Every season, we watch for players who make significant leaps — whether from a squad player into a legitimate starter, or from above-average to elite — and for underrated players who provide instant impact in their debut MLS season. Let’s take a look at some early season standouts.
Latif Blessing, LAFC
One of the symbols of LAFC’s much-discussed success this season, Blessing has sprouted from a useful utility player and super-sub into a starting-caliber midfielder. He is one of LA’s most important players, flourishing as a savvy, comfortable No. 8 who hits direct passes and covers ground.
He dips and glides into tiny gaps, transporting the ball forward and controlling the midfield alongside Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye, whose talents fit seamlessly together. Blessing has learned to parlay natural craftiness and speed into a refined, difference-making player. It has been a joy to watch.
David Accam, Philadelphia Union
Calling Accam a “breakout player” might not quite fit the definition, but it has been nice to see him show shades of what he once was before falling off last year. In three starts and five games this season, the Ghanaian has a cool three goals and two assists, easily beating his 2018 total of one goal. He looks more confident and more willing to make stuff happen. The pop and zing of Chicago Fire days is seeping back into his game.
He’s not a guaranteed starter at this point, nor does he look like an elite player yet. He was on the bench in Philly’s loss to the Galaxy last week. But with playing time and more opportunities, we could see something closer to that elite status.
Memo Rodriguez, Houston Dynamo
An injury knocked him out of the Dynamo’s win against the Earthquakes last week, but Memo has four goals in 200 minutes, a very impressive output. He knows how to put himself in positions to take advantage of the rest of the attack and find space at the back-post.
Rodriguez’s development into a crafty winger who can score goals is quietly a huge storyline for the Dynamo. Alberth Elis’s looming departure — whether this summer, this offseason or another time — will open a hole at a winger position, and threatens to derail Houston’s dream of contention almost as soon as it started. It is still undoubtedly win-now mode for the Dynamo, but Rodriguez’s emergence softens the blow.
Low-spending Houston will be thrilled with another player they can tout as a success of their youth development, and a player who could preclude them from having to target an Elis replacement in the transfer market. Rodriguez went from mainly playing USL minutes to US Open Cup starts and MLS sub appearances to more consistent MLS starts this season. That is a repeatable track, mirroring that of Mauro Manotas.
Victor Ulloa, FC Cincinnati
Ulloa has a starting job in Cincinnati, and while FCC are still a bit of an uncertain phenomenon, he is holding down well. The system there — an organized defensive shape that prioritizes solidity down the spine — fits his abilities well. There are less distribution responsibilities and more focus on locking things down in midfield.
Along with Ulloa, others in Cincinnati could slot in here. Allan Cruz looks like a solid player. Spencer Richey, now in full possession of the goalkeeper job, has been very good.
Gianluca Busio, Sporting KC
With three goals in three games, Busio, 16, has made an instant impact for SKC. But the simple fact that he is playing meaningful minutes for an elite MLS team is wild at his age. He looks like a refined player already, understanding his role and not overstepping.
Peter Vermes will continue to trust him, and Busio will continue to carve out a spot in the midfield rotation. Watching him develop his vision on the ball, and willingness to hit line-breaking passes, will be the next step.