David Villa, Michael Bradley headline Goal's MLS Best XI

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The Spanish star and U.S. national team captain were among the best of the best in Major League Soccer in 2017

In many ways, the 2017 Major League Soccer season was the year of the newcomer. An influx of talented players, spurred on by the aggressive efforts of Atlanta United and the league-wide infusion of targeted allocation money, helped introduce MLS fans to several exciting fresh faces.

As good as the new talent was in 2017, the best of the best in MLS this season has consisted mostly of established league veterans, players who weren't strangers to the league when the season began. Many new arrivals put together strong cases to be included in the MLS Best XI, but the staff at Goal selected a squad featuring 10 players who were already league vets when the campaign kicked off.

Selecting the league's best players is never easy, and this year saw several worthy candidates narrowly miss out, which is sure to lead to plenty of hand-wringing. But it should be noted that we tried to put together a squad based on players who were the very best at their respective positions this year. The group ultimately chosen may not have a pure right winger, with the Goal staff choosing three central midfielders along with a dynamic left winger, but it is hard to argue that any choice wasn't deserving of his selection.

So who were the very best players in MLS in 2017? Here is Goal 's MLS Best XI:


TIM MELIA, Sporting Kansas City


Tim Melia MLS Sporting KC 07112017

To understand how important Melia was to Sporting Kansas City's success in 2017, one need only look at what happened when the goalkeeper suffered an injury late in the season. Sporting KC struggled without its netminder, who was a pivotal contributor in the team's run to another U.S. Open Cup title. Melia was outstanding both in terms of distribution — where he boasted the best passing percentage of all starting goalkeepers (69.21) — and in terms of shot stopping, finishing with the best save percentage among starters (79.13). What made Melia stand out was his steady, well-rounded play, which led to 10 shutouts and left Sporting KC with the fewest goals allowed in the league.

Andre Blake wasn't able to repeat as MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, but in many ways you could argue he had a better season in 2017 than he did last year. The Jamaican national team player missed a chunk of time due to the Gold Cup and the hand injury he suffered in the final, but Blake still finished with nine shutouts, one of the higher save percentages in MLS, along with another collection of top-shelf saves.


MATT POLSTER, Chicago Fire


Matt Polster MLS Chicago Fire 08092017

The Chicago Fire began the season needing a right back, while an influx of top midfielders left Polster looking like he'd wind up being traded. Instead, Veljko Paunovic moved him to right back and the third-year player responded with a career year. Polster's sharp passing and intelligence helped him make a smooth transition, as he developed into a real attacking threat while also establishing himself as a very good one-on-one defender. He finished the season with a goal and seven assists.

Sporting KC's Graham Zusi also enjoyed a smooth transition to right back, particularly as an attacking option. He finished second among MLS fullbacks in assists (eight) and tops among fullbacks in chances created (62).


IKE OPARA, Sporting Kansas City


Ike Opara MLS Sporting KC 06032017

After an impressive 2016, Opara took his game to a new level this season, emerging as a real leader in the back for Sporting KC's stingy defense. His presence in the back left opponents looking for ways to work around him, as his ability to cover ground and dominate in the air made him a constant presence all across the back line. He wasn't just a defensive dominator — Opara also continued to improve his passing, finishing among the league leaders in passes completed (1,529) while completing them at an impressive 86 percent. Opara was named MLS Defender of the Year for his efforts.

No defender in the league put up stats like Atlanta United's Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who finished first among MLS defenders in duels won (210) and tackles won (66), and was ranked first in MLS in interceptions (102).


KENDALL WASTON, Vancouver Whitecaps


Kendall Waston MLS Vancouver Whitecaps 08122017

It was a dream year for Waston, who helped the Whitecaps enjoy their best season since he arrived in MLS in 2015. He also helped Costa Rica book its place in the 2018 World Cup. The giant center back provided an imposing presence in the heart of Vancouver's defense, showing real improvement in his positioning while also cutting down on the mistakes. Waston gave the Whitecaps a dangerous threat on set pieces, where his four goals were second only to Justin Morrow among MLS defenders.

While Opara earned the plaudits, it was Matt Besler who often found himself facing the top opposing defenders who were looking to steer clear of Opara, and the U.S. national team defender was generally up to the task, which explains how Sporting KC finished with the fewest goals allowed in 2017.


