What a difference a year makes, or even just a few months. This time last year Ola Kamara had been traded to the LA Galaxy for Gyasi Zardes. “Fire sale” some people said, “tanking” others claimed, “if you want to turn the fans away before moving to Austin this is the move to make” still others cried... a few weeks into the season and Zardes was the MLS goal leader and by the end of the year had the most goals for an American in the league. Is there a player in MLS who could have a comeback season like Zardes in 2018? Maybe one of the guys on this list fits that bill...
Caleb Stanko - The downside of challenging yourself at the highest level is that sometimes players aren’t up to the challenge. Following the promise of developing with SC Freiburg, Caleb Stanko went on loan in Lichtenstein. His time in the micronation didn’t seem to have the desired effect on his development and he came back to Germany where he failed to break through with Freiburg upon their promotion to the Bundesliga. This year he signed with Cincinnati FC and should feature in the first team plans for the expansion side. Perhaps with some consistent starts, he will make another USMNT camp and live up to the promise he had as a younger player.
Fatai Alashe - In some ways Cincinnati FC has taken on a roster full of reclamation projects. Alashe is a case in point. After featuring for the San Jose Earthquakes, he came back from injury in 2018 and following a match in which he was subbed on and off in the span of four minutes he found himself in the USL with CFC. Alashe featured a dozen times for the U-23s and his injury in 2017 stopped any momentum he was building to earning some time with the senior roster. Still, nothing is guaranteed in Cinci with a fairly full central midfield, including FC Dallas stalwart Victor Ulloa and the aforementioned Stanko, the 25 year-old will have plenty of competition while trying to get things back on track in MLS.
Jordan Morris - He didn’t go to Europe, he got a big contract for reasons that don’t seem to match his performances, and somehow he continues to be hyped in MLS... So far Morris has emerged to take the mantle of “guy who represents what’s wrong with American soccer” three years after turning pro. 2019 could be the year that he turns it around. Morris is still a speedy player who can notch double digit goals and now has two explosive teammates that he can play off of in Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz. With Clint Dempsey retired, the Sounders need Morris to pick up the attacking slack that forced them to rely on defensive tactics until Ruidiaz showed up in the summer. If he can do that he could contend for top American goal scorer in 2019.
Kellyn Acosta - The former midfield partner for Michael Bradley in the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at El Azteca in 2017 has had a bit of a ride since then. He had some injury troubles and then fell out of favor at FC Dallas. After a trade and some good showings with the Colorado Rapids, Acosta seemed to be getting his international career back on track with a call up to January camp. Then he was released because of... well this:
Gregg Berhalter on why Kellyn Acosta was dropped from the squad... #Rapids96 #usmnt pic.twitter.com/YJ8AnMG6sJ— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) January 26, 2019
Let’s hope that he takes Berhalter’s comments to heart as he gets fit and opens the season in suburban Denver.
Jozy Altidore - One way to look at the transfer of Sebastian Giovinco is that Toronto FC is putting the success of the season in the hands of Jozy Altidore in attack. Another way to look at it is that Altidore missed 20 games in 2018, only started 16 games in 2016, has never scored more than 15 goals in MLS, and if the team wanted to open a Designated Player slot and shed payroll in 2019, Giovinco had value and Jozy didn’t. Altidore has a lot of soccer on his legs since turning pro at 16, he’s still the second best striker in the player pool, depending on how you feel about Josh Sargent, but he needs to stay healthy to keep being in the national team picture. If he can start for a big portion of the season and be among the league leaders in goals scored, it will be hard for him to be held out of the national team (the If is doing a lot of heavy lifting there).