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08-13-2007, 12:06 PM
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I'm going to attempt to do one for MLS. Yes, it’s not a European league; but given that more and more talent is coming from the United States – it’s a good list to consider. It'll be pretty basic and straight forward. I apologize if it's American-heavy and that I'm doing this in the middle of the season, but given that the talent in MLS is improving now is a good time to take a look at the young talent. Here's a first crack at top 10 MLS players born from 1984 and later. I apologize if I leave somebody off. Note: All links go to the player's profile at MLSnet.

1. Eddie Johnson, Striker, Born: March 31, 1984, Team: Kansas City Wizards

The man USMNT fans on BigSoccer love to hate. Straight out of the US U-17 team in 2001, broke out in 2004 with 12 goals in MLS (7 game winners), and scored 8 goals in his first 9 caps with the USMNT. His 2005 was injury ridden, his 2006 was very poor, and international work since has sputtered in terms of production. But the reason he's so high is because A) he got his groove back this season with 12 goals in 13 games so far - getting named to the MLS All Star Team and B) Eddie Johnson is a physical beast of a striker and when he's "on," he is a monster on the field. His first touch could be better, he tends to disappear at times in games and I'd love to see him do better for the USMNT, but given his young age, the nature of his position (a strong striker who can score is ridiculously valuable, plus by their nature strikers are invisible at times) he can still improve and that's why he's #1. Derby County wanted him, but Johnson turned them down and I don’t blame him. If he can continue his form, he’ll get more offers and likely better ones. I don’t see him staying in MLS for much longer.

2. Juan Toja, Attacking Midfielder (Central), Born: May 24, 1985, Team: FC Dallas

Toja has been an absolute revelation for FC Dallas He's hard working, he'll go after any loose ball, he'll run hard for 90 minutes, and he's got a fantastic Nigel Tufnel-esque hairdo. But seriously, 6 goals and being a constant problem for opposing defenders has helped FCD greatly so far this season and helped Toja become a FCD fan favorite. MLS definitely recognized that by making him a MLS All Star this year (youngest on the team) FCD runs a 4-3-3 so Toja is usually the attacking midfielder - though a recent ankle injury has put him out for a couple of weeks. Given he was a member of the U-20 Columbian team a few years back, I would highly recommend the Columbian NT keep a close eye on Toja. The only downside to Toja is that I believe he’s on loan to Dallas; but even if he was Dallas property, he’s playing too well to stay there for too long.

3. Michael Parkhurst, Center-back, Born: January 24, 1984, Team: New England Revolution

Parkhurst may not play the most noticible of positions, but he’s a gem of a center-back. He was the MLS Rookie of the Year back in 2005 and he’s been getting better at his position. He’s got great vision as a defender, he’s solid positionally, he marks defenders well, and he can pass the ball well. The Revolution plays a 3-5-2, where Parkhurst is the anchor in the back three. He doesn’t get burned often (though the last time he did, it was by Eddie Johnson for a hat-trick earlier this season). Parkhurst can function just as well in a 4-4-2 as he did when he got his first (and second) cap with the US men’s national team in the Gold Cup this year. He looked good so I’d expect to see him get capped more in the future. Like Toja and Johnson, he was named to the MLS All Star team this year; and just like Toja and Johnson I can’t see this guy with this much talent at center-back staying in MLS for too long.

4. Jonathan Bornstein, Left-back, Born: November 7, 1984, Team: Chivas USA

Bornstein has been excellent in the short time he’s been in MLS. 2006 was great for Bornstein: he led all rookies and all field players in minutes played, led rookies in goals (6 goals), and was named as the MLS Rookie of the Year. He was an important player for Chivas USA making the playoffs for the first time in team history. As a player, his defending is good for MLS and he’s not afraid to bomb up the left side to direct the ball forward and his crossing is pretty good. This year continues to be good for Bornstein has he has been a recent fixture for the US men’s national team with 10 caps and a goal. Expect him to be the US’ first choice at left fullback in the future. He can improve on his marking and closing down on players internationally, but all that will come in time. Like Parkhurst, I’m not sure why he hasn’t been getting much notice from other teams abroad, but he’s definitely going to ply his trade abroad in the future due to his talent.

