Major League Soccer loosened the purse strings in 2017 with an increased amount of targeted allocation money giving teams more resources to hit the player market. That, along with some excellent signings by the league’s new teams, helped lead to a season that arguably boasted the most impressive collection of incoming talent the league has ever seen.
The arrival of two expansion teams was always going to ensure an influx of new faces, but Atlanta United’s aggressive efforts to build a year-one contender led to the arrival of some truly exciting players. Minnesota United didn’t spend the money Atlanta United did, but did introduce us to some former NASL standouts who showed they could be difference makers in MLS.
Just how good was this year’s newcomer pool? Consider that Bastian Schweinsteiger didn’t make the cut for Goal‘s selections of the league’s best, even though the German star enjoyed a strong first season in MLS. The same applies for New York City FC playmaker Maxi Moralez, who was outstanding in his debut MLS season but lost out to some playmakers who simply enjoyed stronger campaigns.
Here are Goal‘s selections for the MLS All-Newcomer Best XI:
BRAD GUZAN, Atlanta United
It was a year that saw very few MLS newcomers in goal, and none that played a significant number of matches, so Guzan gets the nod here despite not really being a newcomer (he began his career a decade ago in MLS with Chivas USA). The mid-season arrival of Guzan gave Atlanta United a veteran presence behind the defense. He made 14 regular-season starts, posting eight shutouts, and capped his season with a strong performance in the playoff loss to the Columbus Crew.
Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic made just five starts late in the season, but showed his quality and justified the Whitecaps decision to bench long-time MLS standout David Ousted in favor of the New Zealand international, who was the Kiwis’ most impressive player in its World Cup qualifying playoff loss to Peru.
LEANDRO GONZALEZ PIREZ, Atlanta United
There was no new MLS defender more impressive than Gonzalez Pirez, who dominated the league’s defensive stats, leading MLS defenders in duels won, recoveries, tackles won and interceptions. He was also sharp with the ball, finishing second among MLS defenders in passes completed.
Houston defender Adolfo Machado deserves honorable mention for his role in helping solidify a rebuilt Dynamo defense. The Panamanian center back played in 33 of Houston’s 34 regular season matches while also playing a role in helping Panama qualify for its first World Cup.
FLORIAN JUNGWIRTH, San Jose Earthquakes
The German central defender was one of the few bright spots on a San Jose defense that had its share of struggles in 2017, but still did enough to help the Earthquakes reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Jungwirth finished the season in the top three among MLS defenders in duels won, tackles won and recoveries. He also contributed two goals and three assists in his 30 starts.
Seattle Sounders defender/midfielder Gustav Svensson was one of the most important pick-ups of the season for the reigning MLS Cup champions. The versatile Swede registered a goal and four assists while splitting his time in defensive midfield, right back and center back. His efforts with the Sounders helped him earn a role in Sweden’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
ALEXANDER CALLENS, New York City FC
New York City FC’s possession-oriented style requires central defenders who can handle the ball, and Callens showed he was more than capable of thriving in such a system. The Peruvian defender finished first among MLS defenders in completed passes, but also showed good defensive instincts, finishing fifth in interceptions.
Atlanta United left back Greg Garza joined on loan from Club Tijuana and showed all the qualities that once made him a U.S. national team defender. He was a consistent attacking threat at left back, finishing fourth among MLS defenders in chances created and second in successful crosses.
ILIE SANCHEZ, Sporting Kansas City
He may not have been the flashiest player, but Ilie Sanchez’s quality was indisputable, with the former Barcelona B midfielder stepping into Peter Vermes’ system and giving SKC exactly the kind of player it needed to connect its league-best defense to its attack. Sanchez finished third in MLS in passes completed, delivering at an 85 percent clip.
The Philadelphia Union didn’t have a great season but one of the clear bright spots was Bosnian midfielder Haris Medunjanin. The same can be said for Minnesota United’s Ibson.
ALEXANDER RING, New York City FC
Other players may have had more goals and assists, but Ring’s contributions in NYCFC’s midfield were pivotal in the team’s excellent season. The Finland international finished second in MLS in tackles won and in the top 10 in duels won and recoveries, while completing 83 percent of his passes. He also contributed four assists.
Montreal’s Blerim Dzemaili was an outstanding signing for the Impact, with his seven goals and 10 assists serving as a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing season in Montreal.
MIGUEL ALMIRON, Atlanta United
The Paraguayan playmaker was one of the league’s real revelations, as his dazzling passes and dangerous shots puzzled opposing defenses and steered Atlanta United’s high-flying attack. Almiron finished the season with nine goals and 14 assists.
Almiron’s teammate, Yamil Asad, merited strong consideration for this list as well, with his 7 goals and 13 assists among the best campaigns of any left winger in MLS.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ, Toronto FC
One of the key reasons Toronto FC was able to take another step up in quality in 2017 and set a new MLS points record was the arrival of the Spanish playmaker, who fit right in to give TFC a sorely-needed playmaker to complement Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. The former Barcelona B midfielder finished with 16 assists, second most in MLS, while adding eight goals.
NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez and Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino were also outstanding attacking midfield additions to their respective teams.
ROMAIN ALESSANDRINI, LA Galaxy
It was easy to ignore the LA Galaxy during a thoroughly disappointing 2017, but one of the few things the Galaxy got right was the addition of Alessandrini, who was a force in attack even as the rest of his team struggled badly. The French midfielder finished the year with 13 goals and 12 assists, numbers that would win him MLS newcomer of the year in most seasons.
Hector Villalba was another one of Atlanta United’s successful additions, with the dangerous Argentine finishing with 13 goals and 11 assists.
NEMANJA NIKOLIC, Chicago Fire
The Chicago Fire couldn’t have asked for a better return on investment than the pile of goals Nikolic delivered. The Hungarian striker finished with an MLS Golden Boot-winning 24 goals to help the Fire snap their playoff drought and transform from a league laughing stock to a force.
Minnesota United’s Christian Ramirez had no trouble adapting to MLS, with the former NASL standout finishing with 13 goals in 2017.
JOSEF MARTINEZ, Atlanta United
It’s scary to think what sort of numbers Martinez might have put up if not for some injuries costing him playing time. The Venezuelan striker still delivered 19 goals in 20 matches, a scoring rate unmatched in the league.
Houston’s Alberth Elis was one of the key factors in the Dynamo’s turnaround under Wilmer Cabrera, with the dangerous Honduran giving the Dynamo attack a speedy force to partner with countryman Romell Quioto on a team that has exceeded all expectations.
GOAL’S MLS ALL-NEWCOMER BEST XI