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

Aurélien 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.


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