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Why DC United’s Mateusz Klich & 6 other players deserve more attention | MLSSoccer.com

Why DC United’s Mateusz Klich & 6 other players deserve more attention | MLSSoccer.com

Now, we’re going in a slightly different direction ahead of Matchday 5.

Let’s talk about a handful of players who deserve more attention, for one reason or another. Whether you’re watching our MLS 360 whip-around show or focused on a single game, these stars might just catch your eye.

At D.C. United, we talk so much about Christian Benteke because he’s their big name. But I think people might, despite all of his career accomplishments, gloss over Mateusz Klich a little bit.

The Leeds United legend can play attacking midfield, more box-to-box, as a No. 6 – he can do everything. He covers ground, he will get you a goal; he’s captain material instructing players and telling them where to be. That last part is a big quality for me because I know how important it is. He’s been one of the league’s best midfielders so far this season. I know it’s very early, but his performances, he’s been everywhere.

Take D.C.’s recent 2-2 draw at Portland. He was the best player on the pitch, hands down. His experience in the English Premiership showed. Watching that game back, I thought “I haven’t paid enough attention to Klich since he came to MLS last year.” I just think he’s a classy player and if D.C. are going to have any success this season, Klich will be a big reason for that.

He’s also playing under a new manager in Troy Lesesne, adapting to a new system. When you can paint a picture for a player like “This is what I need you doing. This is how I want the team to play,” good players who understand the game will find their role. I was similar – I needed you to tell me, “Look, we’re eventually trying to do this. This is how I need you to do it.” After a while, my instincts will kick in from what you’ve told me.

We’re seeing that with Klich now, too. Troy’s bringing a high-pressure style of football to D.C. United, but they also want to play with the football and not just against the ball. For me, that suits Klich perfectly. He can get around the field and he’s very comfortable in possession, creating danger. His experience and leadership should really shine through.

In the last couple of years, LA Galaxy were a team that possessed the ball. They had a decent idea of what they wanted to do, they had a creative player in Riqui Puig, but there often was no final product, no end product. There was no danger really unless Riqui Puig did something out of the ordinary.

But with Joseph Paintsil coming into the team, I think he’s like an old-school winger and it’s refreshing to see. He’s not afraid to drive or take on players. When he does get in those final-third areas, he can lift his head and pick out a pass or the right cross. He’s the missing piece Galaxy desperately needed.

This guy is a game-changer. He’s the one rogue in the team – everything else can be pass-move, get Riqui on the ball. But when it goes to him, I’m excited, I’m waiting for something to happen.

I admittedly wasn’t sure what to make of Paintsil or how he would translate coming from the Belgian league. But he’s had no time settling in and he’s producing right away. Once they get Gabriel Pec into the squad more consistently too, he should only improve. We might just see the Galaxy of old coming back to life.

I was watching Philadelphia Union’s first game of the season and Quinn Sullivan played a pass with the outside of his boot, a trivela. It led to their late equalizer and, honestly, I didn’t know he had that about him.

I thought Quinn Sullivan was more of just a striker who runs in behind; he’s not even that. He’s more of an attacking midfielder/striker. But his football IQ is what’s impressed me the most, the way he can create a final play. He’s in a team with a front three of Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza and Mikael Uhre. They’re all established goal-scorers and they’ve all had success.

But when you think about Philadelphia this season, Sullivan’s almost their main man in the final third. He’s been brilliant. What I mean is these first few games, he’s been the player who has looked the most lively in the final third. He’s got ideas. He’s found good passes. He’s just looked dangerous. I think Gazdag and those guys, yeah, they’re gonna get your goals. But for someone I kind of overlooked, to go into a team such as Philly where they have big players, successful players, Sullivan’s really stood out.

Also, because we’re spoiled, sometimes we see 17-year-olds or 18-year-olds come onto the scene and they’re automatically amazing. We want that instant gratification. That hasn’t been the case with Sullivan, and that’s okay.

