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Marked Marksmen: A survey of Major League Soccer's top goal-scoring threats in the 2013 season

These are the players who I think will command the spotlight - and the pressure that comes with it - throughout the 2013 season.

Marked Marksmen: A survey of Major League Soccer’s top goal-scoring threats in the 2013 season

It's really very simple
Put the ball into the net

I'm sure that almost all of you know the rest of the lyrics to that popular River End chant, sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle."

Last year at this time, I wrote an essay that focused on Major League Soccer's top playmaking midfielders.

As entertaining as possession-based soccer, can be, it's useless if it doesn't come with goals. A team can pass the ball over every blade of grass on the field if it wants to. Unless there's an end product, it all goes to waste.

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Union fans know the feeling all too well. A great buildup through midfield springs a forward with a good pass, leading to a chance to score. But a bad first touch leads to a turnover. Or if there is a shot, it's weak or wide.

And then everyone sits back down.

There is a reason why big-time forwards make big-time money, even in MLS: goals count more than anything else. From creators like Dwayne De Rosario to target men like Kenny Cooper to pure poachers like Chris Wondolowski, high-profile forwards earn the right to bask in the spotlight that is thrust upon them.

Major League Soccer saw some prominent players leave for greener pastures this offseason. Among them were two high-profile scorers in Seattle's Fredy Montero and Kansas City's Kei Kamara.

Still, there's plenty of firepower left behind. While the parity that defines MLS leads to few guarantees, there are still a lot of players who are expected to be big-time goal scorers.

You've likely heard of a lot of them. But just in case you haven't, for this year's season preview I'm highlighting one big-time forward on each of the league's 19 teams.

These are the players who I think will command the spotlight – and the pressure that comes with it – throughout the 2013 season.

Chicago Fire: Sherjill MacDonald

Mid-season Designated Player signings often have trouble adjusting to the confines of MLS, and MacDonald's arrival in the Windy City was no different. But the Dutchman finally showed flashes of his potential with a two-goal performance late in the season at New York.

If MacDonald can score consistently this year, a deep Chicago team could make a deep run in the playoffs.

Chivas USA: Juan Agudelo

Remember when Agudelo scored in his very first appearance with the senior national team? Or when he scored against Argentina at a sold-out MetLife Stadium? Those games were in December of 2010 and March of 2011, respectively. It's now two months into February of 2013.

Agudelo still has the raw skills, but he needs to earn the trust of new Chivas manager José Luis Sánchez Solá. "El Chelis" also needs to trust Agudelo if the Goats are to shed their label as MLS' perennial laughingstock.

Colorado: Edson Buddle

Here's another player with U.S. national team pedigree who's the best forward on a less-than-stellar MLS squad. Buddle never meshed well with Robbie Keane in Los Angeles. Now he gets to be the big name in Colorado, which badly needs a spark after a disappointing 2012.

Columbus Crew: Jairo Arrieta

Columbus is stacked with midfield creators. In Federico Higuaín, Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram and Dominic Oduro, the Crew can be just as good at running you over as it is at passing the ball around you. Arrieta's job is to finish what all those guys start.

The 29-year-old Costa Rican was a big part of the Crew's late-season surge last year, scoring four goals in the season's last five games. If he can keep that momentum going this year, Columbus could take a playoff berth away from New York or D.C.

D.C. United: Dwayne De Rosario

The two-time MVP could have won a third award had he stayed healthy for all of last season. In fact, though, De Rosario's true value was defined by his absence, as D.C.'s offense failed to truly spark in the playoffs. When the Canadian is at his best, he's one of the rare players in MLS who can carry a team single-handedly.

FC Dallas: Kenny Cooper

Cooper first emerged as a young star when playing for Dallas from 2006 to 2009. After stints in Europe, Portland and New York, Cooper is now back where it all began. Expectations for him are high – and they should be, since he scored 18 goals in 26 games last year.

Houston Dynamo: Omar Cummings

One of the biggest deals of the offseason took place just three weeks after the MLS Cup Final. Houston acquired the speedy Jamaican in a trade with Colorado, and in doing so made MLS' most difficult team to beat even tougher. Cummings' pace is a perfect complement to Will Bruin's size and power.

With Cummings and Bruin working together, expect a much higher finish than No. 5 for the Dynamo this year.

Sporting Kansas City: Claudio Bieler

Kansas City's triumph in last year's U.S. Open Cup was the springboard for one of MLS' best-run teams to rise to the next level. So Peter Vermes brought in Bieler as a step up over youngsters C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury.

The 28-year-old Argentine may not be well-known to MLS observers, but Vermes thought highly enough of Bieler to make him a Designated Player. With attacking sparkplug Kei Kamara on loan to Norwich City, Bieler will have to deliver the goods right away in order to keep Kansas City among the Eastern Conference's elite.

Los Angeles Galaxy: Robbie Keane

During the early parts of last year, Keane admitted that his main goal was to avoid getting injured ahead of Ireland's trip to the European Championship. Once the tournament ended, though, Keane took off like a rocket for L.A.

He scored 13 of his 16 regular-season goals after returning from Poland and Ukraine, and six goals in six games in the playoffs. David Beckham and Landon Donovan may have been the Galaxy's biggest stars, but Keane was the player who truly won last year's championship.

Now Beckham is gone, and Landon Donovan is away until late March. The spotlight is fully on Keane, and it's well-deserved.

Montréal Impact: Marco Di Vaio

There's no question that Di Vaio can score. But there were plenty of questions about Di Vaio's work ethic when the Impact brought him to Montréal last year. It took a while for the Italian to settle, but at this point those questions have been put to rest.

A few well-taken goals in preseason have already shown that Di Vaio is on the same wavelength with new manager Marco Schällibaum. We'll see if the Impact's slowly-building chemistry can take hold for a full season.

