Borek Dockal | Loaned from Henan Jianye to Philadelphia Union
Loan signings don't usually make lists like these, but leading MLS in assists makes it impossible to leave the Czech Republic international out.
Brought in on loan from Chinese club Henan Jianye, Dockal signed a designated player contract three days before the season.
The Philadelphia Union clearly saw something special in the 30-year-old, and the move proved to be one of the best of the season for any club.
His franchise record 18 assists were crucial in helping the Union earn the sixth and final playoff spot in the East, and club sporting director Ernst Tanner would love to keep his No. 10 around next season.
"If we could continue [with him], it would be our first choice, but you know how the business is," he said at a media conference in October.
Named as the club's Most Valuable Player for the season, but it seems as though he may be one and done in MLS.
Alejandro Romero "Kaku" Gamarra | Huracan to New York Red Bulls
Signed as the club's first ever young designated player, the former Argentina youth international quickly turned heads in MLS with his slick play for the Red Bulls.
The 23-year-old fit in well with the club's high-pressing style and notched 14 assists and six goals as New York set the MLS single-season record for points.
After a fast start to the season Kaku's assist numbers declined as the league adjusted to him, but the Paraguay international believes he was still able to create plenty of chances even as other teams became aware of his ability.
“First, I feel since I was new to the league, not many people knew me and that’s why they weren’t marking me as much and I was able to get as many assists,” he said. “But even later on when I wasn’t getting [assists], it wasn’t that I wasn’t putting in opportunities, it’s that it wasn’t getting converted.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic | Manchester United to LA Galaxy
In 27 games played with just 24 starts, the big Swede put on quite a show. He started with a bang, scoring the MLS Goal of the Year with a 40-yard rocket against LAFC in his first outing and adding a classy winner in that match just for good measure.
The 37-year-old followed on with 22 goals on the year, including his spinning ninja-kick 500th career goal. The Galaxy ended up falling just short of the playoffs, but it's hard to argue that any signing had a more tangible impact on MLS in 2018 than Ibrahimovic.
Could it be one and done for Zlatan in LA? A return to Serie A with AC Milan seems to be drawing near.
But even if Ibrahimovic's time in MLS is limited to just one season, he did more than enough to make his mark on the league.
Damir Kreilach | Union Berlin to Real Salt Lake
Though not as heralded as some of the marquee signings in MLS in 2018, the Croatian made a massive impact for RSL as the club worked its way back into the playoffs.
The 29-year-old was signed using targeted allocation money, making him a cheaper option than the designated players on the list, but finished the season with a team high 15 goals, including three in three playoff outings, and second on the club with eight assists.
Kreilach proved to be a versatile weapon in a side that once again struggled to find a lead striker.
“Damir was brought in as a No. 8. I consider him more now of a top-four attacking player,” manager Mike Petke said after the club's playoff elimination.
“Is he a forward? I would assume there’s going to be times next year, whether that’s one game or 34 games. Depends on who we bring in, depends on who we’re playing, depends on how things pan out in preseason. Obviously Damir has proved himself a big part of this team, a big asset and it’s on us to fit these pieces in place.”
Whatever the case, the Croatian has proven to be a great signing for the Lakers.
Darwin Quintero | Club America to Minnesota United
Signed as the club's first designated player in March, the Colombian provided an immediate spark for a Loons attack that was in desperate need of a creative influence.
The 31-year-old netted 11 times and added 15 assists in his first season with the club, leading the side in both categories.
The league's second-worst defense doomed Minnesota to another year of waiting for a first playoff appearance, but the club's first DP looks like a home-run signing.
“Supreme confidence in his own talent,” head coach Adrian Heath told TwinCities.com of his star man's attitude on the ball. “I don’t think there is anything he doesn’t think he can’t do.”
Wayne Rooney | Everton to D.C. United
England's all-time leading scorer came to MLS in the summer and proceeded to rack up 12 goals and seven assists in just 20 games played, helping lead D.C. United back to the MLS playoffs.
The arrival of the club's new star, along with the opening of Audi Field and a schedule back-loaded with home matches, helped United turn around a terrible start to the campaign to earn a spot in the postseason.
The club may have fallen at the first hurdle, but landing Rooney has certainly looked like a master stroke for the Eastern Conference outfit, and the 33-year-old is hoping it's just the start of better things to come.
"The way we ended the season was an exciting time for the team and fans and it leads to an exciting time coming up," he said after the club's playoff exit. "This has to be the marker we've put down to improve on. It's on us as players and on the club to move forward and that's what we'll be looking to try to do."
Diego Rossi | Penarol to Los Angeles FC
The second designated player in LAFC history was also the second youngest DP ever brought into the league, and his signing paid off in a big way for the expansion outfit.
The Uruguayan proved to be a perfect complement for Vela and the two terrorized MLS defenses all year, with the 20-year-old ending the season with 12 goals and nine assists, second on the team only to his Mexican teammate in both categories.
As with most young players, Rossi had his ups and downs throughout the season but, as manager Bob Bradley put it back in August: "He's fun to watch-- I think people leave the stadium and, if they haven't come before, he's a guy they want to come back and watch again."
- Lindsey Wasson
Raul Ruidiaz | Morelia to Seattle Sounders FC
The 28-year-old starred for Peru in the World Cup before joining up with Seattle as a designated player and making his first appearance for the club in late July.
He helped spark a late-season turnaround for the Sounders that saw them finish second in the Western Conference. The striker rolled up 10 goals in 14 games, with his side winning all but two of the games he started in the regular season. And, despite losing to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference semifinals, Seattle's star man netted three times over the two legs of the playoff series.
“The thing that surprised me was that the kid wanted to defend a bit more than what we saw on film,” Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer said at his end-of-year press conference. “I remember games where he’d chase guys back onto our defensive half of the field. That’s the kind of commitment that we want from players, the guy that has integrity to do the little things to help us win.”
Ruidiaz ended the season as Seattle's top scorer, and the club will be looking forward to a full season with him leading the line in 2019.
Johnny Russell | Derby County to Sporting Kansas City
The 28-year-old joined SKC prior to the season and proved to be a vital piece for the club's attack, earning the club's Offensive Player of the Year award after hitting double digits in both goals and assists in his first year in MLS.
“I knew I was in a bit of a rut and needed to change something,” Russell told the league's website in November. “So the season that started in England in 2017, I started to enjoy myself again. And then coming here, I just felt it was the right time to try something new and try and get that spark back I’ve been missing for a while.”
Not only did he get his spark back, he brought a new spark to the club. Sporting's attack finished second in the Western Conference in terms of goals scored as the club ended the regular season as the top seed in the conference.
A loss to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference finals ended the hopes of an MLS Cup, but Russell has proven to be a top-notch signing for SKC.
Carlos Vela | Real Sociedad to Los Angeles FC
The Mexican forward signed in the summer of 2017 as the first designated player in LAFC history and, though he had to wait half a year to step on the field with the club, proved to be a brilliant signing.
With 14 goals and 13 assists to his name, the 29-year-old was both creator and finisher for the expansion side, which finished third in the Western Conference and has the second most goals scored in the league, behind only high-flying Atlanta United.
Expectations were high from the start, with LAFC manager Bob Bradley admitting earlier in the year that he asked a lot of his star man and wanted him to "be like Messi" for the MLS side.
Hitting the highs of the Barcelona superstar may be a bit of a stretch, but Vela has provided the club with a real star talent to build around.