5 newcomers who have taken MLS by storm
There are more and better players coming to Major League Soccer every year, and the addition of two expansion teams with the release of additional Targeted Allocation Money has provided opportunities to lure the likes of Romain Alessandrini, Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Maxi Moralez and, now, Blerim Džemaili.
Big names are still arriving, but now it's younger players on the rise or established veterans in their primes that are choosing MLS over Europe, and it's having a marked impact on the league's level of play.
Which five MLS newcomers have had this year’s biggest impacts?
ROMAIN ALESSANDRINI, LA Galaxy
The French winger has been the difference-maker for the Galaxy (2-5-2), providing the bulk of its offense while offering an electric presence within a team that has otherwise struggled to summon the requisite energy. He has scored four goals, assisted on four more, produced both winning goals and delivered the corner kicks LA finished in its second-half comeback for a draw last weekend with Chicago.
The 28-year-old left-footer, who arrived in February from Olympique Marseille, has pace and guile, and his incessant movement and ability to beat defenders on the dribble creates a nightmare for opposing left backs. Only Sebastian Giovinco, Clint Dempsey, and David Villa have taken more shots, and the Designated Player has scored some spectacular goals. LA has become better about covering him defensively.
Alessandrini says he's not yet fit and his connections with Dos Santos, a most complementary talent, are still in infancy. Once LA finds its footing, stopping the Galaxy's attack could be quite the challenge.
MIGUEL ALMIRON, Atlanta United
The rising Paraguayan star arrived in the ATL with some massive expectations -- along with a transfer fee approaching $8 million -- and he's lived up to them. The young DP has scored two memorable goals and assisted four more, but that merely hints at his impact for the expansion team, which is scoring an MLS-best 2.11 goals-per-game.
The 23-year-old playmaker, who chose Atlanta United (3-4-2) over Europe for the chance to play for former Barcelona boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino, emerged among South America's most prized attacking midfielders under mentorship at Lanus by former Columbus Crew string-puller Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the 2008 MLS MVP. Almiron possesses good pace, exquisite touch, and uncommon vision. He delivers lethal passes, especially over distance, and has quickly built connections with a gifted attacking group headed by Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba.
Almiron carved up Minnesota United's and Chicago's defenses early in the campaign, but his and his club's production has slowed. With Martinez sidelined by a quadriceps injury, Atlanta has skidded to three losses in its last four games.