Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls forward
The former Charlton and Plymouth star etched his name into history by tying the league record with 27 goals. Chief supplier and esteemed teammate Thierry Henry suggested Wright-Phillips could have bagged several more. The criticism is warranted, but there is plenty of time to add to the total. Wright-Phillps must take his chances reliably to drive the Red Bulls deep into the postseason.
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Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City defender
Sporting suffered through a fatigue-induced dip in form during the closing stages of th eseason as fixture congestion and poor health ravaged the squad. The defending champs still aren’t healthy, but they need to muddle through nevertheless. The key to another charge toward the title: relying on captain Besler to restore the currently pliable defensive shape to its defiant and resolute best in time for the Knockout Round.
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Federico Higuain, Columbus midfielder
Crew team MVP Higuain adds the ingenuity to this tidy bunch of technicians. His creativity in the final third comprises the difference between idle possession in the middle third and incisive play inside the penalty area. He must produce in the postseason in order to keep one of the form teams in MLS firmly on track as the second season commences.
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Jermaine Jones, New England midfielder
Jones' arrival injected necessary doses of class and tenacity into a group craving both qualities. The seasoned midfielder settled quickly with the Revs and staked out a key role as the roving presence in central midfield. He must sustain his recent form (and perhaps chip in one or two of those efforts from distance) to spark the Revs toward the final.
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Bill Hamid, D.C. United goalkeeper
United isn’t a particularly flashy group. Ben Olsen asks his industrious, veteran-laden side to proceed about its business with few frills. Those qualities yielded a stunning resurgence during the regular season, but they could place the defense under more pressure as the playoffs commence if the formula starts to crack. Hamid excelled when called upon this year. He may need to produce again to spur United toward MLS Cup.
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Pedro Morales, Vancouver midfielder
There are times when the Whitecaps simply cannot out run the other team on the break. Morales holds the key when the match slows down and his side needs something special to carve out a chance. This crop of forwards may not always take those opportunities, but Morales must conjure them. And if that bit doesn’t work, he can always take matters into his own hands from distance.
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Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas forward
Castillo made the leap from promising prospect (eight goals in his first three seasons) to regular matchwinner (10 goals, four assists this campaign) by increasing the quality of his end product this season. His pace torments opposing fullbacks. FCD can mix it up with teams in possession, but the difference between a valiant exit and a possible run to the final rests with the ability to get Castillo out in the open field to challenge wary defenders.
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Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake goalkeeper
Think back to the 0-0 draw between Real Salt Lake and Portland a couple of weeks ago. Remember how Rimando stood on his head to give RSL a point at Providence Park? It is the sort of scenario capable of driving fear into the heart of any opponent. His teammates will always toil earnestly during the postseason, but Rimando looms as the possible trump card in these inevitably tight matches.
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Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy forward
Galaxy manager Bruce Arena created more diversity among his attacking options over the course of this season, but Keane supplied the steady presence (19 goals, 14 assists) to stitch everything together. He links impeccably with Landon Donovan, operates dangerously between the lines and slides Gyasi Zardes through time and again. Most of all, he puts himself into positions to score and takes his chances. All of those qualities must rise once more to lift the Galaxy to glory.
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Obafemi Martins, Seattle forward
Seattle rewarded Martins with a multi-year contract extension on Tuesday for his exploits this season. His combination play with Clint Dempsey, his improved hold-up play and his relentless running in search of space made him a potent and versatile threat. Those traits must persist for Sounders FC to finally claim that elusive trip to MLS Cup.