The rise of Major League Soccer in the last few years has been accelerated as it not only saw increasing participation from teams and audiences but also expanding interest from players who have moved from the comfort zone of European football to the new soccer movement in the United States.
The likes of David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Kaka, and Didier Drogba have been star attractions who have lured in a new set of eyes every year and their presence in the league has been pivotal for its progression.
Also Read: Top 5 international players in MLS 2020
The 2019 edition of the MLS marked its 24th season and witnessed immense attacking talent across both conferences. In this article, however, we only take a look at three of the top attackers in the western conference during the previous year.
#3 Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders)
Since his arrival from Liga MX in 2018, Raul Ruidiaz has emerged as one of the best forwards in the United States and ultimately became the driving force behind the Seattle Sounders' title-winning season last year.
Fondly known as 'The Flea' because of his diminutive figure, the 29-year-old made an immediate impact on his debut season with the Rave Green as he scored 10 goals in just over four months with the club.
The Peru international replicated his impressive form in the successive year as he concluded Seattle's championship by scoring the team's final goal of the campaign, taking his overall tally to 15 from both the regular-season games and the post-season matches.
Ruidiaz's immaculate dribbling skills and lethal finishing coupled with his knack for tearing defences apart truly makes him one of the elite forwards in the league and his pivotal contribution to Seattle's second MLS Cup victory last year earns him a deserved spot on this list.
#2 Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)
Before he announced his return to European football in December last year, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the marquee player of Major League Soccer having signed for LA Galaxy in 2018.
The controversial Swede netted a memorable brace in his LA Galaxy debut against city rivals LAFC and ultimately tallied 22 goals and 10 assists for the club to earn himself the 2018 MLS Newcomer of the Year award. He also became only one of three players to record 20+ goals and 10+ assists in a single season in MLS history.
The former Manchester United forward managed to improve those numbers under new head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto and registered 30 goals and seven assists in 2019. He was a part of an intense battle with LAFC's Carlos Vela for the MVP award but ultimately lost out to the Mexican winger. He also inspired the Galaxy to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs but they eventually tasted defeat in the Western Conference semi-final round.
Ibrahimovic's inclusion in this list was inevitable given the technical ability and physical aggression he has shown at his age. Furthermore, the 38-year-old's scintillating contributions to the Galaxy and his massive influence on MLS as a whole makes him an incredibly easy choice for a spot on this list.
#1 Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC)
Los Angeles FC winger Carlos Vela is the undisputed topper of this list as he single-handedly spearheaded Bob Bradley's attack and helped the club set a new MLS single-season points record last season. LAFC finished the year at the top of the league standings with 72 points (21-4-9 overall record) and also lifted the 2019 Supporters' Shield in the process.
The Mexico international won the 2019 MVP award and the Golden Boot after scoring a staggering 34 goals for the club last term; with 18 of those goals coming in the final stretch of the campaign. His overall goal tally crushed the MLS' single-season goalscoring record which was previously held by Josef Martinez, who netted 31 goals for Atlanta United in 2018.
The 30-year-old inspired the Black and Gold to play more attractive soccer and imbibed a football philosophy he likely learned from the likes of Arsene Wenger during his brief spell with English club, Arsenal.
The playmaker also showed off impressive consistency by winning six Player of the Week honours last season, which is the joint-record in MLS history in a single campaign with Jason Kreis being the only other player to have reached the mark.
Since his move to the MLS from Real Sociedad, Vela has developed admirable leadership qualities and displayed new-found confidence that has only enhanced his performances for Los Angeles FC. The former Arsenal man has shown no signs of stopping and will likely be a major performer for the LA-based club in the new season.
Published 27 Jan 2020, 20:45 IST