MLS This Week: A look at the league's top performers
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 01, 2017 11:44 AM
FILE - In this Sunday, May 21, 2017 file photo, New York City FC's David Villa (7) celebrates his second-half goal as he runs past Orlando City's Leo Pereira, left, in an MLS soccer game in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
ANNE M. PETERSON, AP Sports Writer
With Major League Soccer's All-Star fan ballots out this week, here is a look at a few of the league's top performers, plus a couple of surprises and one near milestone. The assembled All-Stars will face Real Madrid on Aug. 2 in Chicago.
TORONTO'S TRIO: The top team in the league is Toronto FC and there are three players who are making sure the Reds stay there: Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vasquez.
Altidore leads Toronto with six goals and four assists, while Giovinco, AKA the Atomic Ant, has six goals and one assist. Vasquez leads the league with eight assists, and last week he scored two goals for Toronto in a 5-0 victory over Columbus.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney was asked what makes Vasquez special.
"His brain, at the end of the day," Vanney said. "He is so aware of his surroundings. I am a big believer that the game is played in your head before it is played out so everyone can see it, and he is two steps ahead of everyone. He knows how much time he has, he knows where the pressure is coming from, he knows where the outs are and knows where the passes that can hurt people. He has the ability to make those passes and he is just very clever. Of all the attacking midfielders, he is the most clever by a long shot."
ALMIRON EMERGES: Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron is the only player this season to earn MLS Player of the Week honors twice, and he did it in back-to-back weeks.
He scored his first career hat trick in Atlanta's 4-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo two weeks ago then added a pair of goals in United's 3-1 victory over New York City FC last Sunday.
A native of Paraguay, Almiron came to Atlanta from Lanus in Argentina's first division. He leads United with seven goals and four assists.
"He brings speed. He brings his intelligence. He's a really complete player so he's able to bring a lot to our game. We're able to play quick touches, play the ball into space and he's really important for us," United forward Hector Villalba said.
GOALKEEPERS GALORE: There are a couple of big names in net that will no doubt secure All-Star votes: Colorado's Tim Howard and Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando — both recently named to the U.S. roster for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico.
But perhaps the league's best keeper this season so far has been Sporting Kansas City's Tim Melia. He leads the league in shutouts with seven and his goals-against average is less than 1. He is ranked third league wide with 43 saves.
HUNGARIAN HERO: Chicago forward Nemanja Nikolic leads the league with 11 goals in 13 games this season, and is a big reason the Fire are ranked behind Toronto in the East.
The Fire, which ranked at the bottom of the conference with only 42 goals last season, have 23 already this year. Nikolic, who was acquired in the offseason from Poland's Legia Warsaw, already has three two-goal games and three game-winners. And he leads the league with 24 shots on goal.
CUBO'S REVIVAL: Reunited with former coach Wilmer Cabrera, Erick Torres is back. The Houston Dynamo forward known as Cubo ranked second in the league with nine goals.
Torres had a breakout season under Cabrera in 2014 when both were with the now-defunct Los Angeles-area team Chivas USA. He scored 15 goals in 29 starts and made the MLS All-Star team. But he had no goals in 11 appearances in each of the last two seasons with Houston.
"There's no doubt, to have someone that knows me, to have someone that has confidence in me, that trusts me, it has really helped out," Torres said through a translator. "I think me and all the players are really happy with the coaching staff, with all the work they've been doing, and they're going to help us get the results that the team needs."
CJ SAPONG: The attention on Philly's roster usually goes to captain Alejandro Bedoya, who is among the callups for the U.S. team's qualifying matches, but CJ Sapong has collected eight goals, including two game-winners.
Sapong, a seven-year MLS veteran, started this season as a sub for the Union. He got his first career hat trick in a 3-0 victory over the Red Bulls in early May and he's already scored more goals than he did all last season.
"He's the same player. He's confident, though, and when strikers are confident, they go on runs. Just like Bradley Wright-Phillips: when he's confident, he goes on runs. David Villa: the same thing," Union coach Jim Curtin said.
SPEAKING OF DAVID VILLA: The Spanish star is on the verge of the 50-goal milestone in Major League Soccer. He scored both No. 48 and No. 49 a couple of weeks ago against Orlando.
Villa, 35, is the all-time leading scorer for the Spanish national team and he has eight World Cup goals. With NYCFC since the team joined MLS in 2015, Villa recently extended his contract with the club through 2018.
One of his eight goals this season stands out: In an April match against the Philadelphia Union, Villa scored a stunner from 50 yards out and beat goalkeeper Andre Blake.
Going into the season, there were 50 players who had reached the 50-goal plateau in MLS. Villa would be No. 51.