By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 22, 2023) US Soccer Players – Soccer is a team sport. Teams win games. Teams make the playoffs. Teams win championships. Still, individuals make up those teams, and without great individual performances, success can be elusive. The teams that achieve the most are almost always led by stars rising to a challenge.
This is especially true in Major League Soccer, where clubs must reckon with a complicated salary structure that forces difficult choices on how best to use their resources. MLS teams can’t afford their top players to come up short of expectations.
Three MLS players, in particular, arrive at the launch of the league’s 28th season carrying the weight of big expectations. Those are expectations of their own making because these players raised their game last season and set a new bar on what the world thinks they can achieve. They all have the talent, and the stage, to shine again.
Maybe no player in MLS made a bigger leap in 2022 than FC Cincinnati forward Brandon Vazquez. Following several years in Atlanta backing up the likes of Josef Martinez and finding consistent playing time hard to come by, Vazquez erupted as part of Cincinnati’s high-octane attack.
Vazquez scored 18 goals in 2022, doubling the total number of goals he scored in his first five seasons between Atlanta and FCC. The American’s combination of size, speed, and ability with the ball enabled his breakout campaign and that of his strike partner, Brenner. Vazquez combined with Brenner for 36 goals in 2022, tied with Daniel Gazdag and Julian Carranza of the Union for most goals by a pair of teammates in MLS.
Vazquez drew defenders’ attention, playing a target forward role to Brenner’s slasher. Both players maximized the chances created by Luciano Acosta, who had a career year of his own. Success for the trio bred plenty of rumors in the offseason that one or more could leave for a significant fee to join a foreign club. Brenner had suitors in Europe and Acosta’s name made the rounds for a possible move. Vazquez, too, generated a multi-million dollar offer per reports.
Instead, all three return for the 2023 season, putting Vazquez in a good position to repeat the success of 2022. Vazquez’s varied talents mean he should find plenty of goals for an ambitious FC Cincinnati side.
At Vazquez’s old club, the man carrying the weight of big expectations into 2023 is attacking midfielder Thiago Almada. He’s the latest in a line of high-profile South American talents signed by Atlanta United, but after spending his winter winning a World Cup with Argentina, Almada the only active MLS player to lift that trophy.
In his debut season in Atlanta, Almada scored six goals and contributed 12 assists as counted by the league’s standards. His total of 18 goals-plus-assists put him among respected company with the likes of Talles Magno, Santiago Rodriguez, and Xherdan Shaqiri. However, as a team, Atlanta struggled to play consistent soccer and managed to win consecutive games only once in a season where they missed the playoffs.
With Josef Martinez moving to Inter Miami, Atlanta acquired striker Giorgos Giakoumakis as a Designated Player. They’ll also have Miles Robinson back in the lineup after a year lost to injury. That should improve the overall picture for Atlanta, with the spotlight on their World Cup winner.
Dallas begins 2023 ready to build on a successful 2022 campaign with American striker Jesus Ferreira as the marquee name. Dallas can count among its ranks several ultra-talented players, Paul Arriola, Paxton Pomykal, Alan Velasco, to name a few, but goal scorers tend to grab the attention.
And for good reason. Ferreria’s move to the front of the Dallas formation paid big dividends for head coach Nico Estevez. Ferreira’s 18 goals tied him with Vazquez for the honor of top American goalscorer and made him the youngest player in the top 10 of the Golden Boot race. Ferreira made FC Dallas’s choice to hand him a Designated Player contract ahead of the season look like an exceedingly wise decision.
With his movement and passing, Ferreira is a multi-talented weapon for Dallas. After the addition of Jesus Jimenez to the roster via a trade with Toronto FC, the possibility exists that Ferreira’s role could morph this season. That might impact his goal total, though it shouldn’t stop him from playing the key role in FC Dallas’s attacking approach. In 2021 while playing with fellow US international Ricardo Pepi, Ferreira scored eight goals and collected nine assists.
Ferreira’s breakout in 2022 at 21 presents the promise of an even bigger year in 2023. If Ferreira delivers, as everything suggests he can, FC Dallas might be primed to improve upon its excellent 3rd-place finish from last year.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
More From Jason Davis:
- The USMNT players on clubs in contention for promotion from the Championship
- Toronto FC as a contender in 2023
- The San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo make changes in 2023
- The coaching changes for USMNT players at Leeds, Norwich, Valencia, and Hoffenheim
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com