Reyna's holistic plan, while not intrinsically radical, was a framework that borrowed heavily from the European model, specifically ideals embraced by sides with a tradition of attractive play -- training for development and joy rather than results. Unifying training into more concentrated platforms. But the one area that intrigues me most is the proposal for a flexible but unified 4-3-3 with the aim of creating tangible expectation. If you can expect a 10-year-old to play out of a 4-3-3, even if it has assumed some nebulous shape under Coach X, you can expect him to understand its basic tenants once he ascends to higher levels espousing similar beliefs.
As more MLS teams fall into lockstep with the 4-3-3, we'll see the proverbial paring knife taken to what we've always considered a traditional American #10 - from slab concrete to jade marble, in essence. With that ethic in mind, let's take a look at my picks for the top playmakers in MLS. Yes, this is my list, so I'm taking some liberties with it. Some of these guys may occasionally play up top in two-striker sets from time to time. Some might play out wide, too. But one thing every one of these gents has in common is that all five would look striking as a #10 as, say, the Dutch would know the position. So as much as I like Brad Davis' crosses, for instance, I don't like him in my list.
The biggest quibble I'd like to head off here is Landon Donovan's exclusion. I tend to side with Greg when it comes to Landon's best use, because he puts in his best work when he's tirelessly ripping up the touchline and worrying less about cutting in, which has never been his strength. And it says something that before Juninho was committed to returning, Bruce Almighty was willing to stick Marcelo Sarvas in midfield rather than moving Donovan inside to pair with Becks as a more forward-moving #10. Take that as you will.
#5 - Freddy Adu
Sure, Freddy's run into his share of hiccups in Philly. But at 22, I'm still watching for small blips from his lifeline, and his wild upswings assuage doubt every now and then to the degree that I wonder, at times, why I ever doubt the kid at all. He has such a sweet skill set that you wonder when he'll put it all together. And if he'll do it in MLS. But even as is, he has that ability to commandeer games in Philly's 4-1-3-2 set that allows him to unchain his creativity and just be. It's always seemed to me that Adu routinely gets caught up in being Adu rather than just being. When he relaxes, which he never seemed to do in Europe until being cast off to the nether regions of Turkey, the game seems to find him. The glare is off him a bit in MLS, so I think there's a good chance that can happen here. That Adu has seemingly washed over his previous issues with Peter Nowak indicates his mental maturation. Nothing like a humbling experience to help you appreciate the game again. I may be naive, but I'm looking for big things from Adu this year. So is Philly. Le Toux essentially walked for him.
#4 - Javier Morales
I would love to see what Morales' MLS career would look like without injuries. He earned a spot in the MLS Best XI in 2010 for pulling the strings for one of MLS' most dynamic offenses and hit top speed before Marcos Mondaini derailed him on a brutal challenge last season. RSL's offense is more or less tailored to Morales, allowing him to set up Saborio and Espindola with a creative freedom most coaches aren't comfortable handing over. But then again, that's why Jason Kreis is, for my money, the most valuable coach in the league. You saw how good RSL was when Morales came back late last year. Unlike our #2, Morales won't be spending 2012 getting back into a comfort zone on the field. That should be music to RSL's ears. I'd expect him to resume tearing up the league pretty quick.
#3 - Benny Feilhaber
Nobody was happier to see Jay Heaps walk through the door than Benny Feilhaber. Steve Nicol's direct style didn't suit the stylish midfielder, who will get a chance to be the Revs' hub this year in their new control offense. Feilhaber was railroaded last year by a boring tactical game plan and a team that checked out before he even arrived in Massachusetts. With Heaps' style, Feilhaber's silky footwork and jinky arsenal of moves will have the opportunity to sink in from day one. The only thing that could seriously hamper Benny - NE's horribly depleted front line - is unfortunately out of his hands. His forwards can expect some marvelous and at times unexpected service. What they do with it is up to them.
#2 - David Ferreira
Remember FCD's feisty Colombian sensation? He spent most of 2011 on the shelf with a shattered ankle, and the league is holding its breath to see if the 2010 MVP can regain his luster. But when he's been healthy, specifically during FCD's magical run in 2010, there are few better at non-traditional chance creation. One thing that makes him so attractive as a player is his especially low center of gravity. He's like Messi in this way, in that he almost seems tethered to the ground by bungie cords when dribbling through defenders. If FCD moves away from the single striker to a 4-4-2 as some are speculating, Ferreira's role as an advanced playmaker could take an interesting direction, but its essence will remain intact. A refresher course:
#1 - Dwayne De Rosario
If I came out with this list in late June, hours after DeRo was shipped to DC for Dax McCarty, I'd have received some puzzled looks. Now? Well, I tend to trust Thierry Henry. And there's certainly no better goal-getting midfielder in the league. Yes, DeRo has an on-and-off history as a second forward, but my proposal to Ben Olsen would include an advanced midfield line of Pontius on the left, DeRo in the middle and Najar wide right. As is, I could just as easily see DeRo paired with Salihi up top, but DeRo is fantastic at dipping back as a conduit anyway. I don't know that there's a difference in putting him in either place if he ends up doing the same thing regardless, but you might as well call a spade a spade, yeah? And this is one salty spade.
- Will Parchman