Voices: Kevin Egan

360 View: Ranking the best No. 10s in MLS

Egan - Riqui Puig - 360 View

Hello there, beautiful people! Welcome back to 360 View with yours truly, Kevin Egan!

Portland Timbers head coach Phil Neville is the inspiration for this week’s piece. Neville recently claimed that his gem of a 10 Evander is the “best player in the conference.” I love this approach from Neville, empowering his star with public belief and trust. Here’s the thing: For us fans, that comment was always going to spark debate. So, let’s get stuck in.

For this 360 View, I’ve decided to simply focus on the best No. 10s this season in MLS. The maestros. We happen to have the GOAT Lionel Messi in our league, but there are also many other wizards, as well as unorthodox creators, who deserve some love.

I’ve always felt MLS embraces the 10 as much as any league, and certainly more so than the top leagues in Europe today. Think of your favorite players of all time… For me, Zidane and Ronaldinho jump to mind. Both 10s. A special breed, and when humming, often the fans' favorite.

In the early MLS years, we had diamonds like Carlos Valderrama, Marco Etcheverry and Mauricio Cienfuegos. Legends. The 10 continued to thrive in MLS, and three of my Apple TV colleagues are three of the best 10s the league has seen: Sacha Kljestan, Diego Valeri and Ignacio Piatti.

Here we are in 2024, and the 10 is as prominent as ever in MLS, so compiling my ‘Top Ten 10s Today’ is no easy task. There are some huge names on the outside looking in, including former MLS MVPs, but that’s the nature of form. This list could look a lot different toward the end of the season.

With the help of my MLS 360 squad of Kaylyn Kyle, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, here’s our ‘Top Ten 10s Today.'

Djordje Mihailovic
Colorado Rapids

Welcome back to MLS, Djordje!

Lured back from Europe to drive this Colorado Rapids resurgence, Mihailovic is starting to deliver. I’m a Mihailovic fan, but this 10th and final place was a tough call, especially leaving off names like Sebastián Driussi, Carles Gil and Hany Mukhtar. Truth is Colorado are rolling right now, and Mihailovic is a crucial piece.

The look and feel of this team is in the process of being figured out, and with Cole Bassett dropping a little deeper, it’s allowed Mihailovic to thrive centrally. He had a statement performance in the 3-2 win against LAFC on March 30, bagging two goals and an assist. Now, for Colorado to continue their rise, Mihailovic must find ways to consistently impact games.

Thiago Almada
Atlanta United

First things first, happy birthday Thiago! Already a World Cup winner, Almada turns 23 today.

When playing at his best, Almada is a top three 10 in MLS, but we haven’t seen his best yet this season. Two goals and one single assist in seven full games leave us wanting more. It’s obviously not just the numbers either – it’s his influence on the game. Almada will learn from a costly error in last week’s home loss to Cincinnati, where he coughed up possession from a corner that led to Cincy’s equalizer.

He’s a brilliant player, a visionary who's worth the price of a match ticket. Almada has lit up Mercedes-Benz Stadium on many occasions, but now the challenge has to be doing it on the road.

Atlanta had a measly three road wins last season, and they’ve only collected one point from a possible nine this campaign. For Almada and Atlanta, Saturday’s match at a wounded Chicago represents a mammoth opportunity to steer this team back on track.

Ryan Gauld
Vancouver Whitecaps FC

The Scottish Messi! What a player. Ryan Gauld is the most under-the-radar star in MLS, and has been since arriving from Portugal in 2021.

Vancouver sit second in the Western Conference, just two points behind the LA Galaxy and with a game in hand. Vanni Sartini’s team have the best goal differential in MLS at +8, with 17 goals scored in eight games.

Central to everything they do well is Gauld, who’s formed a stunning connection with Brian White up top. Gauld and White combined for 26 goals and 17 assists last season, and they may surpass that this year. The advanced data tells you how influential Gauld is in attack, but it also highlights how hard he works.

Vancouver continue to surprise the masses, but Gauld’s class shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone anymore.

Robin Lod
Minnesota United FC

Last season, then-Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath told me he wouldn’t trade Robin Lod for any player in MLS. That was at a time when Messi had landed. A line like that wasn’t thrown out flippantly either. Lod is a coach's dream, a model pro, and a big-time player for the Loons.

The Finland international is so incredibly versatile. I’m convinced he’d do the job in goal or at center back if he had to! This season he’s played in different positions under new coach Eric Ramsay, and with no sign of Emanuel Reynoso, Lod has stepped up his creative game to provide for his team. With three goals and five assists already, Lod is off to a flying start.

When compared to other MLS midfielders, Lod is soaring above with creativity and efficiency. Another under-the-radar pick, keep an eye on Lod this weekend at home against Sporting Kansas City.

Santiago Rodríguez
New York City FC

NYCFC are eighth in the Eastern Conference all of a sudden! Behind their remarkable turnaround in form is Santi Rodríguez.

