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Americans at home: Pre-season XI to watch vs. Best XI Yanks in 2019

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Left back is still an issue

Philadelphia Union v D.C. United Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Yesterday we looked back at some young players to watch in 2019 comparing their pre-season expectations versus the reality of what the year brought. This time we’ll take a look at the XI player to watch before the season began compared to the Best American XI, with a few bonus mentions, and see who among them managed to appear on both lists.

Americans at home: Eleven players to watch in MLS in 2019

Striker

Jeremy Ebobisse - A solid year for the Timbers no. 9 as he appeared in all 34 games with 25 starts and 11 goals. At 22 years-old he’s also a good shout for the U-23s with a chance at seeing time with the senior squad in January camp.

Midfield

Djordje Mihailovic - The Fire midfielder had a decent showing in 2019 with three goals and two assists while also getting called into the USMNT for the Gold Cup. At 20, Mihailovic has some room to grow still and should build on the 16 starts he had for his club.

Russell Canouse - A difference maker for DC United in 2018, Canouse again had an impact with his club in 2019. DC had the second best defense in MLS this season thanks to five clean sheets to end the year. Canouse played a major role in the success of DCU, but he again suffered an injury that kept him out for part of the year with a collapsed lung at the end of July.

Corey Baird - After winning Rookie of the Year in 2018, Baird took a step back in terms of stats in 2019. He went from eight to five goals scored and five assists to four, but he earned two more starts and seems to be a fixture in the RSL lineup as of now. That’s meant that Gregg Berhalter has called him into the national team throughout the year, but his skills in MLS haven’t quite translated to the international game.

Sebastian Lletget - The LA Galaxy midfielder contributed six assists, up from two last year, as the team put up an impressive number of goals in 2019. The midfield of Lletget, Jonathan dos Santos and Joe Corona proved a potent one in the attack out West, but in terms of helping the backline, it was lacking. His presence with LA has made him a regular under Berhalter with the USMNT as well.

Defense

Reggie Cannon - The right back is a solid option for a player that looks to join the attack and can still defend with an edge. In 2019 he started 26 games, down from 33 last year, but was also a member of the Gold Cup squad and had a key role in the team’s 7-0 drubbing of Cuba last month.

Walker Zimmerman - The LAFC centerback seems to have gotten tidier with some of the mistakes that he was prone to in his first year in LA and with FC Dallas. His effort was recognized with a MLS Best XI place and as the anchor for the best backline in the league, it’s not hard to see why.

Aaron Long - NYRB had a tough year in 2019 without Tyler Adams and the decline of Bradley Wright-Phillips. Long perhaps suffered some of that wasn’t as effective as a pressing side as in years past. After leading the team to allowing just 33 goals in 2018, that number ballooned to 51 this year. Long still contributed to the USMNT and has the tools to be a solid international centerback as World Cup qualification looms.

Greg Garza - It was another injury plagued season for Garza as he managed just 11 starts in Cincinnati after a 10 start campaign with Atlanta last year. When he’s healthy, Garza is one of the better left backs in the league, but that continues to be an issue for him.

Paul Arriola - Pre-season can be cruel to the prediction makers. Arriola appeared a few times in 2018 and in warmups before this season as a right back, but resumed his regular role as a winger for DCU this year. In 28 starts he scored six goals with a pair of assists and was once again one of the better American attackers in MLS.

Goalkeeper

Bill Hamid - The DC United netminder backed up his claim that he was a top US player in the position with 14 clean sheets and led the best defense in the East. He hasn’t appeared for the USMNT under Berhalter and wasn’t named to the recent camp squad for the Nations League matches this month. His loan from FC Midtjylland is over and it’s yet to be seen if DC United will bring him back for good in 2020.

Who makes the Best XI now that the season is over?

Striker

Chris Wondolowski - The leading goal scorer amongst Yanks in the league with 15, Wondo is ageless. When will the USA produce another Chris Wondolowski? He’s the top all-time scorer in the league and had his 10th straight 10 goal season, another good year for the San Jose man... who will never be on the National Team again.

Three way tie - Take your pick between Ebobisse, Mason Toye, and Jesus Ferreira. Toye managed six goals and three assists in 820 minutes for Minnesota while Ferreira scored eight with six assists for FC Dallas. At just 18, Ferreira has more upside and could grow into one of the better forwards in MLS over the coming seasons.

Midfield

Jordan Morris - JoMo Smooth had a great bounce back year in 2019. He arguably had his best season in Seattle with 10 goals and seven assists after missing all of last year. Morris has also come through in big moments for the Sounders with a hat trick in the opening round of the playoffs. His threat from the wing has also pushed that spot on the USMNT as a toss-up between him and Tyler Boyd for gameday XI choices.

Paxton Pomykal - He just does a lot that is really likable for an attacking midfielder. If he continues to add to his game and stays healthy going into next year he’ll be a player to watch for years to come and should make a jump abroad before too long.

Jackson Yueill - San Jose had an interesting season in 2019. It seemed like they would need a pretty big overhaul of the roster, but Jose Almeyda ended up getting a lot out of the group of players he had. Part of that is thanks to Jackson Yueill stepping up in midfield. The 22 year-old made 29 starts, scored three goals and added five assists while supporting the Quakes attack and shielding the backline. San Jose may have missed the playoffs, but he’ll be a key part of the team going forward in a role they deeply needed help with.

Cristian Roldan - The Sounders midfielder has a tireless work rate and is a good reason why the team finished second in the West and is in the MLS Cup Final. With six goals and five assists, the midfielder was solid in the attack and showed off his long range shooting several times this year. In addition, with Brian Schmetzer often taking a pragmatic approach to matches, a hard working midfielder who is adaptable has been key to the Sounders getting to where they are in 2019.

Defense

Walker Zimmerman and Reggie Cannon - They were solid throughout their time in the league discussed above and it’s hard to keep them off of the Best American XI in 2019.

Miles Robinson - The third year Atlanta United centerback emerged as the best one v. one defender in MLS, claimed a starting role under a demanding manager, and helped Atlanta keep 14 clean sheets in 2019. Robinson also appeared for the senior national team and should be in line for some minutes with the U-23s as Olympic qualifying ramps up next year. Of course, his season was cut short thanks to a late night training session after the USMNT victory over Cuba last month, but his rise from a player who seemed to have a lot of talent but couldn’t crack a starting spot to the MLS Best XI is impressive.

Left back - Stop me if you’ve heard this one before... but, this is a tough spot to fill. According to WhoScored, Ryan Hollingshead was the best overall American in MLS in 2019 and he’s a left back - kinda. He’s also a defensive midfielder but filled in well in the role this season.

Goalkeeper

Bill Hamid - DC had a bit of an issue with consistency in 2019. Somewhat that was due to injuries to key players, but some weeks they seemed like a team that would coast to a top spot in the East while others it was hard to believe they’d make the playoffs. The difference in being a playoff team or not may have come down to Hamid since in 10 games the team either drew 0-0 or held on for a 1-0 win. That’s a lot of points resting on a clean sheet being kept and Hamid kept 14 of them in 2019. If his loan isn’t made permanent, the rebuild in DC will be that much more difficult.