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Who are the Best Players in the MLS?

mls branded football close up

MLS has evolved dramatically over the past decade, transforming from a burgeoning league to one that now attracts some of the world’s top talent. It isn’t just aging veterans anymore. Around 15 years ago, it was mostly superstars at the latter stages of their careers, such as Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo who made the move stateside. Now, a younger crop, as well as some European players who are in their prime, have headed to the league.

So, with that being said, who are the most valuable players in the MLS? There is plenty to choose from, so let’s find out.

Lionel Messi

When Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami in 2023, it was nothing short of a seismic event for MLS. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner brought with him an unparalleled resume: over 700 career goals, numerous Champions League and La Liga titles with Barcelona, and the pinnacle of the beautiful game, lifting the FIFA World Cup with Argentina for Qatar 2022. This summer, Messi is back in international action for the Albiceleste as he leads them out in the United States-hosted Copa America.

The reigning champions – an honour they claimed back in 2021 by defeating rivals Brazil on enemy territory – started the defence of their crown with a 2-0 victory against Canada in Atlanta and are expected to go far once more.

When it comes to their mercurial captain, Messi is the highest-valued player in MLS today according to the highly reputable Transfermarkt. Despite being in the twilight of his career at 37 years of age, the Inter Miami man has a market value of $32 million. His arrival in Florida has not only boosted ticket sales and viewership for his side, but has also had a ripple effect across the league, drawing more international attention to MLS.

On the pitch, Messi’s impact is undeniable. He scored 20 goals and provided 15 assists in his debut season. This season, his side is currently top of the pile, with their captain now supported by former Barcelona teammates Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba in one of the finest MLS teams ever assembled.

lionel messi ballon dors

Federico Bernadeschi

Back in the summer of 2022, Toronto FC made headlines when they swooped not one, but two of the Italian squad that won the UEFA European championships the year prior. First came Lorenzo Insigne from Napoli, before Federico Bernardeschi arrived from Juventus barely a week later.

Neither of these players were in the Azzurri squad that was recently dumped out of the tournament by lowly Switzerland. If you see predictions on Oddschecker for the tournament, you will notice that Italy’s conquerors still have length odds of 14/1 to win the tournament, a price which demonstrates just how surprising it was to see them knock out the reigning champions.

Had Bernardeschi been in the current squad, he may well have provided the team with some much-needed attacking flair. He is doing that on a regular basis at BMO Field and as such, we now consider him the second-best player in MLS today. He is three years younger than his compatriot and has been in scintillating form throughout the 2024 season. The former Fiorentina man has netted eight times so far this term, including a blistering hat trick against Montreal in an all-Canada affair. However, he needs to watch his disciplinary record after having been sent off twice in the last six weeks alone.

Thiago Almada

Thiago Almada Signing

As any Football Manager gamer will tell you, Thiago Almada has been one of the hottest properties in South America since his teenage years. As such, some eyes were raised when he overlooked a move to Europe in order to join Atlanta United in February 2022. Since making the move, the young Argentinian sensation has quickly become one of the brightest stars in the league, resulting in a market value of $30 million.

Known for his creativity, dribbling and eye for goal, the 22-year-old has established himself as the heartbeat of the midfield at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In 2023, he recorded 12 goals and 10 assists, earning a spot in the league’s Best XI.

His potential has not gone unnoticed. Several European clubs are reportedly keeping tabs on him, just as they were during his time in Argentina with Velez Sarsfield. However, Atlanta has made it clear that they view Almada as a cornerstone of their project. A transfer fee upwards of his current whopping market value will be required to prize him from the Georgia outfit.