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.

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