>Monday Lunch: Best MLS Strike Tandems

Posted: September 13, 2010 in mls
Tags: ,

>By Evan Ream
Ever since DC United and the New England Revolution began using a 4-4-2 a few years ago, every team in MLS has used this 4-4-2 formation as their primary formation. Because every team uses the 4-4-2, there is less of an emphasis on tactics in MLS and conversely individual matchups have become more important than ever before. Of these individual battles, it seems as if the battle between the forwards on one team and the central defenders on the other would be the most important. It should come as no surprise then that the team with the most points in the league (LA Galaxy) has the most productive forward tandem (Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan) while the team with the fewest points in the league (DC United) has the least productive forward tandem (Danny Allsopp and Pablo Hernandez). However, if there is anything I have learned during my years as a soccer spectator and player, it’s that nothing in this sport is ever this black and white. Therefore, I have decided to look beyond the numbers and rate the strike forces in MLS from 1-16 in order to see which teams are best equipped for the playoffs by winning these individual matchups. It should be noted that the two forwards I listed for each team would be the two players that would play in any must win situation if the coach of the particular team fielded his first choice lineup.
In my mind, all the forward partnerships are spread into four different tiers of skill, which are:
Terrible: No matter how good your team is, you cannot win with these players. These players are so bad that their team (SPOILERS) may or may not tie the record for most times being shut out in a season with six games left
Average: There are many different reasons for being in the average column. The team could have one good player and one useless one, as is the case for most of these. The players could have injury issues. The players could be young. Lastly, the players could simply just not be that good.
Quality Starters: These players may not be the best in the league, but if you have a strong overall team, they can lead you to a championship. They might also be younger players knocking on the door of the next tier.
Game Breakers: These players are the strength of the team. These players would start on almost any if not any team in the league and produce for that team. These well-balanced players can both score and set up goals.

