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MLS Positional Rankings: Toronto FC dominates Goal's 2017 player breakdown

9:30 AM EST 11/8/17
Sebastian Giovinco Michael Bradley Toronto FC
Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco are among the TFC stars earning high marks in Thomas Floyd's analysis of the top 10 players at every position

Let's take a moment to reflect on the parity-driven nature of MLS and marvel at what Toronto FC has accomplished in 2017.

For the first time since 2011, the Supporters' Shield wasn't decided during the final weekend of the MLS season. TFC, in fact, had the prize sewn up with nearly a month to spare. Going 20-5-9, Greg Vanney's side compiled the most points in MLS history. By finishing 12 points clear of New York City FC, Toronto also posted an unprecedented margin of victory.

So it should come as no surprise that TFC is the best represented club in Goal's MLS positional rankings, which are designed to recognize players based on their level of play and durability throughout the 2017 campaign. These rankings use a combination of the eye test — watching countless matches live and consuming extended highlights of all 374 regular season matches — as well as Opta-driven metrics to break down the 10 top players at all 11 positions on the field.

From stars Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez to role players such as Justin Morrow and Marco Delgado, the Supporters' Shield winners loom large. Who else earned high marks this year? Find out in Goal's full rankings below:


1. TIM MELIA (SKC): A 31-year-old journeyman who once languished as an MLS pool goalkeeper, Melia led the league with a 78.4 save percentage and 0.77 goals-against average. The cherry on top: He denied three of five penalties faced.

2. STEFAN FREI (SEA): The reigning MLS Cup MVP built on his reputation for coming up with spectacular — and, at times, unconventional — saves while topping the league with 13 shutouts.

3. ANDRE BLAKE (PHI): It was another season filled with stunning stops from the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, who commanded the Philadelphia Union box with authority and offered a star-making turn for Jamaica at the Gold Cup.

4. BILL HAMID (DCU): The 26-year-old single-handedly kept a struggling D.C. United side in plenty of games, finishing second in the league in save percentage ahead of his move to Danish side Midtjylland.

5. ALEX BONO (TFC): One could easily overlook the third-year goalkeeper's pristine numbers, considering the quality Toronto boasts in front of him, but Bono's growing maturity and knack for timely interventions proved key.

6. SEAN JOHNSON (NYC): A change of scenery served Johnson well, as the 28-year-old limited his miscues while making a surprisingly smooth adaptation to Patrick Vieira's build-from-the-back philosophy.

7. TYLER DERIC (HOU): Playing his ninth season in Houston, Deric tapped into his potential to consistently provide an athletic and alert presence between the posts.

8. JOE BENDIK (ORL): The MLS saves leader did his best to fend off the barrage of shots that came throughout the season, making his fair share of highlight-reel saves.

9. ZACK STEFFEN (CLB): There were some growing pains for the 22-year-old, but Steffen's first professional season as a starter offered plenty of promise.

10. LUIS ROBLES (NY): As sturdy as they come in MLS, Robles delivered another season of defensive leadership and businesslike performances.


1. MATT POLSTER (CHI): Crowded out of his midfield role by some big offseason signings, the 24-year-old made the full-time move to right back look seamless. Solid in the back and slick on the ball, Polster finished with seven assists.

2. GRAHAM ZUSI (SKC): The U.S. international got a new lease on life by developing into an attack-minded fullback, notching eight assists and leading all fullbacks in scoring chances created.

3. TYLER ADAMS (NY): One of the league's most enticing prospects, the 18-year-old enjoyed a breakout year at a variety of positions but left the strongest impression as a fearless wing back.

4. HARRISON AFFUL (CLB): A polished option in possession, the Ghana international also showcased his eye for reading the opposition and nipping attacks in the bud.

5. SCOTT SUTTER (ORL): Never one to shy away from a challenge, the Swiss veteran gave Orlando much-needed stability and a reliable presence on the overlap.

6. JEROME THIESSON (MIN): Minnesota may have set a record for goals conceded, but Thiesson did his best to limit the damage down his flank and add a spark going forward.

7. KELVIN LEERDAM (SEA): Right back went from a problem position to an asset once the Sounders added the Dutchman, who brought a new dynamic going forward.

