Several budding superstars have dazzled soccer fans with their individual brilliance during the disrupted 2020 MLS season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has returned to Europe, while Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez are injured, paving the way for a new collection of stars to emerge. These are the players that have taken MLS by storm this year:
The 22-year-old Uruguayan striker has led the line with aplomb for LAFC so far this year. The highlight came when he banged in four goals during his team’s 6-2 victory over LA Galaxy in the MLS is Back tournament. Rossi was also on target in a 3-3 group stage draw with Houston, and in a 3-3 game against Philadelphia before the coronavirus lockdown. He looks extremely sharp, with fantastic movement off the ball and the ability to finish from tight angles.
Vela is widely considered to be the best player in MLS, but Rossi’s performances mean he has not been missed so far in 2020. If LAFC could figure out how to defend, they would be dangerous, because Rossi and Bradley Wright-Phillips are on fire in attack, and Colombian midfielder Eduard Atuesta has been a revelation. Rossi is the best of the bunch and he could attract the interest of several major European clubs if he maintains his current performance levels.
Pomykal has emerged as one of the most complete midfielders in MLS over the past few months. He showed glimpses of his talent during a breakout 2019 campaign, and he has blossomed into a supremely elegant player this year. The 20-year-old American looks poised in possession, he boasts a phenomenal passing range and he creates plenty of chances. It is also great to see how positive he is in possession, frequently driving FC Dallas forward and splitting defenses with inch perfect through balls.
He is also fierce in the tackle, which is rare among players with such quality on the ball. You frequently see Pomykal winning the ball back for his team and using his positional intelligence to make crucial interceptions. The next step will be for the youngster to add more goals and assists to his arsenal, but his potential is vast and he looks capable of becoming a mainstay in the national team for many years to come. He made several appearances for the United States at youth levels, and came on for his full international in a friendly against Uruguay towards the end of 2019, so the onus is now on Pomykal to nail down a starting berth in Gregg Berhalter’s team.
Atlanta United fans need a new superstar to pin their hopes upon after Miguel Almiron left for the Premier League and Martinez suffered a nasty injury. Barco looks capable of seizing that mantle after impressing with several strong performances so far this year. Eyebrows were raised when the Five Stripes spent a record-breaking $15 million on him in 2018, as Barco was just 19 years old and only had one full season at Independiente under his belt, but the scouts clearly felt he had the potential to grow into a wonderful talent.
The forward was repeatedly called up to Argentina’s under-20 squad during the 2019 season, which hampered his progress, but he has been on a real upward curve this year. He is starting to justify his status as the most expensive player in MLS history, displaying great pace, dynamism, tricky and creativity from wide areas. Like Pomykal, he need to become more efficient in the final third. Atlanta United were pretty tame in the MLS is Back tournament, as they failed to score a single goal in three group games, and they have managed just four goals in six regular season games thus far, so they need someone like Barco to take control in the final third of the pitch. He has more than enough quality to do so, and it will be interesting to see if he can live up to his potential.
The Spaniard has been superb since signing for Toronto FC as a designated player in March 2019. He has fired in 13 goals in 29 games, but it is his creative talents that have really caught the eye. Pozuelo leads MLS for assists this year, and he has a peerless ability to pull the strings in big games. He has the vision and composure to pick out a final pass, and he seems equally comfortable with either foot, which makes him a fantastic and versatile asset to his team.
Pozuelo’s finest game for Toronto came in last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals, when he scored both goal in a 2-1 victory over New York City FC. He teed up Jozy Altidore to score in the MLS Cup final, but he could not prevent his team losing 3-1 to Seattle. He has quickly shrugged off the disappointment of last year’s collapse, and emerged as the lynchpin of an impressive Toronto side. They are the second favorites after LAFC for MLS Cup glory this year in the soccer betting odds, and their chances of success largely depend upon Pozuelo’s ability to create chances for his teammates.
The 20-year-old American striker has played just three times for Toronto FC, and he has managed to fire in five goals during that time. He scored both goals in a 2-2 draw with DC United in the MLS is Back tournament, and then hit a hat-trick to hand his team a 4-3 victory over Montreal. Akinola drew a blank in their final group game, a 0-0 draw with New England, and he then suffered a heartbreaking injury ahead of Toronto’s round of 16 match against New York City FC.
His presence was sorely missed, as Toronto suffered a 3-1 defeat. However, he is now back in business and ready to take MLS by storm once again. Toronto look very potent in attack, with Akinola and Altidore providing an intriguing combination of youth and experience, and they have a great chance of success this year. The sky is the limit for Akinola, who has scored 36 times in 42 games for the United States at youth level. He is now in line for a call up to the senior team, but he is also eligible to represent Canada and Nigeria, so there could be a tug of war for Akinola’s services.