Though relatively still a young league, the MLS already has a storied tradition of hosting some of the game’s distinguished playmakers – particularly hailing from South America.
From stars like colourful Colombian Carlos ‘El Pibe’ Valderrama (Tampa Bay Mutiny) through to Bolivian genius Marco Etcheverry (DC United), the tradition is set to continue with the exciting capture of former Brazilian World Player of the Year, Kaká, at new franchise, Orlando City.
Ahead of its 20th season – which starts this weekend – I take a look at five of the best MLS Number 10s to watch out for in what promises to be a quite memorable campaign; and who better to start with than the aforementioned, newly signed Brazilian star…
1. Kaká | Age: 32 | Club: Orlando City
“O jogo bonito arrives to the East Coast”
Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, or Kaká to those with a love for the game, is a newcomer to the league. Indeed the former Sao Paolo, AC Milan and Real Madrid star hasn’t yet even kicked a ball officially in the MLS, but such is the playmaker’s undoubted quality, few would dispute his place on this (or indeed any) list.
Orlando City pulled off a major coup for soccer in the US when making the classy Brazilian the club’s first ever designated player. The last man other than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to win the Ballon d’Or, Kaká’s signature represents another statement of intent for both the MLS and Orlando City, who head into their inaugural campaign in the league.
No doubt “Il Bambino d’oro” will have the masses tuning in to future broadcasts in the States, for glimpses of the cultured Brazilian playmaker’s magic.
2. Diego Valeri | Age: 28 | Club: Portland Timbers
“The Argentine Maestro behind the Timbers success story”
The arrival of a ‘Designated Player’ to the MLS is typically followed by a furious media fanfare around the league’s new star. In this respect Diego Valeri arrived very much under the radar, but his impact to the league was soon to change all that.
The former Lanus enganche instantly endeared himself to the fanatical Timber’s faithful with a virtuoso debut performance that included a stunning goal versus the New York Red Bulls. Valeri promptly went on to show a consistent star quality that has established him as unquestionably one of the best players in the league.
The ‘MLS Maestro’ as he is also known, is an old-school, traditional No10; thus it is no coincidence that his confessed footballing idol is none other than compatriot Juan Román Riquelme.
Sadly Diego Valeri is currently recovering from a serious injury picked up at the end of last season’s campaign, but is expected be back in time to lead both his team and the league in the way that the Argentine has done since his arrival in 2013.
3. Javier Morales | Age: 35 | Club: Real Salt Lake
“Salt Lake’s “Quaterback” is the Real deal”
The wily veteran of this list, Real Salt Lake and Argentina’s Javier Morales is considered by many fans of the MLS as the league’s standard bearer for the playmaker position.
Indeed since the start of the 2010 campaign, Morales has created a whopping 415 chances for his teammates – more than any other player in the league during this period.
Despite his advancing years the former Newells Old Boys fantasista will surely continue to epitomise a true No10, or ‘quarterback/regista’ role, pulling his team’s strings from the middle of the park and proving the age old adage that football is as much played with your head, as it with your feet.
4. Graham Zusi | Age: 28 | Club: Sporting Kansas City
“The return of San Zusi”
For deposed champions Sporting Kansas City, 2014 was not a season to remember.
Considered to be one of the league’s most entertaining sides, Sporting struggled for form from mid-June onwards, with many supporters identifying the absence of star playmaker Graham Zusi as one of the key factors behind the team’s slump.
‘San Zusi’ (as the US international is affectionately known due to a stoppage time equalizer against Panama helping Mexico advance to the World Cup) departed to represent his country in Brazil 2014, and a subsequent injury picked up after the tournament meant Sporting’s ‘No10’ (figuratively speaking) would fail to recreate the form that saw the player selected to the MLS All-Star team in 2014.
Having successfully recovered from the debilitating ankle problems that crippled his season last time round, Zusi is expected to take his place in the inverted playmaking role, alongside fellow fantasista, Brazilian-born US international Benny Feilhaber.
His pinpoint delivery and exquisite distribution both short and long, allied to the retirement of USA legend Landon Donovan, means that fans of soccer in the States will be expecting to see Graham Zusi at his saintly best in 2015.
5. Pedro Morales | Age: 29 | Club: Vancouver Whitecaps
“Europe’s loss is Vancouver’s gain”
Malaga CF’s decision to release midfielder Pedro Morales to join the Vancouver Whitecaps raised many an eyebrow, particular amongst the La Liga analyst community. Brought into the club by the then manager and compatriot Manuel Pellegrini, the talented Chilean had shown enough glimpses of his quality since his arrival from Croatian football to believe that he could prove to be a useful asset in the club’s post-Champions League transition.
Needless to say since his departure, Malaga’s loss has most definitely been the Whitecaps’ gain, with their designated player taking to the MLS how only players of his quality could do so.
In his debut season in the US, Morales impressively reached double figures for both goals scored and created. His refined technical ability, exceptional vision, and overall influence to his side (becoming the team’s second ever club-captain) leading him to be named the league’s ‘Newcomer of the Year’.
Now embarking on his second campaign, and with a full pre-season and a year of acclimatisation to his teammates under his belt, fans of the league, and the No10 position in general, have a lot to look forward to heading into the 2015 MLS Championship.