He’s still just 19, and these two or three years, they’ve all been learning experiences for him. He’s been getting minutes. He’s been subbed off when he doesn’t want to, only getting five or 10 minutes late in games and he’s had to earn the trust of Jim Curtin. He’s had to prove himself every day in training. And I think, at the beginning of the season, we’ve seen what he’s learned. We’ve seen him grow in confidence and what kind of player he can become.

Let me be clear: Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi are not on this list because of their ability. We know what they can do. These guys have played at the biggest stages in the world. Their capabilities don’t need any explanation.

It’s more their buy-in. When you see Insigne score his world-class goal last weekend, he’s running over to John Herdman, which is very eye-opening for me. That tells me a lot about a team, that their new coach has everyone on the same page.

The buy-in from Insigne and Bernardeschi will be Toronto’s biggest strength this year. Yes, Insigne is playing well. Bernardeschi is playing well in a few different roles, even though he’s not getting the numbers right now. I’ve seen him tracking back and defending in his own half. They both look creative. They both look interested, sharp, lively in the final third. I think if you can keep these two like this for the whole season, Toronto are really going to be the biggest surprise of the season.

Also: After being the worst team in the league last year, you don’t have that target on your back. So right now, teams are still maybe looking at them as the Toronto of 2023 or they’re waiting for this early rush to die down. But I can see from that celebration with Herdman, this won’t die down. Toronto are only going to get stronger. They do need a No. 9 to take pressure off Insigne and Bernardeschi, and if that happens, I could really see this team having a run in the playoffs.

I’ve been saying Lewis Morgan coming back for this season and being fit was like a new signing for Red Bulls. We talk about Emil Forsberg, Noah Eile – they’ve been fabulous. But Lewis Morgan has two goals in back-to-back games. What an impact.

It’s not easy to do what Lewis has done, to fall out of the team after your best season, miss a whole year basically. You have to be really strong mentally. People might forget about you quickly, but that’s sport, that’s football where if you’re not playing, who’s next up? It’s the player’s job to come back and show them what they’ve been missing and Lewis has been doing that.

Everyone has been calling for a No. 9 at Red Bulls, me included – they still need that. But Lewis Morgan, if he’s in this mood throughout the season, he will get you goals. And it’s because his mindset is almost like a striker. It’s not like a winger’s mindset. He doesn’t think just about assists and linking up play, he thinks more of getting on the end of plays and when he gets his chances he finishes.

Ironically, Lewis is wearing the No. 9 and Forsberg has the No. 10 now. That combination could be lethal for Red Bulls this year.

Look, Santiago Moreno maybe isn’t the guy in Portland. Evander is and he’s one of those players who’s got God-given talent. He’s their go-to guy, has the No. 10 shirt.

But when I see Santi Moreno, I almost owe him an apology because he’s the kind of player where I would see the Portland starting lineup and I would ignore him. I almost stereotype him, that he’s just going to be a quick winger, tricky, and will take people on. This guy has so much more than that. I almost think he could play as the No. 10. It’s not often you see that with a right winger – maybe a left winger can come inside, find a pass or appreciates getting assists more than goals.

Santi Moreno, when I watch him, he enjoys setting people up. He reminds me of Lloyd Sam, who I played with at Red Bull. Lloyd was a winger who could go by you, had very good feet, but the football IQ was his best attribute. Similarly, when Santi gets into the final third, he’s thinking of assists. A lot of wingers, they just think about beating a man and whipping one in hard across the near post or they don’t even look. But when you watch Moreno dribble, his head is always up, scanning, assessing.

I would encourage Portland to get Santi Moreno on the ball in the final third as much as possible because he doesn’t panic, he’s never rushed and he’s going to find the right pass. And that’s something I missed. It was actually Lloyd who suggested I watch him again, watch him properly. So I watched back their game against D.C. United, against New York City FC. This guy is brilliant.

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