Earlier this season, amid their worst start in club history, we saw what looked like a heated exchange with Rodríguez and the NYCFC coaching staff as he was subbed out. For me, I wondered if Santi and NYCFC were off the rails. There was a lack of punch, desire, and commitment was in question. Not anymore.

NYCFC have one loss in their last six, and throughout this run, Santi has stepped up as a real leader. The DP now roams from the 10 position, and has reminded me of Ángel Di María in recent weeks, with lightning speed, and an obvious confidence and determination. He’s been a joy to behold. The Uruguayan and NYCFC host Charlotte this weekend.

Portland Timbers

Class. I love watching my bud Sacha Kljestan smile every time Evander produces some magic. “I love that extra pass,” said Sach, as Evander perfectly teed up Santi Moreno last week in Columbus.

We’re seeing the real Evander, and man is this guy a baller! A flashback player at times, Evander is there to entertain, and the Timbers Army are enjoying every second. Now we ask for consistency.

Portland got off to a sensational start, with seven points from their first three games. They hit eight goals in those matches, but then fell off the wagon. They’ve drawn their last three, and I’m seeing real reason for hope.

Evander shone when Portland drew 2-2 with LAFC just two weeks ago, and now he must do it on the road in downtown Los Angeles. The City of Stars has a gem coming their way.

Luciano Acosta
FC Cincinnati

Cincinnati have seen so much change since winning the 2023 Supporters’ Shield, but the class and sheer excellence from their 10 has remained constant.

Acosta was the clear MLS MVP last season, and we’re seeing why again this term. Cincy are lucky to have him, because the players around him, in particular Aaron Boupendza and Corey Baird, need to step up. Cincinnati’s defense is excellent, and the wee man is carrying their attack.

Last week highlighted just how good Acosta is, and why fans of Atlanta United can’t stand the sight of him! Nobody has feasted on Atlanta United more than Acosta, who scored his ninth goal against the Five Stripes when he hit the winner at the Benz last Saturday. It’s three goals and five assists already for Acosta, and if Cincinnati can get others moving in their attack, they’ll be challenging for the Supporters’ Shield yet again.

Let’s find out if Chris Armas and Colorado can devise a plan to stop Lucho this Saturday!

Emil Forsberg
New York Red Bulls

Forsberg is world-class, and he’s changed the game for the Red Bulls. My MLS 360 bud, New York Red Bulls legend Bradley Wright-Phillips, says Forsberg is the best club signing since Thierry Henry. Huge praise.

And now Forsberg is living up to the billing on the pitch. I’ve seen folks online critique his two goals and two assists total, but his game goes well beyond the numbers. Watch him. Look how he conducts an attack. Check out the weight on his passes. Observe how he empowers and embraces his teammates. Oh, and notice how much more this RBNY team is willing to play with the ball. I’ve loved seeing a player like Frankie Amaya really evolve this season. Sure, he can win the ball back at record speed, but then watch his connections with Forsberg, Lewis Morgan and Dante Vanzeir. It’s been so cool to see.

Emil Forsberg has been the perfect signing for this team. Sandro Schwarz has been the perfect fit as head coach, too. Now go and win it all!

Riqui Puig
LA Galaxy

How much fun is Riqui Puig to watch? I was a host at beIN Sports when Riqui Puig broke through with Barcelona’s first team. I’ll never forget my friend and colleague there, Ray Hudson (former Miami Fusion and D.C. United manager), being awed at Puig’s influence over games. In fact, I believe Ray and I were on commentary as Puig made his first team debut in 2018 against Cultural Leonesa in the Copa Del Rey. His quality was obvious. La Masia was oozing through his veins.

Puig’s signing in 2022 may prove to be one of the greatest in MLS history. To get a player of this caliber on a free transfer is astonishing, and then at 22 years of age.

We saw sprinkles of what Puig can do in 2022 and 2023, but now that Greg Vanney and the front office have reshaped the roster, Puig is thriving, and with that so are the Galaxy.

Lighting fast in transition, Puig sprays passes for fun. Now that he has Gabriel Pec and Joseph Paintsil charging forward, and Dejan Joveljic finishing plays, Puig is getting the plaudits and recognition he deserves. The Galaxy are top of the West, and Puig is their best player.

Lionel Messi
Inter Miami CF

Now to the top of the East, and their best player! The greatest player that’s ever lived is now lighting up Major League Soccer. It brings a smile to my face. What is there left to say about Lionel Messi?

I’ll say this: Thank you.

It’s so wonderful to see Messi enjoying his football here. Seven goals and six assists in just five starts in ludicrous. Keep smiling, Leo. But don’t be fooled by that smile, folks. Messi is the ultimate competitor, and you’d be crazy to doubt Miami’s road to MLS Cup. In my preseason predictions, I had Messi winning the Golden Boot, and Miami winning MLS Cup. I’m feeling good about those picks, even if Messi has a busy summer ahead with Argentina.

This Saturday, when the Herons take on the New England Revolution, Messi will become the greatest athlete and winner to ever set foot in Gilette Stadium (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

No offense, TB12.