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Players to Watch in the MLS in 2016

The MLS started this weekend, but who are the players that are going to have a big year in 2016? There are some older players who have moved over to the MLS for their first full season on the list, while, some of the players on the list had a breakout year in 2015.

The list starts with the three main men at New York City. David Villa moved to the MLS in the middle of the 2014 season. He has played 30 times for NYC, scoring 18 goals in the process. He is also the club’s captain, taking the armband at the start of the 2015 season. He will be internal once again to their scoring form in a new system with a from three, adopted by new Head Coach, Patrick Vieira.

The former Spanish international is joined at NYC by two fantastic midfielders. The first is Frank Lampard who signed for the club when they were announced as an expansion side in 2014. After the controversy of his ‘loan’ move to Manchester City, the Englishman made his debut in August 2015. He will be looking for a great year, in what could be his final season as a footballer.

The second is Italian Andrea Pirlo. The 2006 World Cup winner joined NYC in July 2015 as their third Designated Player (after Villa and Lampard) and he was immediately involved. He assisted 5 goals in 13 appearances last year, and will be looking to use his magic touch once more in 2016.

Another Englishman has joined the MLS ranks in recent times. Steven Gerrard signed for LA Galaxy in July of last year, joining former Liverpool teammate, Robbie Keane, at the club. He played 13 times after moving from England and has, like Frank Lampard, hinted at retirement after the 2016 season. If so, the midfielder will be looking to perform well to win silverware in his final season.

As mentioned earlier, Robbie Keane has been one of the standout players in the MLS over the last five years. He was the league’s MVP in 2014 after scoring 19 and assisting 14 in his 29 appearances. He also scored the winner in the 2014 MLS Cup Final in Extra Time. The all-time Irish record goalscorer is definitely one of the players to watch again in 2016.

When he joined the New York Red Bulls in 2013, Bradley Wright-Phillips was expected to play second fiddle to Thierry Henry in their forward ranks. After winning the Supporters’ Shield that year, he took over Henry’s place in the side, and went on to score a record-equalling 27 goals in the regular season. He was also the first Englishman to score a hat-trick in an MLS game, and because of this, he is definitely one to watch this season.

When Didier Drogba signed for Montreal Impact, there was a massive stir in the MLS and in Canada. He did so by becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in their first MLS start, and it was perfect. He scored 11 goals in 11 games for the Impact last season, and was one of the three finalists for the Newcomer of the Year Award. He may be 37, but there are still goals in him yet.

Didier Drogba - Impact
Didier Drogba had a huge Impact, for Montreal, scoring 11 in 11 in 2015

With Drogba injured to start the season, though, Ignacio Piatti could be the man to step up for the Canadian side. The Argentine signed for Montreal in the summer of 2014, and had 15 goals in 33 games for the team. He scored two at the weekend in their season opener to give them victory, and he will be a vital part of any playoff ambitions they have in the 2016 season.

Orlando City have two main men this season. The first comes in the form of a Brazilian international. Kaka joined the expansion side for their first season in 2015, and was influential. He was named as the 2015 MLS All-Star team’s captain in their game against Tottenham Hotspur. The 33 year old can still provide that spark from midfield in their quest to reach the post-season for the first time in their history.

Orlando - Kaka:Larin
Cyle Larin and Kaka celebrate a goal for Orlando City FC in their first MLS season

He will be joined by the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year, Cyle Larin. The in-form striker scored a rookie-record 17 goals in the 2015 season, and he will be looking to improve on that in 2016. He scored the first of Orlando’s two stoppage time goals on Sunday. Could that be a starting block on Orlando’s push for the playoffs?

The Portland Timbers took home the MLS Cup in 2015, and will be looking to retain their trophy this year. To do that, they will need the midfield maestro that is Diego Valeri. The Argentinian, who was awarded with the MLS Cup MVP tag last season, has 23 goals in 86 appearances for the Timbers, and he added to that with a goal on Sunday as Portland got 2016 off to a winning start.

Kei Kamara has spent many years in the MLS, with a just a short break where he played in England, for both Norwich City and Middlesbrough. He returned to Columbus Crew at the start of the 2015 season and it was best goal-scoring season as yet. The Sierra Leone international scored 22 goals in the regular season, tying for the most with Sebastian Giovinco. He also got four goals in the playoffs, getting the Crew to the final, where they eventually lost. His goals will help them if they are to get to another MLS Cup final.

The third and final nomination for MVP last was Benny Feilhaber. The Sporting KC playmaker has found his form in the last couple of years, including being called up to the USMNT. Feilhaber scored 12 and assisted 19 goals in SKC’s run into the playoffs. He will be a big player for SKC again this year, and who knows how well Feilhaber can play.

Toronto - Giovinco MVP Award
Sebastian Giovinco’s first season in the MLS, in 2015, saw him pick up three awards – The MLS Golden Boot, MLS Newcomer of the Year and the big one, the MLS MVP Award

The star of last season, though, was Sebastian Giovinco. The Toronto FC striker scored 22 goals in the 2015 regular season, winning the MLS Golden Boot (alongside Kei Kamara), the MLS Newcomer of the Year and MLS MVP Award. Toronto are tipped as one of the favourites to win the trophy this year due to their squad depth, but they will be relying on the goals from the Italian if they are to win the big prize in December. He scored their opener on Sunday and hopefully for the Canadian side that will be a sign of things to come in the future.

Those are some of the players who I think will be the ones to watch in the 2016 MLS season. With some already putting in good performances on the opening weekend, willing of them go on to become the MLS MVP this season.

BWP CrewSC drogba Feilhaber Gerrard Giovinco Impact Kaká Kamara Keane Lampard Larin Piatti Pirlo SKC Valeri Villa

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