8. HERNAN GRANA (FCD): Looking comfortable during his second stint in MLS, the Argentine found himself regularly involved in the final third.

9. TONY BELTRAN (RSL): The veteran's return from early-season injury woes was an under-the-radar factor in Real Salt Lake's uptick in form down the stretch.

10. ANDREW FARRELL (NE): With his ill-advised stint in central defense now a distant memory, Farrell was the steadiest piece of a leaky New England back line.


1. IKE OPARA (SKC): Healthy enough to be a full-time starter for the first time in his MLS career, the 28-year-old was a dominant ball-winner and underrated passer while anchoring Sporting KC's league-best back line.

2. KENDALL WASTON (VAN): Largely weeding the rash decision-making out of his game, the 6-foot-5 Costa Rica international was an imposing defensive force who led all center backs with four goals.

3. JOHAN KAPPELHOF (CHI): The Dutch defender was a calming influence in the back for a much-improved Chicago side, finishing second in MLS interceptions.

4. ADOLFO MACHADO (HOU): Serving as the centerpiece of a rebuilt Dynamo defense, the Panama international was simple but effective while leading the league in clearances.

5. DREW MOOR (TFC): The 33-year-old played centrally in a three-man back line for most of the season, bringing veteran leadership and clean distribution to the Eastern Conference's top unit.

6. ROMAN TORRES (SEA): The Panamanian hero bounced back from an injury-plagued first half of 2017 to play a key role in the Sounders' surge, both defensively and as an unlikely option jumping into the attack.

7. MICHAEL PARKHURST (ATL): Tabbed as the first captain in Atlanta United history, Parkhurst brought a steady presence in central defense that allowed the more aggressive Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to shine.

8. MAXIME CHANOT (NYC): The Luxembourg international was enjoying a tremendous campaign for NYCFC before a sports hernia injury ended his season in July.

9. STEVE BIRNBAUM (DCU): It may have been a down year for Birnbaum and United, but the 26-year-old still managed to lead all defenders in aerial duels won.

10. JACK ELLIOTT (PHI): Falling all the way to 77th in the MLS draft, the rookie proved to be a steal while making 30 starts for Philadelphia.


1. LEANDRO GONZALEZ PIREZ (ATL): No player in MLS had more interceptions than the 25-year-old Argentine, who also led all defenders in duels won. He was at the center of an Atlanta back line that quietly ranked among the league's best.

2. MATT BESLER (SKC): This season marked a return to top form for the five-time All-Star, who chipped in four assists and combined with Opara to steer that stingy Sporting KC back line.

3. CHAD MARSHALL (SEA): The 33-year-old has evolved with age. While still winning his fair share of battles, Marshall also has developed into the league's most efficient distributor out of the back (with 90 percent passing accuracy).

4. ALEXANDER CALLENS (NYC): Flying under the radar for much of the year, the offseason signing started every regular season match for an NYCFC team that enjoyed a substantial defensive improvement from 2016.

5. FLORIAN JUNGWIRTH (SJ): The German newcomer brought class to the San Jose Earthquakes' back line, topping all defenders in tackles won.

6. JONATHAN SPECTOR (ORL): Perhaps no player excelled more in emergency defending than the 31-year-old, whose last-gasp challenges bailed out Orlando time and time again.

7. TIM PARKER (VAN): The 24-year-old put together another strong campaign in Vancouver, gamely dealing with whatever was thrown his way.

8. AARON LONG (NY): Making the jump from Red Bulls II to the first team, Long proved to be a reliable mainstay for New York as a left center back in a 4-4-2 and as the anchor in a 3-4-3.

9. CHRIS MAVINGA (TFC): It took the Congo international some time to find his footing in MLS, but once he did he developed into a shutdown option on the left side of Toronto's three-man back line.

10. JUSTEN GLAD (RSL): While a knee injury and U-20 World Cup duty limited Glad to 18 appearances, the U.S. prospect entrenched his status as one of the league's top young talents.


1. JUSTIN MORROW (TFC): Playing as a wing back, the 30-year-old scored a remarkable eight goals to give TFC a dangerous weapon from the flank. Morrow also got the job done defensively, sliding into the back three when necessary.

