We have seen MLS teams in the past rely on heavy contributions from players who weren’t expected to take on huge roles. Latif Blessing blossomed into an elite central midfielder for LAFC over the last couple of years. Julian Gressel came out of nowhere in 2017. Miles Robinson, though a high SuperDraft pick, made a significant leap in 2019.
Let’s take a look at some players who could be contenders to move into bigger roles, and possibly grow into elite talents.
Auston Trusty and Lalas Abubakar, Colorado Rapids
The young Rapids invested in Trusty and Abubakar, trading a total of $1mil in allocation money for the pair and signing Trusty to a multi-year contract. Abubakar played in Colorado last year on loan from Columbus and impressed, and now with the opportunity to play alongside Trusty, he should only improve.
This is a big year for Trusty in particular after Mark McKenzie knocked him out of a spot in the Philadelphia Union’s starting lineup last year. He has a chance to prove himself this year as a centerpiece for the Rapids.
Darwin Quintero, Houston Dynamo
Quintero, traded to Houston in the offseason, is a fascinating fit. Tab Ramos may not approach things this way, but we’ve seen the Dynamo as a counter-attacking team at their best over the past few years. Quintero would be an effective runner in space alongside Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas, neither of whom have been transferred yet.
If Elis leaves at some point, whether this winter or in the summer, Quintero will shoulder a bigger load. A Quintero-Elis partnership, with Elis on the wing and Quintero playing either on the left or perhaps centrally behind Manotas, has the potential to be electric. Quintero could provide the off-the-dribble creation the Dynamo have been searching for.
Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas
In his age-18 season, Ferreira played in all but one FC Dallas regular season game, scoring eight goals and six assists while playing both up top and at times at central midfield. He impressed enough to earn a four-year TAM contract, and now, at 19, he is assuredly a core member of FCD’s future.
Zdenek Ondrasek might be the day one starter at forward, but Ferreira will certainly get his share of the minutes, and he would make sense as a second striker if Luchi Gonzalez ever experiments with a two-forward set-up. It will be interesting to see how Ferreira evolves this season, and what exactly his role will be in this team.
Brandon Vazquez, FC Cincinnati
Traded to FCC as part of the expansion draft proceedings, Vazquez might be the player Cincinnati rely on to put the ball in the net. Fanendo Adi is gone, at long last, and if it’s not Vazquez, it’s either Darren Mattocks or Rashawn Dally.
Ron Jans likely needs Vazquez to be the guy up top. Designated Player Yuya Kubo isn’t a pure striker, and while he will be the centerpiece of the attack, someone has to be the finisher. The 21-year-old Vazquez didn’t get much of a chance in Atlanta. Now could be his time.
Josh Sims, New York Red Bulls
Sims is back on loan from Southampton, after arriving in August last year. As a DP winger, he has fairly high expectations, and for a Red Bulls team in flux, he is a crucial player.
Last season, he made seven regular season appearances and picked up an assist. He did manage 29 minutes off the bench in the playoffs, scoring a goal in the Red Bulls’ wild 4-3 loss to Philly. Sims should be an every-game starter this year if he’s going to live up to his DP status.