Remember the days stuck indoors where you’d be on Xbox Live with the headset, calling American competitors all the names under the sun while playing FIFA or Call of Duty, all in the name of Britain supposedly being better?
For years, a stick to poke our Yankee friends with was the fact that the United States didn’t get soccer, weren’t interested in it and ultimately weren’t any good at it. But to sustain such an argument in the here and now in 2015 simply seems foolish and ignorant, especially given the incredible strides both Major League Soccer and the U.S. men’s national team have made in recent years – not to mention the USA women’s team.
The press and European football fans will claim that the 2014 World Cup was the tournament which catapulted soccer into the American mainstream and it’s hard to disagree.
With Jurgen Klinsmann’s side performing admirably, going out to Belgium at the quarter-final stage, while England were on a flight home at that point, an incredibly close U.S. side realised they were actually rather good and in front of the world stage to boot.
In a nutshell, Americans will naturally support something which is successful, and the star spangled banner was waved with even more passion than ever before a month ago when the States inflicted two defeats on both the Netherlands and Germany – in their own back yards to boot.
Since then, a trio of legendary footballers have moved from Europe to continue their playing careers stateside in Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo, and you can already tell that this domino effect will pick up the pace in the coming seasons.
Ignorant folk will claim MLS is simply a division for old stagers to go out with one last hurrah – alongside a giant paycheque – and while this claim does have some validity, all of the evidence points towards younger players now considering the states as a viable option more than ever before.
Just look at Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC and Giovani dos Santos of LA Galaxy, talented players who have moved to Major League Soccer before their thirties. With the likes of that pair, Orlando City’s Kaka, New York City’s David Villa and men’s national team stars Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley often stealing the plaudits, just exactly who are some of the talented lesser names in the game?
With this in mind and the current MLS campaign now two thirds of the way complete, here are five lesser known stars of the division to watch out for in the final third of the regular season.
Cyle Larin – Orlando City SC
There are some fundamental differences between Major League Soccer and European league systems, most notably the annual MLS SuperDraft period every January, in which teams are able to take their pick of the best college talent based upon a pre-determined list of regulations.
One of these rules is the fact expansion teams are allowed the first pick to sign up the cream of the crop and with New York City also joining this season, it was Orlando City SC who won a coin toss, landing Canadian international striker Cyle Larin.
At just 20-years-old, Larin hasn’t only dealt with the pressure superbly well at Orlando, leading the Lions’ line while scoring nine goals in 15 appearances, but he’s also got three in nine appearances for his national team.
An extremely grounded kid too, Larin scored his first ever professional hat-trick against New York City yesterday evening, only for Adrian Heath’s side to eventually go down 4-3 at Yankee Stadium.
Dom Dwyer – Sporting Kansas City
Have you heard of Dom Dwyer? Well, he’s an Englishman who is absolutely ripping up Major League Soccer right now, with his total number of goals at Sporting Kansas City now reading 30 in just 66 appearances.
Born in Cuckfield, Sussex and aged just 24-years-old, Dwyer took up a scholarship in the States in 2009 and as the cliché goes, hasn’t looked back since.
Formerly on the books of Norwich City prior to attending Tyler Junior College in Texas, Dwyer was a sixteenth pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, but fast forward to 2015 and he’s one of the most clinical strikers in the entire division.
A month ago, Orlando City boss Adrian Heath was actually fined by the league in breach of ‘tampering’ after making his interest in re-signing Dwyer public.
Dwyer spent a loan spell with the Lions back in 2013 when they were still a USL side, and it’s no wonder they want him back following the 15 goals Dwyer scored in just 13 appearances while in Florida.
Something of a celebrity in the states too, given his relationship with U.S. women’s national team star Sydney Leroux, Dwyer is one of the more likeable characters in the league.
Gyasi Zardes – LA Galaxy
Haven’t heard of Gyasi Zardes yet? Well, you’ll get used to seeing him right away given he’s impossible to miss with his signature blonde Mohican.
Currently lining up alongside the likes of Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane for Bruce Arena’s LA Galaxy, Zardes is a 23-year-old forward who is extremely talented, and is in the midst of becoming a key player for both his club side and Jurgen Klinsmann’s national outfit.
A homegrown player who was born just down the road in Hawthorne, California, Zardes boasts an impressive strike rate of 24 goals in 77 appearances despite his age, and with the aforementioned designated players plus new boy Giovani dos Santos, these weapons make Galaxy one of the most feared sides in the division.
After all, they should be feared anyway given they are the most successful club in league history, having won the MLS Cup on five occasions among other notable honours.
Chris Wondolowski – San Jose Earthquakes
‘Wondo’ is to Major League Soccer what Alan Shearer was to the Premier League, with the Californian native being more than a club legend at San Jose Earthquakes, whom he’s represented on two separate occasions.
Reaching a milestone of 100 career goals in MLS back in May, Wondolowski became only the ninth player in league history to reach that illustrious total.
It’s probably best to talk about Chris Wondolowski in record breaking terms in general, because his other main story is the fact he became the first player of Native American descent to be recognised for the United States at international level.
Wondo missed an absolutely glorious chance to level the World Cup quarter-final with Belgium up at 2-2, after Julian Green’s late consolation goal and to be honest, he’s been vilified by a whole host of Americans over it.
Nevertheless at the end of his career, the 32-year-old shouldn’t be looked back upon as a failure, but rather one of the most important figures in Major League Soccer history.
Kei Kamara – Columbus Crew
You may know this guy given he played for both Norwich City and Middlesbrough during two separate spells in England only a few years back, but compared to his drab time on these shores, the Sierra Leone international is currently the MLS’ leading goalscorer this term on 15 strikes.
Leading the line for Ohio outfit Columbus Crew alongside Gonzalo Higuain’s brother Federico, Kamara is a superb acrobat who has proved he’s capable of pulling off the ridiculous in Major League Soccer.
Coached by former Crystal Palace defender Gregg Berhalter, the Crew coach said of Kamara back in October upon the club re-signing him: “We seem him as leading the charge”, and while ‘I told you so’ Americans are more insufferable than most, who can argue with that claim given the incredible vein of form Kamara has found himself in since winter.
Leading Sebastian Giovinco – or the ‘Atomic Ant’ as Major League Soccer commentators continually love calling him – by two goals right now, Kamara is doing incredibly well to be outshining Toronto FC’s diminutive Italian trickster.