Major League Soccer: Top five Africans to watch this season

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Fanendo Adi - FC Cincinnati
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Ed Dove picks out five African All-Stars to watch in MLS 2020

  1. Lalas Abubakar
    Jayne Kamin-Oncea

    Lalas Abubakar

    Abubakar was one of the revelations of the campaign last season, after moving on loan to Colorado Rapids midway through the year.

    Before his arrival, the Rapids’ defence had shipped goals with alarming regularity, but Abubakar’s arrival helped to ensure a measure of solidity, with the new boy taking responsibility when those around him crumbled.

    At 25, Kumasi-born Abubakar still has ample room to develop and progress, with his best years ahead of him, and having been recruited on a permanent deal, Rapids are set to benefit from this well-rounded centre-back.

    Nicknamed ‘Lalas’ after the great USA defender Alexi Lalas, the Ghanaian could establish himself among MLS’s best centre-backs in 2020.

  2. Gedion Zelalem
    Mark Robinson

    Gedion Zelalem

    Once upon a time, Zelalem was one of the jewels in the crown of the Arsenal academy, having moved to North London from Olney Rangers in the States.

    Born to Ethiopian parents, but having represented both the United States and Germany at youth level, Zelalem has struggled to realise the heights that were once expected of him, across spells with Glasgow Rangers, VVV-Venlo and Sporting Kansas City.

    Nonetheless, at 23, he still has time on his side if he’s to forge out a successful career, and a move to New York City FC offers him the opportunity to do just that.

    NYCFC are coming off the most successful campaign in their history, and they’ll be desperate for the creative Zelalem to achieve new heights.
    Can he adapt to their intense possession style and help them go one further than last year’s second-placed overall finish?

  3. Fanendo Adi

    Fanendo Adi

    One of the most successful African players to play in Major League Soccer, Adi marries a towering 6’4 frame with excellent footwork to represent a fearsome prospect for defences Stateside.

    It’s remarkable that a player with his goalscoring record is still to represent the Super Eagles, as Adi has a cutting edge to complement his physical qualities.

    He netted 56 goals across five years with Portland Timbers, and was at one point their all-time top scorer, but a switch to new boys Cincinnati FC didn’t work out, as Adi struggled with injury and was found guilty of driving under the influence.

    Can he bounce back at Columbus Crew, having made the switch from their Ohio rivals?

  4. Saphir Taider
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    Saphir Taider

    One of North Africa’s most creative central midfielders, Taider is a passmaster, and he doesn’t deserve to have dropped out of European football even if spells at Internazionale and Southampton didn’t work out.

    He’s been consistently excellent since arriving in MLS in 2018, and he’s one of the division’s most underrated players, rarely getting anything like the credit he deserves.

    Thierry Henry has arrived to launch a new era at Montreal Impact, and he’d be wise to build his team around Taider as the Canadians look to defy pre-season predictions that they’re set to struggle.

  5. Latif Blessing
    Eric Bolte

    Latif Blessing

    The 23-year-old has undergone a remarkable transition in recent seasons.

    Once a wayward attacking talent—and a top scorer with Liberty Professionals in 2016—he initially struggled to translate his goalscoring form from Ghana to the States.

    However, in recent times, his contribution has been transformed, with Blessing remodelled as a utility man for Los Angeles FC.

    His energy and tenacity made him an ideal fit for a box-to-box role in the middle of the park, while his qualities in wide energy and ability to beat a man also ensure he’s suited to being drafted into a right-back role.

    The former Ghana U-20 international’s club teammates appreciate his application—Blessing has earned the nickname ‘Game Changer’—and deserves credit for his role in LAFC’s Western Conference-winning campaign last term.