Shining in the shadows: Here are 7 of MLS’ most underrated players
Can a Designated Player be underrated? Absolutely, and the Chicago Fire's winger is proof.
Everyone is going gaga over Nemanja Nikolic's goals and how MLS’ worst team over the past two seasons has been transformed by Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Juninho, but the trigger to this year's success is the 26-year-old Ghanaian attacker's pace, skill and ingenuity.
Accam’s work in tandem with Nikolic and Schweinsteiger has been pivotal, and the support has made him better, too, with a dozen goals (after scoring 19 in his first two, club-MVP seasons) on fewer shots and a better on-target ratio. There's a reason Chicago has turned down offers from Germany and France: Its best recipe for an MLS Cup championship includes a hefty dash of Accam.
He's likely headed back to Europe, but not for another year: Chicago has already exercised his 2018 option.
The New England Revolution's second homegrown signing (and just the third in MLS history to surpass 10,000 minutes) has been a quiet but indispensable piece of Jay Heaps' midfield since stepping into the starting XI as a rookie four years ago. He provided the positional foundation for much of Jermaine Jones' outstanding work when New England reached the MLS Cup final in 2014, then had a true breakout campaign the following year, when he won both the fan and players votes for club MVP.
Caldwell is a remarkably consistent and intelligent holding midfielder, an effective tackler who tracks runners and shuts off passing lanes with the best, but he's a mostly unsung contributor to the Revs' attack, too. The 26-year-old fan favorite is one of the league's better passers, connecting with the dynamic group in front of him and sending through balls for attackers to run onto.
FC Dallas' Shield/Open Cup title run last year was fueled by Mauro Diaz, but the silky playmaker's ability to control games was hugely enhanced by the Ecuadorian defensive midfielder's dominance.
Gruezo arrived last year as a Young Designated Player from VfB Stuttgart -- he had played in the 2014 World Cup at 19 -- and gave the Hoops command in the center of the park. His fierce defensive work -- primed by his quickness, mix of physical might and able agility, and a surgical knack for separating foes from the ball -- garnered few headlines, and neither did his many contributions to Dallas' possession game.
Within the game, he’s known, but he's nearly anonymous outside North Texas and might be the best in his position in the league.
The best one-man show in MLS might be “The Messi of Albania,” whose wizardry on the ball has given the San Jose Earthquakes' dormant offense new life and played a huge role in their bid for a first playoff berth in five years. The thing is Hyka, a short, stocky winger who attacks from the left, is so much more than just a playmaker.
Yes, there may be no better one-on-one player in the league; the 29-year-old former Luzern star, who called MLS and California a “dream come true” when he signed in February, is capable of something special anytime he's on the ball, and he's particularly adept at mazey bursts through tight space. He surprises defenders and makes Chris Wondolowski and fellow newcomer Danny Hoesen more dangerous, something that fueled the Quakes' run to the Open Cup semifinals.