Debating MLS's top 20 players

The inaugural Yahoo! Sports 20, our list of the leading players in Major League Soccer on February 13, drew a huge response from fans and readers, with most of the feedback centering on a small group of players who split opinion across the board.

I don't seek to convince anyone that I am right and they are wrong, or to justify my decision. I will merely outline the reasons behind my choice.

Before we look at the most controversial choices and analysis of the selections with evaluations from the readers, let's go over the process of how the top 20 was determined.

First, key players from every club were selected, producing an overall group of around 50. From there, I gave each player an A or B grade with around 14 getting A's. I then ranked the A's from 1 to 14 before choosing the top six from the remainder to make up the top 20.


The omission of Taylor Twellman drew the biggest response by far, and the message from many was that they could not believe the New England Revolution striker had not been included in the top 20.

Twellman would have almost certainly been included if the list comprised the top 25 (or even top 21). But he is a good MLS player who benefits from the Revs' domineering midfield. I feel he is in the top 10 percent of all players in the league, but no higher.

"Any list of top MLS players that does not have Taylor Twellman on it is retarded," wrote Mark from Boston. "He and Brian Ching are top-rated at their positions in the world, let alone in MLS."

Except that Twellman is not, and neither is Ching. Not even close. They're good but definitely not among the world's elite.

"He's been to the MLS Cup finals and led the league in scoring multiple times. The Revs blocked (Twellman's) move to Europe," reader JB argued.

True, a proposed move to Preston North End (which is struggling in the English Championship) fell through. But the simple fact that a club in Europe wanted to sign Twellman does not make him a superstar. Just like it didn't make Nate Jaqua or Bryan Arguez a superstar.

Ben Prater from Knoxville, Tenn., claimed that "Twellman is the Revolution. He never gets enough credit." Admittedly, Twellman is a popular figure in New England and seems to be a good team player, which is surely part of the reason why coach Steve Nicol was so keen to hold on to him.

There were several more pro-Twellman messages along these lines, but there were also some responses agreeing with the decision to leave him out of the top 20.

"I just want to say thank you so much for NOT ranking Taylor Twellman in the top 20," wrote James Perry of Ashland, Mass. "He is a goal hanger that doesn't seem to grasp the defensive aspect of the game."


As usual, David Beckham drew plenty of feedback from both ends of the spectrum. Many were in favor of him being high in the list – some insisting he should have been higher than fourth despite his limited MLS action to date.

There was also some of the normal anti-Beckham sentiment. The level of vitriol that is always directed at Beckham – who is essentially a good guy, an accomplished player and a positive role model – never ceases to amaze me.

"I do not see why you picked Beckham as one of the top MLS players," reader Joseph Sharpe wrote. "Ever since he has come to U.S. he has been all about Hollywood."

Now, I don't know exactly what "all about Hollywood" constitutes, but it would be unfair to suggest Beckham has spent more time on the red carpet than on the training field.

Following the welcoming party that was thrown for him and his wife Victoria by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, he actively shunned the celebrity scene in order to concentrate on his early months with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Also, his performances in Hawaii last week did not look like someone who was focused on his next premiere or fashion shoot.

"Less than a year ago, he won La Liga with Real Madrid and none of the other players on this list would even smell that level of football," wrote Logan Purdy of Toronto. "Please adjust the list and put him higher."

It is a fair point about Beckham's credentials in Europe, but this is an MLS list. The fact remains he has only played a handful of league games to date. Until he has played more, it would be unfair to immediately insert him at the top of the list.

Perhaps Wade from Austin, Texas, summed it up best when he wrote: "Becks may move to the top of this list by the end of the season." Don't count against it.


Like his teammate Robbie Findley, Kyle Beckerman and his achievements for Real Salt Lake are often in danger of being overlooked because of the team's miserable 2007 season and its unglamorous reputation. However, Beckerman is a supremely fit and highly dependable midfielder, whose game is continuing to develop.

U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley was impressed by Beckerman's efforts during the recent training camps in Los Angeles and although he is not one of the more famous players in the league, he deserves his spot on the list.

"I am so glad you have Beckerman in there," said Ronald Kong from Richmond, Calif. "I was expecting to not see his name and would have had to send you hate mail for it."

Beckerman is an underrated player who has ducked under the public radar for the most part. Asked Patrick from Dallas: "Were you trying to be nice and name a player from every team? Is there really any need to have any RSL players up there?"

Ask the San Jose Earthquakes if we were trying to be nice to every team. They had no one in the top 20.


Landon Donovan wasn't too impressed at being ranked 11th and told me so when we spoke at the Pan-Pacific Championship in Hawaii last week. But to his credit, he vowed to use it as motivation and told me he will perform so well that I will have no choice but to put him at No. 1 next year.

With his ability, it would be no surprise to see him climb up the list, especially if he can lead the Galaxy to a successful season. However, once again, he divides opinion to extreme measures.

"What makes Landon Donovan so great?" wondered reader Trenton. "He has all the potential in the world and throws it all away to just become another average player in the league. He shows no heart or leadership and puts out lazy performance after lazy performance."

I don't believe Donovan is lazy, but I think there are times when he could impose himself and his talent on the game more effectively.

In the minds of some, he can do no wrong.

"Donovan is the best player in MLS," said Mauricio Arce of Roseville, Calif. "He is not even at his peak yet but you only ranked him 11."

On the other end of the scale, Paul Wells from Orlando, Fla., did not even believe Donovan was worthy of a place in the top 20. "Placing him on the list is a joke," he wrote. "You must seriously reconsider your rankings before they warrant credit among true football fans who can see through the charade that is the L.A. Galaxy."


That leaves us with my two favorite letters from the mailbag.

"Great list. Now, who do you think are the 20 WORST players in MLS?" wrote Chris Nolen of Atlanta.

Now that's a challenge. I'd like to open this one up for feedback to see what our readers think. I would imagine that Carlos Pavon would be fairly high on anyone's list for the worst performers of 2007.

"Your top 20 MLS players list is utterly ridiculous. How did you arrive at this bizzare compilation of players?" questioned Tom Sweeney of St. Louis. "All of the following players are nowhere close to the top 20 players in the entire league. Some of these players aren't even in the top 150 players … Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Sacha Kljestan, Kyle Beckerman, Jozy Altidore, Ben Olsen, Juan Toja, Wade Barrett, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Christian Gomez."

I'm going to forward this one to Don Garber and Ivan Gazidis at MLS HQ. I am sure they will both be absolutely delighted to hear that there are 150 players better than Altidore, Blanco and Schelotto in MLS.

Wow, the league must be making incredible progress. Although the Fire might be disappointed to find out it is paying so much money to someone not even in the top 150. Oh well.