Chicago Fire trio headlines Goal's MLS Most Improved XI

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David Accam, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent made major improvements in 2017, playing key roles in the Chicago Fire's dramatic turnaround

The 2017 Major League Soccer season saw plenty of attention paid to impressive newcomers, but the league's continued growth also depends on established players taking steps forward as players, with their improvements helping teams throughout the league.

It isn't a coincidence that 10 of the 11 players on Goal's list of the most improved players in MLS were members of playoff teams. The Chicago Fire enjoyed the biggest turnaround in the league, and while new arrivals Nemanja Nikolic, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty deserve a lot of credit for the Fire's improvement, 2016 holdovers David Accam, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent all enjoyed much improved seasons to emerge as some of the league's best at their respective positions.

For some, like Cristian Roldan, the 2017 season was about taking the step toward being one of the very best players in the league. There was no denying that Roldan made the jump this season as he stepped in throughout Osvaldo Alonso's injury absence to become a real leader for the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders.

The criteria for the MLS Most Improved XI was focused on players who were starters in MLS at some point prior to 2017, which leaves out some breakout talents like Tyler Adams, Aaron Long and Zack Steffen, but leaves plenty of worthy candidates who enjoyed major improvement this season.

Here is Goal's MLS Most Improved XI:


TIM MELIA, Sporting Kansas City


Tim Melia Sporting Kansas City

Melia had already established himself as a solid starter in 2016, but the Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper took his game to a new level in 2017, earning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors in the process. He played a big part in Sporting KC boasting the best defensive record in the league.

Alex Bono took a major step forward in 2017. Last year he wound up spending half the season as the Toronto FC starter, but this year he took charge in the third match of the season and never let it go on his way to an outstanding first full campaign as a starter.


MATT POLSTER, Chicago Fire


Matt Polster MLS Chicago Fire 06042017

After spending the majority of his first two seasons in Chicago as a defensive midfielder, Polster made a successful transition into a right back role in 2017 and flourished in the position. The Fire defender was arguably one of the best fullbacks in MLS this season, giving the club an excellent passer and tactically astute presence on the right flank.

Graham Zusi is another midfielder who made the switch to right back, and he immediately became a dangerous threat attacking from the backline.


IKE OPARA, Sporting Kansas City


Ike Opara Sporting Kansas City

After a good season in 2016, Opara succeeded in staying healthy in 2017 and took his game to an elite evel, earning MLS Defender of the Year honors in the process. The 28-year-old defender was dominant in leading Sporting KC's stingy defense, while also contributing three goals.

Justen Glad took a major step forward in 2017, with his second year as an RSL starter showing the U.S. Under-20 defender really rounding out his game.


JOSH WILLIAMS, Columbus Crew


Josh Williams MLS Columbus Crew 10222017

Though he wouldn't become a regular starter until mid-season, Williams was a key factor in helping the Crew defense settle into a groove and finish the 2017 season playing much better than it was in the first half of the season. Having spent two seasons away from Columbus after beginning his pro career with the Crew, Williams became a real leader in the back, while also scoring three goals.

Justin Morrow was already one of the best left-sided defenders in MLS before 2017, but this season he took his game to a Defender of the Year-caliber level operating mostly as a wingback in TFC's system. 


BRANDON VINCENT, Chicago Fire


Brandon Vincent Chicago Fire

After struggling mightily as a rookie in 2016, Vincent rebounded in 2017 and showed Fire fans why Chicago traded for his services. The 23-year-old polished the defensive side of his game, while also boosting his offensive productivity, delivering two goals and four assists.

Joevin Jones was a close second to Vincent in this spot, as the Sounders fullback led all MLS defenders in assist in a year that he helped parlay into a free transfer to German side Darmstad this winter. 


CRISTIAN ROLDAN, Seattle Sounders


Cristian Roldan Seattle Sounders

In many ways, 2016 was Roldan's breakout season, but he managed to top that by going from a very good young midfielder to one of the league's very best in 2017. He finished the season with six goals and three assists, but a closer look at his stats show just how dominant he was. Roldan finished sixth in the league in completed passes (1740), while leading MLS in tackles won (98) and duels won (282). He also delivered 110 more recoveries this year than in 2016 and boosted his chances created from 17 to 42.

Real Salt Lake's Luke Mulholland was a very important veteran leader on a young RSL squad that showed considerable improvement this season.


DAVID ACCAM, Chicago Fire


David Accam MLS Chicago Fire 06042017

It was no secret that Accam was angling for a new contract, and his play showed a player highly motivated to earn a new deal. The Ghanaian midfielder finished with 14 goals and eight assists, both new highs for him since joining the Fire three seasons ago.

FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta matured as a player in 2017, establishing himself as a regular on the U.S. national team and showing a much more well-rounded game this year.


MARKY DELGADO, Toronto FC


Marky Delgado Toronto FC MLS 073116.jpg

As easy as it is to be overshadowed by all the stars in Toronto FC's lineup, Delgado still managed to impress with his most complete season to date. The 22-year-old finished the season with career highs in goals and assists, establishing himself as a difference-maker in a stacked TFC midfield.

Jack Harrison took a step forward with NYCFC in 2017, following up a standout rookie season with a sophomore campaign that saw him become more of a goal-scoring threat.


ERICK TORRES, Houston Dynamo


Erick Torres Cubo Houston Dynamo

After two years without a single goal, Torres flourished under Wilmer Cabrera in 2017, helping play a key role in the Dynamo's rapid rise from also-ran to title contender. Torres delivered 14 goals and three assists as Houston's lead striker, enjoying a run of form that also helped him earn a call-up to the Mexican national team.

Colorado's Dominique Badji provided one of the few bright spots in a forgettable season for the Rapids, notching nine goals.


C.J. SAPONG, Philadelphia Union


CJ Sapong MLS Philadelphia Union 05062017

The veteran striker enjoyed an outstanding 2017, delivering a career high and new Union team record for goals in a season with 16, a total good for ninth in MLS, and the most by any American in the league. Sapong's play was made even more impressive by the fact it came during an otherwise disappointing season by the Union, and his play helped earn him a return to the U.S. national team.

Houston's Mauro Manotas was overshadowed a bit in 2017 by Erick Torres' outstanding season, but he also put together a strong campaign as well, delivering 10 goals and five assists.


WILL BRUIN, Seattle Sounders


Will Bruin MLS Seattle Sounders 06042017

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A change of scenery was what Bruin needed to re-establish himself as a double-digit goal scorer, and the switch from Houston to Seattle was just what the 28-year-old needed. Bruin finished 2017 with 11 goals, helping the Sounders cope with the injury absence of Jordan Morris, and helping the Sounders make a push toward another MLS Cup title.

Luis Solignac went from bit-part player to full-time contributor for the resurgent Fire, netting seven goals and four assists in what could be counted as a breakout campaign. 


GOAL'S MLS MOST IMPROVED XI


GFX Goal MLS Most Improved X

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