Unfamiliar with these Stateside gems? Try saying the same in December, says Jason Davis...
To say that MLS is top-heavy on talent is a bit of an understatement. As part of a calculated move to improve its profile both at home and abroad, the league has decided that star power is the order of the day. Since the arrival of David Beckham in 2007, and the institution of the salary cap exception that allowed him to be signed, a host of European and South American stars have arrived on North American shores.
For all the good those marquee signings have done for MLS, however, one negative result has been to take focus away from a lesser-known type of star who reveal themselves over the course of a season.
Sometimes these are homegrown players, sometimes they’re products of the college system, and sometimes they’re simply diamonds in the rough from the world over who landed in MLS by fate, circumstance, or the wisdom of a scout.
With FFT's magical prognosticating hat cocked every-so-jauntily on its head, here are 10 players who you might not know now but could explode by the end of the 2015 MLS season...
1) Harry Shipp (23, Chicago Fire)
A gifted passer of the ball, Shipp burst onto the scene in 2014 - his first year as a professional - by leading the Fire attack and earning praise from all corners. Though he counts as a homegrown player under MLS rules, he spent four years playing college soccer at Notre Dame. He faded in the second half of last season, but there’s plenty of reason to think Year Two for the local kid will be a big one. If his fitness holds up, Shipp is capable of 10 goals and as many assists in 2015.
2) Wil Trapp (22, Columbus Crew)
Trapp is already garnering serious consideration from USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and was named Crew SC’s captain ahead of the new campaign. The midfielder's obvious defensive abilities belie his incredible passing accuracy; adept at long passes, Trapp is already among the best in the league in that area. Throw in a brain not many kids his age possess, and Trapp has star written all over him.
3) Gyasi Zardes (23, LA Galaxy)
You might have heard of Zardes, since he was a key figure in the Galaxy’s championship run last year and scored a goal in the MLS Cup final. But as his development continues, it’s clear that the sky truly is the limit for the 23-year-old Californian. With Landon Donovan gone, Zardes will have to be even better this year. By the season’s end (thanks in part to a likely Gold Cup call-up) he could be among the biggest stars in MLS.
4) Kellyn Acosta (19, FC Dallas)
A product of FC Dallas’s academy, 19-year-old Acosta is the latest up-and-coming wide player in a league that is starting to produce a good number of speedy attack-minded wing-men. Acosta can slot in at both full-back and defensive midfield, and is sure to get plenty of minutes under a head coach who has no reservations about turning to youth. If he can nail down a position, the full USMNT isn’t too far away.
5) Steve Birnbaum (24, D.C. United)
Fresh off his national team debut in January, the D.C. United centre-back is poised to join the league’s defensive elite. Forced into the starting line-up due to injury last season, Birnbaum helped anchor a backline that pushed United all the way to first place in the Eastern Conference. He’s far from the finished product, but he’s big enough and smart enough to lift himself to stardom.