Last year saw a number of breakout stars and exciting storylines in MLS, including Los Angeles FC lifting the MLS Cup for the first time.
This season promises to be even more exciting, so we used the Twenty3 Discover Tool to find the stars to watch in the competition for 2023.
The first profile we were in search of was an exciting, direct, attacking midfielder.
We used a criteria that required the player to attempt a high volume of shots, key passes and dribbles.
The Toolbox then generates a list of potential matches of our requirements using 90-minute percentiles to rank each player and gives a percentage rating on a scale of 0-100.
Carles Gil was listed as the best match, Lucas Zelarayán came second, and one of the league’s most talented, Thiago Almada, came third.
The 21-year-old Argentine attacking midfielder arrived in the state of Georgia last season, making an instant impact by scoring six and assisting seven for Atlanta United.
He completed an impressive 82 dribbles, 105 progressive runs and 23 of his 24 attempted key passes. He also ranked seventh in MLS for shots assisted (66) – illustrating his creative nous.
Almada’s performances earned him a spot in Argentina’s World Cup-winning squad; while he only managed five minutes on the pitch in Qatar, his future is one filled with promise.
Lionel Messi was full of praise for his international team-mate, saying: “He’s [Almada] very fast and he has a lot of one-versus-one ability. He’s very clever and he’s not afraid of anything. He goes at you.”
The next star we looked for was a central striker who offers both a goalscoring threat in the box as well as the ability to set up their team-mates.
Based on the criteria utilised, the Discover Tool suggested FC Cincinnati’s Brenner.
The 23-year-old scored 17 goals last term and looked close to a move to one of Udinese or Nottingham Forest in January, but he remains in MLS for now.
On top of his lethal finishing, the Brazilian linked well with his team-mates and showed off his chance-creating abilities by registering 47 passes in the attacking third and assisting 26 shots, resulting in five assists.
Brenner was the focal point for Cincinnati alongside Brandon Vazquez, receiving 558 passes – the third-most among MLS strikers.
He also works hard out of possession by racking up the fourth-most ball recoveries in the opponent’s half (54) for a striker.
All of Brenner’s qualities point towards another stunning season for the Brazilian forward in 2023.
Next, we looked to find a tricky winger – both direct on the ball and with the end product to match. Given those criteria, FC Dallas’ Alan Velasco came out on top with a rating of 93%.
Last season, the left winger scored seven and assisted six to help the Texan side finish third in the Western Conference.
The 20-year-old averaged an eye-watering 4.11 dribbles and 2.36 shots per 90 minutes, showcasing his ability to beat a defender, particularly in one-on-one situations.
Velasco was also effective with his distribution, completing 78 final third passes, nine crosses, and 37 shots assisted – which ranks seventh for MLS wingers.
His defensive metrics show he puts in the work off the ball too. Last season, he averaged 2.64 interceptions and 4.43 ball recoveries per 90.
Expect Velasco to have another electric season in Dallas, with a move to Europe certainly on the horizon for this talented forward.
In midfield, we looked for a deep-lying midfielder that excels on the ball without shirking his defensive duties – and Philadelphia Union’s Jack McGlynn, 19, fit the bill with a rating of 80%.
Last season, in 1,364 minutes, he registered one goal – a tidy free-kick – and three assists.
Technically sound, McGlynn boasts excellent vision and anticipation for the game, completing 97 passes in the attacking third, 12 through-balls and 42 long balls.
He is secure in possession and, despite his tender years, only lost the ball dangerously three times.
Despite lacking an imposing physical stature off the ball, he has shown potential defensively, averaging 6.14 successful defensive actions, 2.84 interceptions and 7.46 ball recoveries.
McGlynn is eligible for both the USMNT and Ireland – with both fighting for his international allegiance, he is set to enjoy another exciting year in MLS.
Finally, we looked to uncover a defensively astute full-back with attacking potential.
From last season’s numbers, the Discover Tool highlighted New York Red Bulls left-back John Tolkin as the pick of the bunch.
The 20-year-old made his full USMNT debut just last month and appears to have a bright future ahead of him.
Defensively, Tolkin anticipates danger well and is aggressive in one-on-one situations. Last term, he averaged 10.6 successful defensive duels and 1.01 loose balls won per 90.
On the ball, he was not quite as involved, but still possesses a wicked delivery. He completed 30 of his 55 attempted dribbles, made 41 progressive runs and connected with 20 crosses in 2022.
His offensive strengths come as a result of his defensive proactivity – he averaged 3.24 ball recoveries in the opponent’s half.
Tolkin’s performances reportedly attracted the attention of Anderlecht, with RB Salzburg also a potential move, given the Red Bull link.
However, should he continue his development in MLS, Tolkin will certainly be one of the stars to watch in 2023.
All graphics in this article were produced with the Twenty3 Toolbox. For more information, please get in touch below.