Best XI underrated players in MLS
Here is my list of lunch-pail guys who don't necessarily get the stats or glory, but are vital to their team's success:
The holding midfielder has logged in over 21,000 minutes in his 10-year playing career and has the incredible stat of making the playoffs in each of those seasons. Though that streak may come to an end this year, Carroll has always been the linchpin of every team he has been on. Not the most vocal or attention grabbing, he leads by example and is a guy players love having on their team. His discipline and work ethic allow those around him to take chances going forward. When things go awry, his teammates and coaches know Brian Carroll will be in the right spot to do the dirty work to fix it.
After bouncing around for a few years and routinely being left unprotected for the expansion draft, Grabavoy has found a home in Salt Lake with his versatility and consistency. He very much fits in with the style Jason Kreis has asked his team to play, and has provided the midfield compliment RSL sorely needed after Andy Williams retired. For a midfield that's had to deal with injuries, red cards, and national team call-ups this season, Grabavoy has been able to comfortably play multiple spots because of his technical ability and smart decision making. Effective as both a starter or reserve, Grabavoy has proved to be a great asset for RSL, starting 18 of 22 games this season and contributing three assists.
Delagarza is the epitome of a utility defender that Bruce Arena feels comfortable throwing into the starting lineup in any of the back four positions. In a year where injuries have taken a toll on the Galaxy backline, Delagarza has been the one constant, starting 26 matches this season. He makes mistakes at times and gets knocked down a bunch, but seems to always get up and make the important plays that help his team win games. If there were a stat for blocked shots near the goal line in crucial moments of the game, Delagarza would be the league leader. Though he will always be in the shadows of the big names that surround him on the Galaxy roster, Delagarza has more than earned the right to be tabbed as one of the most consistent defenders in MLS for years to come.
Pause is one of the few players in league history who has spent his entire career with one team, as he is now in his 10th year with the Chicago Fire. Through all the ups and downs and coaching changes, he has been a mainstay while playing a variety of different positions effectively. Going into his third year as captain, Pause rarely gets accolades or noticed for the work he puts in. Like many others on this list, he provides the intangibles that are necessary for a team to succeed while always willing to sacrifice his own responsibilities to cover for his teammates. He has started all 23 games he has played in this season as he looks to lead Chicago back into the playoffs.
One of the most annoying players to play against in MLS history because he never seems to give up on a play, Mullan has been a tireless worker on the flanks throughout his career. Though the backlash from his ugly tackle on Steve Zakuani last season took a mental toll and dominated headlines, he has put together another solid season with two goals and seven assists and shows no signs of slowing down at age 34. You know what you're going to get with Mullan game in and game out, as he is consistently effective by simply being very difficult to play against on both sides of the ball. Though he has never made an MLS All-Star team, Mullan has five MLS Cup rings to show for his body of work.
After being released by the Chicago Fire in 2010 and bypassed by other MLS teams, Woolard spent the year playing for the DFW Tornados and Carolina Railhawks. The following year DC United decided to sign Woolard, and he has started in all 46 games he has appeared in for the club. A steady and consistent player, coaches and teammates know exactly what to expect out of him each time he steps on the field. His value has become even more evident after being sidelined by a concussion for the last several weeks, as DC has struggled to find an adequate replacement. He is clearly Ben Olsen's first choice at left back and has contributed a goal and two assists on the year. Not bad for a kid out of Division II Midwestern State.
It's ironic that the former MLS Defender of the Year is on this list given how highly touted he was after his first two seasons with DC United, but the center back has been everything the Dynamo could have hoped for since joining the team in 2008. He has been a durable presence in the back Houston desperately needed in replacing Eddie Robinson, and has also been an aerial threat on Brad Davis's attacking set pieces. He has started at least 26 games each season with the Dynamo, and has held down the fort even with the departure of Geoff Cameron. Though not getting as much attention for his play and seemingly off the national team radar, Boswell has reestablished himself as one of the best center backs in MLS.
Tierney is a local Massachusetts product who has made the most out of getting the opportunity to play for his hometown team. An extremely versatile left-footed player, he has willingly done whatever the team has asked him to do since being selected by the Revs in the 2008 Supplemental Draft. Tierney has played every position on the field aside from forward and goalkeeper, and has emerged as a leader in a locker room that has needed to replace the likes of Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, and now Shalrie Joseph. He has started 24 games this year, recording two goals and four assists, and his left-footed dead-ball service is second only to Brad Davis.
Most people had no idea who Connor Lade was before Thierry Henry told the New York media that Lade and Brandon Barklage were his co-MVP's of the season for the Red Bulls a few weeks ago. Since then, the rookie out of St. John's has continued to impress teammates and fans alike with his incredible work rate and fearless pursuit of the opposition despite standing at 5-foot-6. He has chipped in three assists this year, but more importantly has provided the Red Bulls with a workmanlike mentality that has rubbed off on his much more famous teammates.
Even though he was awarded a late nod to the MLS All-Star Team, Justin Morrow is still considered one of the most underrated players in MLS. After playing sparingly during his first two seasons in the league, Morrow emerged as one of the most impressive players on a league-leading San Jose Earthquakes side looking like strong favorites to win the Supporter's Shield. What he might lack in size, he makes up for with great pace, athleticism, and the ability to play within his limits. Frank Yallop also took advantage of his versatility earlier in the year by plugging him in at center back due to injury. He has played in every minute of every game this season, and should be a lock to get called in to a U.S. national team camp in the near future.
Already boasting a crowded midfield, many wondered how Nagamura would fit in after Sporting KC gave up only a supplemental draft pick to acquire him in an offseason trade with Chivas USA. But with Roger Espinoza gone on Olympic duty, Nagamura more than proved his worth for KC in a stretch that has propelled them to the top of the Eastern Conference. Now even with Espinoza back, Nagamura has been a staple in the starting lineup with his tenacious defensive play, tackling, and commitment to playing both sides of the ball. Though the little Brazilian has not registered a goal or assist yet this campaign, he has more than done his part in helping KC to have the best GAA in the MLS.