5. Jozy Altidore, Striker, Born: November 6, 1989, Team: NY Red Bulls

Is this a homer pick? Not really. Altidore showed his promise late last season as a 16 year old with 3 goals in 7 games and a playoff goal. This year, Bruce Arena continues to bring Altidore on a bit slowly by not starting him every game. I say a bit because Altidore has seen an increase in games started and in minutes. Just yesterday he scored a brace to bring his MLS totals this season to 5. Altidore shows a good first touch, good finishing ability, and good heading. He can improve on his runs and in his overall game in general – but someone who’s this good at 17 is definitely someone to look for. He had a great showing in the World Youth Championships with the United States with 4 goals in 5 games. He could be the US answer at forward should Eddie Johnson not get it together by, say, 2009-2010. He turns 18 after this season; I can easily see a team in Europe picking up Altidore to further develop him as a forward – his upside is quite high.

6. Brad Guzan, Goalkeeper, Born: September 9, 1984, Team: Chivas USA

Guzan is another in a long line of solid GKs in MLS. He’s been improving with every season. After being bombarded with shots in 2005 (104 saves on approx. 150 shots on target), Guzan has reduced his GAA from 1.99 to 1.46 in an injury-shortened 2006 and increased the number of clean sheets from 2 to 5. This season has been much better for Guzan, setting new career highs in wins (currently 7), GAA (currently 1.14), and clean sheets (currently 6) and the season isn’t even over. Guzan is definitely on the US national team radar being selected as a back up and having 2 caps already. For a GK as young as Guzan, it’s a testament to his talent and potential. In my opinion, he just needs more experience to get better.

7. Danny Szetela, Central midfielder, Born: June 7, 1987, Team: Columbus Crew

Szetela had a great World Youth Championship tourney earlier this year, his second. He was great as a holding midfielder, showed off he has the ability to push up and finish a scoring chance when necessary, and that he can play well against top competition (well, top U-20 competition). The rumor is that AS Roma is already talking to his agent for a possible move after this season. The only reason why he isn’t any higher is his lack of MLS experience. The one knock against Szetela is that he’s injury prone; hence despite being in the league since 2004, he’s played in only 32 games. Supposedly, he isn’t happy at Columbus due to the head coach, Sigi Schmid, not giving Szetela more minutes due to the recovery from injuries. In any case, this year’s performance at the World U-20 tourney had to be great for Szetela to show that he is more than just potential. The fact that he may be going to Europe as soon as after this season is proof he was successful in that regard.

8. Dax McCarty, Central midfielder/defensive midfielder, Born: April 30, 1987, Team: FC Dallas

Another member of the U-20 team, McCarty has been featured as a holding midfielder for FC Dallas in their 4-3-3 set-up. He’s definitely better on defense than going forward, but his 6 assists so far this season is indicative that he’s got some offensive talent. He’s started in 13 of the 16 games he’s played in for FCD, missing time for U-20 competition. For the U-20s, McCarty was a calming, defensive presence when the US needed it.

9. Sasha Kljestan, Left midfielder, Born: September 9, 1985, Team: Chivas USA

Here’s another important young player in the Chivas USA turn-around after a terrible 2005 season. Klejstan has been a solid player for Chivas USA on the left, adept at dribbling the ball up and passing the ball. Klejstan is an attacking midfielder who has shown a lot of promise since his 2006 season where he compiled 7 assists – the most of any rookie this season. Klejstan has scored his first MLS goal this season and has 2 goals and 4 assists in 12 games. Klejstan has already been noticed by the US NT, having earned 3 caps this season on the left. Expect him to be on the U-23 Olympic team next year and expect him to become more of a feature in the Chivas USA attack in the future.

