Ranked! The 8 best newcomers of the 2017 MLS season
Major League Soccer has rarely seen a group of newcomers as deep and talented as the class that arrived ahead of this season. It seems everybody has picked up at least one difference-maker, and the impact has been dramatic.
Just ask the Chicago Fire, the current Supporters’ Shield leaders. Or Toronto FC, Sporting Kansas City or New York City. Or Atlanta United.
Determining the best newcomers is no simple task. More than three dozen have had made deep imprints through the first half of the season, but we've selected the eight best, in order.
8. Alexander Ring, New York City FC
Of all the MLS newcomers making huge impacts, Ring has been the biggest revelation. That has more to do with the size of his profile than the wealth of his game. The 26-year-old Finnish midfielder, who developed primarily in Bayer Leverkusen's academy , might be the difference between a talented NYCFC side that falls short and one that can truly contend for silverware. Much of the Pigeons' growth this year is down to him.
He has an unceasing work rate and can play box to box, but has settled in above the back four, ofttimes doing the defensive work of two men while providing a foundation for fellow newcomer Maxi Moralez to engineer the offense. Ring’s worth can be approximated in a couple of numbers: Before Ring, the Pigeons (10-6-3) conceded 1.74 goals per league game, including last fall's playoff debacle; with him, it's just 1.26.
7. Ilie Sanchez, Sporting Kansas City
Whatever it was Sporting Kansas City was missing, this 26-year-old Spaniard has provided it, and more, as Peter Vermes' side has vaulted to the top of the Western Conference standings.
A product of Barcelona's La Masia academy, the skillful defensive midfielder is SKC's on-field general, attacking conscience, and the guy who pulls everything together. Nobody in MLS has completed more passes.
Vermes, who tried to sign Sanchez three years ago but lost out to 1860 Munich, in preseason called him “Uri 2.0” -- a nod to Uri Rosell, whose work in that position had much to do with Sporting's 2013 MLS Cup run. But his impact has been even greater than that of his former Barca B teammate.
Sanchez is an expert in closing off passing lanes and disrupting attacks, but it's when the ball's at his feet that Sporting (8-4-8) is at its most dangerous. He's the pace-setter, the impetus, slowing the game down with necessary, then threading the pass that unlocks the opposing defense.
6. Victor Vazquez, Toronto FC
What to get the club that has everything? For loaded Toronto FC, it's this 30-year-old Barcelona product, who arrived in February to take the Reds' game to another level. The MLS Cup finalists’ attackers made an offseason pitch for another creative presence, and Vazquez has been a perfect fit.
He has three goals and a league-best 10 assists in 17 games for TFC (11-3-5), feeding five of Sebastian Giovinco's nine strikes, but the numbers only begin to hint at all he provides. Vazquez's immense style and vision, cultured right foot, and genius soccer IQ has Toronto playing with greater pace and exploiting gaps like never before. He’s clever, and he might just be the final piece to TFC's championship puzzle.
5. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chicago Fire
Fire brass was pummeled upon announcing the 32-year-old German superstar's acquisition -- another blow to MLS' “retirement league” profile -- but he's made the critics look silly.
Chicago (11-3-5), the worst team in MLS the past two years, sits atop the Supporters' Shield table more than halfway through the campaign. Schweinsteiger was supposedly washed up after two humbling years at Manchester United, but watch just a few minutes of any Fire match and it's clear that's ridiculous.
The Schweinsteiger we've long admired as the catalyst for so many years at Bayern Munich and for Germany's national team has been sensational atop Veljko Paunovic's midfield triangle or in a holding role when fellow Fire newcomers Juninho or Dax McCarty are missing.
He's been the glue to a rebuilt side that has gone 11 league games without defeat. He has been vital in instilling a winning attitude, and it's impossible to overvalue what his energy, efficiency, precision and influence in midfield has meant to Chicago's dynamic squad.