2. JOEVIN JONES (SEA): Having already signed a deal to join German side Darmstadt this winter, the Trinidad & Tobago international led all defenders with 11 assists during his final season in Seattle.

3. GREG GARZA (ATL): The Club Tijuana loanee embraced his role in Gerardo "Tata" Martino's system, growing into one of the league's more effective attacking fullbacks.

4. KEMAR LAWRENCE (NY): Playing a variety of roles on the left side for New York, the Jamaica international topped all fullbacks in interceptions while bouncing back from a rough 2016.

5. ASHLEY COLE (LA): A bright spot in a miserable year for the Galaxy, the 36-year-old consistently kept matters tidy on his side as the rest of the defense turned into a revolving door.

6. BRANDON VINCENT (CHI): It was a sophomore surge for the 23-year-old, who refined his game going forward and moved past the growing pains of his rookie season.

7. BEN SWEAT (NYC): Signed as depth behind Ronald Matarrita, the journeyman stepped in and went from stopgap to linchpin while recording six assists.

8. DAMARCUS BEASLEY (HOU): The ageless wonder just keeps churning along, frustrating opposing attackers and winning more fouls than any other fullback.

9. SETH SINOVIC (SKC): An underappreciated member of that vaunted Kansas City defense, Sinovic quietly but efficiently went about his business.

10. VYTAS (POR): He dealt with various injuries throughout the season, but the Lithuania international offered quality on both sides of the ball when healthy.


1. ROMAIN ALESSANDRINI (LA): For all of the justified criticism thrown at the LA front office, this dynamic offseason signing regularly lifted the Galaxy on his shoulders while recording 13 goals and 12 assists.

2. NICOLAS LODEIRO (SEA): The Uruguayan's seven goals and 12 assists only tell part of the story. Given freedom to float around midfield, Lodeiro topped the league in fouls won and finished third in scoring chances created.

3. HECTOR VILLALBA (ATL): An electric presence on the right flank, the 23-year-old posted 13 goals and 11 assists while constantly putting defenders on the back foot.

4. JACK HARRISON (NYC): The inverted winger followed up a promising rookie year by hitting double-digit goals, earning a call-up to the England Under-21 side.

5. ALBERTH ELIS (HOU): A raw talent only beginning to tap into his potential, the 21-year-old was a handful for opposing defenses while using his speed and physicality to bag 10 goals.

6. SEBASTIAN BLANCO (POR): Finishing with eight goals and eight assists, Blanco emerged as a lively addition to the Timbers' attack.

7. MICHAEL BARRIOS (FCD): A lot went wrong for FC Dallas in 2017, but the crafty Colombian did manage to step up and deliver a 14-assist season for Oscar Pareja's side.

8. JEFFERSON SAVARINO (RSL): Now signed on a permanent deal after spending this past season on loan from Venezuelan side Zulia, the speedy 20-year-old looks like a piece to build around for years to come.

9. CRISTIAN TECHERA (VAN): A fixture in a Whitecaps midfield that leaned on squad rotation, Techera contributed a respectable six goals and seven assists.

10. GERSO FERNANDES (SKC): He wasn't quite the creator Sporting KC may have needed, but the designated player still managed to deliver an eight-goal haul.


1. MICHAEL BRADLEY (TFC): The U.S. national team captain was the metronome that kept Toronto's league-best attack ticking. Bradley led his side by example, dictated the tempo with smart distribution and easily paced MLS in recoveries.

2. DAX MCCARTY (CHI): A critical piece of the Fire's turnaround, the former Red Bulls captain played with passion while constantly finding pockets of space to keep the ball moving.

3. WIL TRAPP (CLB): Connecting more passes this season than any other player, the 24-year-old dropped deep to circulate possession and offered better defensive awareness than he's given credit for.

4. ALEXANDER RING (NYC): The ball-hawking Finland international finished second in MLS in tackles won, breaking up opposing attacks to set the stage for NYCFC's possession game.

5. DIEGO CHARA (POR): Perhaps no player in MLS is more of a pain to face than Chara, who gets under playmakers' skin defensively and stays efficient on the ball.