New England Revolution: Jerry Bengtson

Once upon a time, Carlos Ruiz was public enemy No. 1 among American soccer fans. Nowadays, even though the Guatemalan just signed with D.C. United, his star is in decline.

Enter Bengtson, a 25-year-old Honduran signed by New England last year as a young Designated Player. Though the Revolution don't get much buzz across MLS, Bengston seared his name on American soccer fans consciences with a goal against the United States in last months' World Cup qualifier.

Expect to hear Bengtson's name a lot more this year, for both club and country.

New York Red Bulls: Thierry Henry

He is the biggest star in Major League Soccer's biggest city. He is also the biggest ego in Major League Soccer's most perennially underachieving team. And he has been accused a few times of pulling the strings behind the scenes that led to Mike Petke's installment as New York's new head coach.

At the end of the day, the Red Bulls will go as far as Henry can take them. And let there be no doubt that he can still take his team very far. But this is Henry's fourth season in MLS, and it's time to deliver. Eighteen years without any silverware is a long time, whether by New York's standards or any other.

Philadelphia Union: Conor Casey

I know that Union fans want to see a lot out of Jack McInerney and Sébastien Le Toux. Casey has more potential to dominate a game than any of them.

Now that he's at full health, Casey's imposing frame and dominant aerial game give Philadelphia a kind of attacking threat that we've never seen in the River End. He can play the point in a 4-3-3 or with a partner in a 4-4-2. Both may be required, and ultimately desired, if the Union are to return to the playoffs.

Portland Timbers: Ryan Johnson

There were a lot of high-profile transactions in MLS this offseason. Ryan Johnson's move from Toronto to Portland wasn't one of them, but it could end up having a very big impact on the Western Conference playoff race.

The 28-year-old Jamaican has fit perfectly into new Timbers coach Caleb Porter's system so far this season. He has played the point in a 4-3-3 and has paired well with Darlington Nagbe in a 4-4-2.

Johnson's hat trick in a recent preseason game against San Jose showed a pretty wide range of talents. If he keeps up that form, expect Portland to make the playoffs.

Real Salt Lake: Robbie Findley

Jason Kreis has assembled one of the closest things MLS has to a dynasty in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains. Even though Real Salt Lake lost some big names this offseason in Fabian Espindola and Jámison Olave, the team still has big-time attacking talent in Javier Morales, Joao Plata and Álvaro Saborío.

But it really wasn't that long ago that Findley played for the United States national team at the 2010 World Cup. That stage served as a springboard to Europe, but Findley ended up spending most of his two-and-a-half years at Nottingham Forest injured.

Now Findley is back in a place that he knows well, and that knows him well. If Findley can rediscover his old form, RSL's five-year streak of playoff appearances is likely to continue.

San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski

The best measure of how impressive it was that Wondolowski tied MLS' single-season goal record is that the mark was first set in the league's first year.

To score 27 goals in 32 games is a remarkable achievement no matter what league in the world you're talking about. So is scoring 64 goals in 104 games, which is Wondolowski's career tally with the Earthquakes. Now the question is whether he can do it again, or even come close to it.

It's frustrating to many people who follow the U.S. national team that Wondolowski hasn't translated his club form to his country. But when it comes to just MLS, he remains one of the league's most feared strikers.

Seattle Sounders: Eddie Johnson

Every American player who jumps at a first chance to leave MLS for Europe can learn from Eddie Johnson.

Yes, there have been plenty of success stories – Clint Dempsey and Geoff Cameron are just a few examples. But there have also been many failures. One of them is drawing a $519,000 annual salary from the Union.

Johnson played for four teams across three countries in Europe between 2008 and 2011. He never really settled at any of them. None provided the platform for success that he craved.

So Johnson decided to come back to the United States, and as soon as he landed in Seattle he hit the jackpot. Fourteen goals in 28 games later, Johnson became one of the most popular players on one of MLS' most popular teams, and he has regained a place in the U.S. national team.

But now the pressure on Johnson is going to rise. Fredy Montero is gone, leaving Johnson as the only bona fide goal scorer on Seattle's roster. He'll have to deliver another big season if the Sounders are to have any hope of finally bringing a MLS Cup to the raucous fans in the Emerald City.

Toronto FC: Danny Koevermans

Koevermans takes this spot because frankly, somebody has to. The only other forwards officially listed on Toronto's roster right now are Andrew Wiedeman and Justin Braun, both of whom are reserve-level players.

Even though Koevermans is still rehabbing from an ACL injury suffered last season, he's still better than any other forward currently in Toronto's squad. And since Koevermans is a Designated Player, his absence affects the Reds as much as his presence would.

It's a sign of just how deep a hole the Reds have to dig out of that the team's lack of attackers isn't even its biggest problem. New coach Ryan Nelsen and president Kevin Payne are likely to make a lot more moves in the coming weeks as Toronto's latest rebuilding project begins.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Darren Mattocks

Every once in a while, someone comes along asking how athletes from other sports would fare playing soccer. Last year, Mattocks answered that question once and for all.

Neil Armstrong may have coined the phrase "one giant leap," but this remarkable headed goal set a new standard for athleticism in MLS. Mattocks' elevation and hang time sent jaws all over North America crashing to the floor, and confirmed the Jamaican's arrival as one of the brightest young stars in the league.

Mattocks' directional prowess doesn't just extend vertically, though. It can go in many directions. His first ever MLS goal capped off a mazy run with a lethal finishing touch. His second was a straight-line sprint to glory.

It took a while for Mattocks to earn manager Martin Rennie's trust – and a kitchen accident that led to a six-week injury absence didn't help.

But that's in the past. In the present, Mattocks seems ready to cook up a very big season.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
About this blog
The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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