danny-allsopp16. DC United
Pablo Hernandez and Danny Allsopp – 25 Games Played, 4 Goals, 1 Assist
Yes, this is the only partnership that I have designated as terrible, but no one can argue with this. I don’t think either player would start for any other team in the league. The sad thing is that Allsopp with all four goals is DC’s leading scorer. Hernandez looked to be a crafty player but he has shown that he is all style and no substance while Allsopp, he who proclaimed that the Australian A League is better than MLS, may actually be the worst finisher in MLS.
15. Chicago Fire
Brian McBride and Nery Castillo – 25GP, 4G, 2A
Neither of these players is actually bad, but they are just at different points in their career. McBride is 38 and on the verge of retirement. He can no longer create his own shot nor withstand the punishment required to be a target man. He is still an intelligent player and good finisher but he doesn’t have the physical skills to do it anymore. Castillo on the other hand has a lot of skill and fantastic touch on the ball, but is out of shape and hasn’t played competitively for a long time. Castillo has all the potential but so far has yet to pan out.
14. San Jose Earthquakes
Cornell Glen and Geovanni – 22GP, 2G, 1A
Geovanni is by no means a bad player. In fact, he looks to be one of the best finds of the season. The reason why this partnership is ranked so low is of how bad Cornell Glen is. It’s possible that I’m being unfair to San Jose by not putting the decent Chris Wondolowski on this list, but Frank Yallop refuses to play him at forward since the arrival of Geovanni, so I cannot. Glen is the type of player that can single-handedly lose you a game. If he weren’t one of the fastest players in the league, he wouldn’t have a job.
13. Club Deportivo Chivas USA
Justin Braun and Giancarlo Maldonado – 27GP, 9G, 4A
I just learned the other day that Maldonado is the all-time leading goal scorer for the Venezuelan national team. Perhaps this is why they have never qualified for a World Cup. In his brief stint thus far in MLS, he has yet to do anything nor show the potential to do said things. Braun on the other hand is a much-improved player who could one day be a consistent 10-goal scorer on a good team in the league. Braun has the height, pace and talent to succeed on this level. The only thing he needs to do now is improve his finishing skills.
12. Houston Dynamo
Brian Ching and Dominic Oduro – 34GP 8G 5A
For the third time in a row, this is a case of one excellent player and one terrible player. Oduro has the physical skills to play in any league in the world but his touch is probably about as good as mine is. He also happens to be one of the least composed players in the league. Ching is an excellent player who has no peer in the air in MLS. This season however, he has been ravaged with injuries and has not played close to fully fit in a long time.
11. Kansas City Wizards
Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury – 40GP, 10G, 4A
Kei Kamara has improved a lot this year but he is still the man who did this. Kei is just another unpolished forward with loads of talent and size that has yet to develop into a consistent goal scoring threat. Bunbury is actually very similar but much younger and less developed. He has a bright future but as of now isn’t a finished product.
10. Toronto FC dwayne-de-rosario
Dwayne De Rosario and Mista – 30 GP, 9G, 3A
Dwayne De Rosario is one of the best players in MLS history. He is quick, has a great shot, scores goals, and sets them up. So why is he rated so low on the list? Mista has done officially nothing since he has arrived. I think Mista could be a great player in MLS but he has yet to adapt. He obviously has the skill and ability required to succeed but he spends too much time whining about the physical play instead of actually playing the game. This player could just as easily be the next Denilson as the next Djorkaeff.
Quality Starters:
9. FC Dallas
David Ferreira and Jeff Cunningham – 45GP, 14G, 10A
David Ferreira is a borderline Best XI player at his best. He is a small withdrawn forward who passes excellently and scores a lot of goals. The problem here is Cunningham, officially the most inconsistent player in League history. Cunningham will likely break Jaime Moreno’s record for regular season goals yet will not leave a legacy as great as Moreno’s. Cunningham has all the physical skills needed to be a top striker but he has always been an erratic finisher at best. There is a reason that the second all-time leading goal scorer in MLS isn’t always a first choice starter for Dallas.
8. New England Revolution
Marko Perovic and Ilija Stolica – 25GP, 8G, 1A
Although I haven’t seen much of them together, the two Serbians look like two of the best pickups this year in the league. Perovic is a skillful slashing player who takes one of the best free kicks in the league while Stolica is a classic target player who is adept at laying off the ball with his back to goal and creating opportunities for other players. They will likely rank higher when they consistently produce for a winning team.
7. Columbus Crew
Guillermo Baros Schelotto and Steven Lenhart – 45GP, 12G, 10A
Schelotto is slowing down at age 37 but he is still one of the craftiest players in the league. Most of his goals and assists come on set pieces but so do the Crew’s. This partnership isn’t amazingly flashy but they get it done. Lenhart is one of the most underrated players in the league right now. He is a great holdup player who has surprising skill on the ball. Lenhart, along with Chad Marshall and Andy Iro, make the Crew the most dangerous team in the league on set pieces. This is one of my favorite goals of the season. It shows what Lenhart is all about (amazing aerial ability combined with a fearless attitude).