6. HARIS MEDUNJANIN (PHI): More of a deep-lying playmaker than a traditional D-mid, the Bosnia & Herzegovina international compiled 12 assists while finishing fourth in MLS in scoring chances created.

7. OSVALDO ALONSO (SEA): Seattle's midfield fulcrum still brings plenty of heart and grit to the table, along with a 91 percent passing percentage for the second-best clip in MLS.

8. ILIE SANCHEZ (SKC): The Barcelona product immediately embraced Peter Vermes' system, filling gaps in midfield and proving to be appropriately methodical in possession.

9. JUAN DAVID CABEZAS (HOU): His contributions may seem undervalued, but the Deportivo Cali loanee deserves credit for bringing a sense of calm to the Houston midfield.

10. FELIPE MARTINS (NY): The Red Bulls' switch to an aggressive 3-4-3 formation asked a lot of the pesky veteran, and he delivered by covering acres of space in the middle.


1. CRISTIAN ROLDAN (SEA): Showing stark improvement as Seattle won the MLS Cup last season, the 22-year-old enjoyed a full-on breakout campaign this year. In addition to scoring six goals, Roldan led the league in duels won and tackles won.

2. DAVID GUZMAN (POR): The Costa Rican ended up being the ideal complement to Chara in the middle, showing an ability to unlock defenses — to the tune of six assists — while also shielding the Portland back line.

3. BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER (CHI): The Fire got themselves a tangible injection of class, with the German star spraying the ball around the pitch and chasing down tackles. A calf injury kept him sidelined down the stretch, though.

4. ANIBAL GODOY (SJ): A smooth operator in the middle, the Panama international proved effective in link-up play, won his midfield battles and chipped in a pair of game-winning goals.

5. MARCO DELGADO (TFC): It was a breakthrough year for the 22-year-old, who compiled three goals and five assists while serving as a key connector in Greg Vanney's midfield.

6. ALEJANDRO BEDOYA (PHI): An early-season audition as a No. 10 didn't pan out, but the U.S. international eventually settled in as a hardworking box-to-box midfielder.

7. YANGEL HERRERA (NYC): The 19-year-old Manchester City loanee unseated Andrea Pirlo in the NYCFC midfield, bringing a hard-nosed approach and maturity beyond his years.

8. KELLYN ACOSTA (FCD): Poised for a banner year for club and country, the 22-year-old fell short of those lofty expectations but still remains one of the league's more influential two-way midfielders.

9. IBSON (MIN): Making the jump from Minnesota's NASL side to MLS, the 34-year-old Brazilian turned out to be surprisingly durable while finishing second in the league in duels won.

10. ROGER ESPINOZA (SKC): Still buzzing around the Sporting KC midfield, the Honduran veteran is as tireless as they come.


1. IGNACIO PIATTI (MTL): Cutting in toward that lethal right foot, the Argentina attacker tormented defenses with his mazy runs while recording 17 goals and six assists for the second straight season.

2. JUSTIN MERAM (CLB): The league leader in dribbles completed, Meram reached 13 goals and seven assists thanks to an uncanny ability to put defenders on their heels.

3. DAVID ACCAM (CHI): "King David" thrived as a secondary option in the Fire attack, racking up 14 goals and eight assists — including nine goals in one 10-game stretch.

4. YAMIL ASAD (ATL): An aggressive personality on both sides of the ball — occasionally to his own detriment — the 23-year-old contributed seven goals and 13 assists to take the pressure off Atlanta's bigger names.

5. DANIEL ROYER (NY): The crafty 12-goal scorer thrived following a midseason formation change, and it's worth noting that the Red Bulls struggled during his subsequent seven-game absence with a knee injury.

6. DIEGO FAGUNDEZ (NE): Still just 22 years old, Fagundez bagged seven goals and eight assists for his most productive season since his breakout campaign in 2013.

7. ROLAND LAMAH (FCD): The man brought in to fill the void left by Fabian Castillo ended up with an impressive 11-goal season, though he did so in frustratingly streaky fashion.

8. DARLINGTON NAGBE (POR): He knows how to gracefully evade pressure and maintain possession (with a league-best 92 percent passing accuracy), but Nagbe could have done better than his three goals and five assists.

