more to Genk. I am hoping he is a regular starter for them next year. Reynolds just got his feet wet with Roma. We’ll see how much he is in Jose Mourinho’s plans next season. Brandon Servania quietly got loaned to an Austrian team that has a relationship with Bayern Munich. I always thought most people underrated Servania and I hope he gets more chances in Europe. Justin Che has made some noise. @scuffed is on the record saying that Che looks better for Bayern II than Richards did and Che is younger than Richards was at the time Richards was on Bayern II. Scally was bought for a lot of money to not even make a cameo for Gladbach’s first team. Hopefully that changes next season.

Thanks for reading! Come back for Part 4 tomorrow. Have any questions or qualms with how I organized this? Then leave a comment below or yell at me on Twitter, @Beardedjack