MLS: Top 5 attacking midfielders in league history

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MLS, Landon Donovan

MLS, Landon Donovan (Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images)

There have been some wonderful players over the 25-year history of MLS, but who ranks in the top five attacking midfielders of all-time?

Here at MLS Multiplex, we have gone back through the statistics, the awards won, the games played, the goals scored and the shutouts made to work out who we think are the best five players in the seven major positions in Major League Soccer.

We have gone through the goalkeepers, full-backs, centre-backs and central midfielders already, with Tony Meola, Carlos Bocanegra, Chad Marshall and Preki taking the spoils in their respective categories. Soon, we will come to the wingers and the strikers, but this piece will focus on the best attacking midfielders the league has seen in its 25-year history.

There will be some contention as to whether players fit into the right categories and so on, so we have taken the view that if a player has played for a prolonged period in a particular position, then they qualify for that position in our list.

Some big names miss out, including the likes of three-time Best XI nominee Mauricio Cienfuegos, and both David Ferreira and Amado Guevara, two men who took home the MVP award in the 21st Century.

However, all five members of our list have taken MVP honours, and the five have a combined 23 nominations to the MLS Best XI, while three were named to the MLS All-Time Best XI in 2005. Who are the five though? Find out here…

27 Jul 1996: Carlos Valderrama of the Tampa Bay Mutiny moves the ball during a game against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Mutiny won the game, 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport

5. Carlos Valderrama

The first man to make our list of the best attacking midfielders to have ever featured in Major League Soccer is Colombian legend, Carlos Valderrama.

Known for his golden blonde locks, the charismatic midfielder spent the entirety of his career in South America and Europe before coming to MLS, including spells with Deportivo Cali, Montpellier, Real Valladolid and Atletico Junior.

MLS Career & Honours:

  • Tampa Bay Mutiny (1996-1997, 1999-2001)
  • Miami Fusion (1998-1999)
  • Colorado Rapids (2001-2002)

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  • MLS MVP – 1996
  • MLS Best XI – 1996, 1997, 2000
  • MLS All-Time Best XI
  • Single-season assists record – 26 in 2000
  • Copa America MVP – 1987

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  • Supporters’ Shield – 1996

Valderrama made the move to the United States ahead of the inaugural Major League Soccer campaign in 1996, signing for the Tampa Bay Mutiny, and he made an instant impact, as he was named as the first-ever MVP in MLS history. In the league’s first season, the Colombian attacking midfielder scored four times and assisted on 17 other goals in just 23 regular-season appearances, as the Mutiny lifted the first Supporters’ Shield trophy.

Perhaps unbelievably, that would be the only piece of silverware that Valderrama would win during his seven-year stint in the American top flight, but there were plenty more individual honours to come. He was named into the MLS Best XI in the league’s first term thanks to his MVP year, and he was joined by Mutiny team-mate Roy Lassiter, who ended the season as the Scoring Champion.

MLS

19 Oct 1996: Carlos Valderrama of the Tampa Bay Mutiny holds his MVP trophy during the MLS Gala Awards Dinner at The Castle in Boston, Massachusetts. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Stockman /Allsport

The Colombian improved on his assists tally in 1999, moving from 17 to 19, and setting a new league record for a single-season, a record he would go on to smash later in his MLS career. Those assists would see Valderrama named into the MLS Best XI for a second consecutive season, the only Tampa Bay player to be named into the side. Come the end of the 1997 campaign, Valderrama moved to Miami, signing for the Fusion.

He retired from international football in 1998, and to this day, he remains the most capped player in Colombian history, playing 111 times for his country, scoring 11 goals over 13 years. During that time, Valderrama played in three FIFA World Cups, in 1990, 1994 and 1998, and also featured in five Copa Americas, from 1987 to 1995. He was named the tournament’s MVP in 1987, as Colombia finished 3rd. The midfielder was also named South American Footballer of the Year in both 1987 and 1993, along with being named as the Colombian Player of the Century in 1999.

Back in the American top flight, and Valderrama would return to Tampa Bay just a month into the 1999 term, going on to play 27 games for them that year. Arguably his best season in MLS, even better than his MVP-winning year, came in 2000, his first full season back in Tampa.

He was named to the MLS Best XI for a third time in five years, as he set the single-season assists record for the third time. The midfielder recorded a whopping 26 assists in 32 regular-season matches, and it is a record that still stands to this day and one that may never be broken.

Valderrama would go on to play for another two seasons in Major League Soccer, spending the last 18 months with the Colorado Rapids. He helped get the team to the Conference Finals in 2002, prior to retiring from the professional game at the end of the season. He ended his MLS career having started all 175 regular-season matches he played in, along with another 17 post-season games under his belt. The Colombian did hold the all-time assists record in the league before Landon Donovan took the record from him. However, Valderrama remains in 4th on the all-time list with 114 assists to his name. He will always be remembered for his hair, his flair, and a whole lot else!

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