JUSTIN MORROW, Toronto FC


Justin Morrow MLS Toronto FC 09302017

One of the keys to Toronto FC's record-setting season was Morrow's versatility and evolution as an attacking threat from the left wing back position. The 30-year-old contributed as a central defender when called upon, while providing a dangerous attacking threat from the left flank, where he spent most of the season. Morrow finished the season with eight goals, tops among defenders.

Seattle's Joevin Jones played like a player in a contract year, giving the Sounders a productive attacking left back, with his 11 assists easily first among MLS defenders.


MICHAEL BRADLEY, Toronto FC


Michael Bradley MLS Toronto FC 11052017

New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch helped put Bradley's season into perspective earlier this month when he declared the U.S. national team star the league's MVP. It was high praise for a TFC captain, who has been the backbone of his team's dream season. Bradley finished second in MLS in passes completed (2,182) while registering a league-best 368 recoveries, almost 100 more than any other field player.

Dax McCarty's move to Chicago was one of the keys to the Fire's turnaround in 2017, with his tenacious work in midfield helping the defense and attack.


CRISTIAN ROLDAN, Seattle Sounders


Cristian Roldan MLS Seattle Sounders 11022017

Perhaps no player in the Goal Best XI enjoyed a greater jump in quality than Roldan, who followed up a breakout 2016 with one of the best seasons in the league in 2017. The 22-year-old midfielder led the league in duels won (282) and tackles won (98), while finishing among the MLS leaders in completed passes (1,740) and emerging as a scoring threat, contributing six goals to go with three assists. His exploits helped him earn the first of what should be many looks with the U.S. national team.

The LA Galaxy endured a nightmare season where few things went right, but one of them was the acquisition of Romain Alessandrini, who finished the season with 13 goals and 12 assists, making him the only player in MLS to reach a dozen in both categories.


DIEGO VALERI, Portland Timbers


Diego Valeri MLS Portland Timbers 08062017

Injury issues were a constant theme for the 2017 Portland Timbers, and a big reason for the team's ability to still post a first-place season was Valeri's MVP-caliber year. The Argentine playmaker stepped up as a goal-scoring threat when lead striker Fanendo Adi went down with a long-term injury, with the result being a career-high 21 goals, third most in MLS, along with a league-best seven game-winning goals. He still fulfilled his playmaking responsibilities as well, finishing in the top 15 in MLS in assists (11) and chances created (74). Valeri also etched his name in the MLS record books, scoring a goal in nine straight matches.

Atlanta United's Miguel Almiron dazzled fans across the league with his speedy attacks, pinpoint passing and ability to create his own shot. He finished with nine goals and 14 assists, fourth most in MLS.


IGNACIO PIATTI, Montreal Impact


Ignacio Piatti MLS Montreal Impact 08162017

The Montreal Impact were expecting much more from the 2017 season, but one thing that wasn't a disappointment was Piatti's production, as he matched his 2016 totals in goals (17) and assists (six). The Argentine winger finished third in MLS in successful dribbles (68), while also contributing defensively with 174 duels won and 133 recoveries, some of the best numbers produced by the league's best attacking players.

Seattle's Nicolas Lodeiro showed he could produce over a full MLS season, delivering seven goals and 12 assists, while also finishing second in the league in chances created (106).


DAVID VILLA, New York City FC


David Villa MLS NYCFC 07192017

An injury suffered late in the regular season slowed down what looked it would be a runaway MLS MVP season for the 2016 MVP winner, but even that couldn't take away from another outstanding season for the World Cup-winning Spaniard. Villa finished with 22 goals, second most in MLS, and added five assists. Very much a team player, Villa led all MLS forwards in chances created, with 71, and saw his defensive contributions improve as well. 

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco could be a victim of his own lofty standards, as his 16 goals and six assists were both career lows since he joined TFC, but it was still an outstanding season for the Italian star.


NEMANJA NIKOLIC, Chicago Fire


Nemanja Nikolic MLS Chicago Fire 07012017

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When the Chicago Fire signed Nikolic to a designated player contract, the big question was whether his goal production from his time in Europe would translate in MLS. Nobody's asking that question now, after Nikolic won the MLS Golden Boot with a 24-goal season that helped the Chicago Fire reach the MLS playoffs for the first time in five years.

Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez may have seen injuries cut into his playing time, but he made the most of his minutes, finishing with a jaw-dropping 19 goals in 20 matches.


GOAL'S MLS BEST XI


GFX Goal MLS Best XI 11272017

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