6. Real Salt Lake
Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio – 40GP, 14G, 6A
Yes, I included Espindola instead of Findley. Findley has been in terrible form this year; some of his misses have had me thinking that I could play in MLS. Conversely, Saborio has been in excellent form this year in MLS as well as the CONCACAF Champions League. Saborio is almost certain to win the Newcomer of the Year award at the end of this season due to his excellent finishing ability combined with his strength and size. I thought that RSL would struggle to replace Yura Movsisyan during the offseason but it looks like they have even improved on him. Espindola isn’t a great finisher, but he is willing to try things and risk making mistakes to accomplish his goals. He is just as likely to enrage a manager, as he is to wow them with unbelievable skill. You can risk having the inconsistent Espindola in the starting XI with a consistent player like Saborio.
fredy-montero-15. Seattle Sounders FC
Fredy Montero and Blaise Nkufo – 29GP, 10G, 9A
This partnership could ultimately be the best in MLS but not for now. Nkufo is out injured, and while he has shown flashes, he has yet to adapt to the league. He clearly has great pedigree as FC Twente of the Dutch Eredivise’s all-time leading scorer. However, Montero is just figuring out how good he can be. Right now, he is a probable MVP candidate who is almost single handedly leading his team to a playoff berth. If the classy Nkufo can regain his Eredivisie form then the Sounders could have a championship team.
Game Breakers:
4. Philadelphia Union
Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga – 39GP, 18G, 14A
This exception proves the rule. Philadelphia is a terrible team yet they have one of the best forward partnerships in the league; what gives? The truth is that the rest of the Philly team has yet to step up. Le Toux and Mwanga have twice as many goals as the rest of their team combined. Le Toux has been a force in every single game this year combining his speed with great technical ability and an excellent shot from distance. Everyone knew he was good before the season started, but not this good. Mwanga was the number one pick in the SuperDraft this year and is only four goals away from tying the rookie scoring record. Mwanga is already being touted as a future USMNT member even though he is just 19. He is already one of the calmest and composed finishers in the league and has a terrific soccer mind. If Philly could improve the other nine players on the field, they would be championship material.
3. Colorado Rapids
Omar Cummings and Conor Casey – 44GP, 18G, 5A
I just want to let everyone know that I am not and have never been a fan of Connor Casey. This being said, he is still one of the best forwards in MLS along with Cummings (who is better). Both have skill and speed, but Casey has the size to pair Cummings’ quickness to make them a classic big man small man combination. When they are on their game, they score some of the nicest goals in MLS (like this one). Both are also underrated passers of the ball.
2. Los Angeles Galaxy
Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle – 37GP, 19G, 16A
Edson Buddle is the most physically dominating forward in the league as well as one of the best technically. Being able to score with either foot as well as his head, Buddle is a nightmare for defenders. He also has decent speed to go along with his great size. Although in years past he has been inconsistent, he finally looks to have matured with the helping hand of Landon Donovan. Donovan actually isn’t at his best while playing forward, but no one is going to argue with a league leading 14 assists. Donovan has been amazing this season setting up Buddle. The only criticism I have for this pair is that although they are certainly capable, Donovan hasn’t scored many goals this year and Buddle hasn’t set very many up.
1. New York Red Bulls
Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Ángel – 32GP, 14G, 6A
Henry-and-AngelWas there ever any doubt about this one? JPA has been the best forward since he entered the league with 57 goals in just under four seasons. Ángel is the best pure finisher in the league and has one of the best soccer minds. Henry, on the other hand, has taken a while to get fully fit and adapt to the league; but in the last few games, he has been mesmerizing. No one can take the ball away from him and although his speed has diminished, he can still get past you with his excellent technical ability. This partnership has the potential to lead Red Bull New York to their first ever trophy this year.
Although you may be able to argue that one pair should be a few spots higher or a few spots lower, the conclusion to this study is clear. The most successful teams typically have more productive forward lines that win the individual matchups that present themselves in each MLS game. Each of these teams has won games singlehandedly because of these top players while each of the lower teams has lost games because of their mediocre players. It would therefore seem prudent to build a team that not only has one goal scorer but two in order to succeed in this league.

  1. Jon says:

    >To bad the Mls is the least watched soccer league in the world except for some stupid league called the serie A… Seriously… Who watches that…. Anyways… The best strike partnership has to be Peter Crouch and Jermine Defoe… Size matched with speed…, or dog_ba and ANYONE WHO CAN PASS THE BALL… OVER…RATED..

  2. >Hey Dugger, remember that time Jermaine Defoe was injured and Peter Crouch cheated on like the hottest girl in the world? Wait that was this month. Also real teams don't give up 2 goal leads against teams that just sold their best player to Real Madrid

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