10. Maurice Edu, Midfielder, Born: April 18, 1986, Team: Toronto FC

The first overall pick from the 2006 MLS SuperDraft has had a solid first year so far. I wouldn’t be too focused on what position I listed here, due to injuries and the fact it’s TFC’s first year, Edu has probably had to do more than just be the dominant DM he was in college. He definitely is a more defensive minded player, but for various reasons he’s been playing more like a two-way central midfielder, for lack of a better term. That’s not a bug, that’s a feature – as it shows Edu’s has offensive skills to go with his defensive tendencies. Anyway, while he hasn’t made it to any US teams, I would be very surprised if he wasn’t even considered for the U-23 team for next year’s Olympics. He’s started all the game he’s played in and he has established himself as a starter from day 1. He shows vision and poise on the ball and his upside can see him becoming a fixture of the US NT (if it wasn’t for the fact that Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark aren’t ahead of him right now on the depth chart at DM).

Honorable Mentions

-Arturo Alvarez, Left-midfielder/Left-winger, June 28, 1985, FC Dallas – A 5 year veteran of MLS and he’s not even 23. His production hasn’t been impressive, but injuries have taken their toll. Now, he’s definitely becoming more of a regular player for FC Dallas. A US U-20 selection in 2005, Alvarez seems to have a spot on the U-23 team in next year’s Olympics. While it will be his last year of prospect eligibility, the Olympics could be his break out tourney.

-Kenny Cooper, Striker, October 21, 1984, FC Dallas – The former Manchester United prospect came to FC Dallas last year and looked solid with 11 goals in 31 games. This was going to be his big year, what with earning his first two caps with the US national team, scoring his first goal for the United States, and looking to step up his production with FC Dallas. 4 goals in 12 games isn’t bad, but he’s been sidelined with a broken leg. Despite his size, he’s not a target forward and it’s a big question to see how he’ll fit in the 4-3-3 once he returns (especially considering Carlos Ruiz is set up in the center forward position).

-Michael Harrington, Defender/Midfielder, January 24, 1986, Kansas City Wizards – He’s been a solid and steady player for the Wizards this season. Sometimes he’s at defense, sometimes he’s in the midfield, but he’s been one of the better rookies this season.

-Marvell Wynne, Right-back, May 8, 1986, Toronto FC – He’s got incredible pace. He’s shown a lot of promise last season with NY. His positioning has improved this season, but if he can develop a solid defensive game and a decent cross; he’ll be someone you’ll hear a lot more in the future.

-Chris Seitz, Goalkeeper, March 12, 1987, Real Salt Lake – Only 2 games with the club, but this young goalkeeper played very well for the United States in the World Youth Championships. He has shown a lot of promise and a lot of his reflexes in that U-20 tournament. He needs minutes though, so hopefully he can become the #1 at RSL soon enough. If he gets those minutes and continues to improve (particularly his goal kicks and his command in the box), he’ll be another MLS GK success story.

-Robbie Findley, Striker, August 4, 1985, Real Salt Lake – How did LA trade this guy? Findley has stepped up his game after being traded to RSL with 3 goals in 6 games. He’s shown that he can finish and he can turn up his speed when a loose ball opportunity presents itself. I can’t get a good read on his upside, but he’s another impressive rookie so far this season.

-Justin Mapp, Left-midfielder, October 18, 1984, Chicago Fire – Mapp’s in his sixth season with MLS and has become one of Chicago’s best attackers as a left-midfielder. Unfortunately, his production isn’t impressive. Mapp’s strength is his speed and his passing. However, his general awareness and play off the ball needs to be improved. He got his second national team cap this year in a friendly against Denmark, but he didn’t look good at all. I doubt his future as a national team member, but could he improve enough to play outside of MLS? Perhaps.

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