9. JOAO PLATA (RSL): Like many of his teammates, the diminutive speedster got off to a slow start before finding a rhythm over the summer.

10. VALERI QAZAISHVILI (SJ): The midseason reinforcement didn't make his debut until mid-July but still left his mark, offering creative flair and a five-goal total in just 13 games.


1. DIEGO VALERI (POR): It was a special season for the Argentine star, who recorded 11 assists and scored 21 times to set the MLS record for goals by a midfielder. A quick thinker with creativity and a nose for goal, Valeri is everything you want out of a No. 10.

2. MIGUEL ALMIRON (ATL): A 23-year-old Paraguay international with a cannon of a left foot, Almiron lived up to his lofty billing by compiling nine goals and 14 assists. And don't underestimate his role in Atlanta's high press.

3. VICTOR VAZQUEZ (TFC): The clever Spaniard proved to be the missing piece Toronto needed to go from a contender to an MLS juggernaut, scoring eight goals and finishing second in MLS with 16 assists.

4. SACHA KLJESTAN (NY): Another player who benefited from New York's shift to a 3-4-3 in July, the 32-year-old set up 17 goals to again lead the league in assists. Kljestan also topped MLS in scoring chances created, to boot.

5. LEE NGUYEN (NE): After a couple solid campaigns, Nguyen launched his name back into the "elite" conversation among MLS playmakers with 11 goals and a career-high 15 assists.

6. ALBERT RUSNAK (RSL): Only Kljestan created more opportunities than the promising Manchester City product, who scored seven goals and led MLS with 13 direct assists.

7. FEDERICO HIGUAIN (CLB): Talk that the 33-year-old was in decline quickly faded as Higuain notched nine goals and a career-high 14 assists, pulling the strings as Columbus ended the season strong.

8. CLINT DEMPSEY (SEA): Returning from a career-threatening heart condition, the U.S. national team icon was full of his usual tricks and flicks while netting 12 goals.

9. BLERIM DZEMAILI (MTL): Unable to debut until May following a move from Bologna, the rangy midfielder still managed to finish with seven goals and 10 assists in 22 games.

10. YORDY REYNA (VAN): The Peru international made just 18 appearances after a preseason foot injury but served as the creative catalyst for Vancouver's summer success.


1. DAVID VILLA (NYC): The reigning MVP earned a Spain recall thanks to another spectacular season, as he finished second in MLS with 22 goals and led all strikers in scoring chances created. At 35, Villa remains shifty on the dribble and a brilliant pure finisher.

2. NEMANJA NIKOLIC (CHI): A pure goal poacher if there ever was one, the newly signed Hungary international rarely needed more than one touch to bury a chance while winning the MLS Golden Boot with 24 goals.

3. SEBASTIAN GIOVINCO (TFC): The wily Italy international's 16 goals and six assists marked career lows since he took MLS by storm in 2015, but he wasn't asked to do as much this year. One stunning stat: His six free-kick goals were four more than any other player.

4. JOSEF MARTINEZ (ATL): Could a healthy Martinez have broken the MLS scoring record? The Venezuela international rode three hat tricks to an astonishing total of 19 goals in 20 games while missing much of the season with a quad injury.

5. BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS (NY): None of the Englishman's 17 goals came from the penalty spot, with Wright-Phillips remaining as consistent as they come up top in MLS.

6. OLA KAMARA (CLB): The Norway international put together an 18-goal campaign to show his scorching run of form following the Kei Kamara trade last season was no fluke.

7. JOZY ALTIDORE (TFC): In addition to scoring an MLS career-high 15 goals, the U.S. international used his strength and movement up top to serve as the complete target forward for TFC.

8. FREDY MONTERO (VAN): The former Sounders star was the No. 9 the Whitecaps so badly needed, netting 14 goals while effectively bringing his teammates into the attack.

9. C.J. SAPONG (PHI): Again fending off a challenge for minutes from an offseason signing, Sapong broke out with a career-best 16 goals and won more duels than any other forward.

10. CHRIS WONDOLOWSKI (SJ): Make it eight straight seasons with double-digit goals from the all-time MLS great, who also contributed a career-high eight assists.