World Cup 2022: Top 10 MLS players to watch in Qatar, including Ecuador’s Jose Cifuentes


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dated: 2022-11-20 15:32:28 .

[World Cup: Viewer’s guide | Group previews | Top 30 players | Power rankings]

The wait is finally over. The World Cup is here and Major League Soccer will feature 11 different nations in the tournament. Keep this as a guide to follow some of the biggest MLS players in Qatar.

Gareth Bale (Wales, LAFC)

If you haven’t been paying attention, yes, Gareth Bale plays in the MLS. He even scored the all-important goal in overtime to help LAFC win the first MLS Cup in franchise history. But for all the excitement his arrival in Los Angeles generated, he didn’t quite live up to it. Due to injuries and maybe a little overcoming the load, he was more often out of the field. But that moment in the MLS Cup was a reminder of what a player of his caliber can achieve in a short amount of time. We can’t be sure what to expect from him at the World Cup, but if anything, he should be fresh and rested for Wales. Surprisingly, their first game is against the USA, so a lot of attention will be focused on this clash, which will have a big impact on the events in Group B.

Gareth Bale and José Cifuentes are ready to represent their countries and MLS in Qatar after helping LAFC win their first MLS Cup. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Hector Herrera (Mexico City, Houston Dynamo)

Mexico already has enough question marks and HH comes as another one. He arrived in Houston in the summer to join the Dynamo, but had little impact on a team that was already on the brink of a losing season. Watching him with Mexico offers some optimism as his talent and knowledge of the system can definitely shine through at times. On the other hand, can he hold his own as a consistent part of a team desperate to silence critics? I’m not sure if he’s the best and most consistent option for Tata Martin.

Thiago Almada (Argentina, Atlanta United)

The 21-year-old midfielder was not in the final squad for the World Cup but was called up on Thursday as an injury replacement. It will be interesting to see how much minutes he actually plays because he is an absolute player. The 2022 MLS Rookie of the Year has settled in and quickly become one of Atlanta’s few bright spots. Even Lionel Messi thinks highly of him. Almada made his debut for Argentina at the end of September, with Messi commenting: “He is very fast and has a lot of 1v1 ability. He is very smart and is not afraid of anything. It’s coming towards you.” He seems like someone who could play a decent role for a side playing as favorites to win the tournament. And who better to give positive feedback than this guy?

Karol Swiderski (Poland, Charlotte FC)

Much of Poland’s success will depend on Robert Lewandowski. But he can’t do it alone and the conditions are set here for someone like Swidersky to make a difference. He scored 10 goals in Charlotte’s first season this year and should be in good form for Qatar. Add to that his reliability, as he has played in 30 of Charlotte’s 34 games this season. He has proved to be a good fit for this Polish side and they may have to rely on him, especially with former Revs forward Adam Buksa missing the tournament with a foot injury. The opening games of the group stage are important for everyone, but Poland-Mexico carries huge weight as it will likely decide who advances from Group B along with Argentina.

Facundo Torres (Uruguay, Orlando City)

I really like Uruguay in this tournament. Experience is key at world championships, and they have plenty of it. But the balance that Diego Alonso has in this team is legit. Having a player like Torres as an option off the bench gives you an automatic game changer. He comes in hungry after Orlando kind of struggled through the MLS season but snuck into the playoffs. If it hadn’t been for him, they might have fought over the Wooden Spoon. Also, don’t forget that it was his late pair of goals five minutes apart that lifted Orlando City to victory in the US Open Cup a few months ago. Just a quality player who is very much on this country’s radar and could start a run that I expect to see at least as far as the quarter finals.

Orlando City’s Facundo Torres celebrates in front of fans after helping defeat Sacramento Republic in the US Open Cup final soccer match Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Walker Zimmerman (USA, Nashville SC)

Like it or not, the USMNT roster includes many MLS players, and many of them will actually play big roles. Zimmerman certainly has a tough job as a regular in Gregg Berhalter’s defense. In recent seasons, he has become one of the best defenders in the league, which means both skill and confidence when wearing the red, white and blue. Much has been made of the American attack, but Zimmerman must ensure his colleagues are aligned in defense to keep hope alive and avoid disaster in the group stage. Without a player like Miles Robinson (Achilles) and possibly paired with Aaron Long, many do not feel overly confident about this defensive unit.

Nouhou Tolo (Cameroon, Seattle Sounders)

When it comes to some of the best defenders in MLS, Nouhou is just that. Just an absolute beast of a player with his physicality and endless motor. He became a borderline legend for Cameroonian fans after he killed Mo Salah in the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations. He is no stranger to the big stage as he also helped lead the Sounders to become the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League. The MLS season has been a disappointment for them, but that’s largely an anomaly for a franchise that has dominated the league year after year. Group G certainly wasn’t a friendly place for Cameroon to land and I don’t expect much from them, but it’s worth keeping an eye on just for fun, especially against a ferocious Brazil attack.

Jose Cifuentes (Ecuador, LAFC)

Cifu’s time in MLS is most likely over. Since arriving in LA, he has developed into one of the best midfielders in the league. Head coach Steve Cherundolo has praised the Ecuadorian throughout the season, and he has repaid it by being a key player in a historic run that saw the black and gold win the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup. They put him on the radar at the 2019 South American U-20 Championship, where he stepped up as Ecuador took home the title. He has a big move coming up and this tournament should only help those suitors make offers. Ecuador impressed in World Cup qualifiers under Gustavo Alfaro and are a team that could surprise some.

CF Montreal’s Ismael Kone (28) during the second half of an MLS soccer match against Orlando City, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Ismael Kone (Canada, CF Montreal)

Koné’s rise has been incredible. This 20-year-old is already attracting a lot of attention, and in the near future there could be a move abroad. Playing well beyond his years, he uses his calm demeanor as well as his playmaking ability to set himself apart from his peers. He’s shown that quality in the few games he’s played for Canada and he just fits the role well. Montreal has been one of the better teams in MLS this season and played a significant role, especially in the second half and in the playoffs. There are a lot of eyes on this kid and I expect head coach John Herdman to give him plenty of opportunities to showcase himself on the biggest stage of all.

Jesus Ferreira (USA, FC Dallas)

Will anyone become the definitive number 9 for the USMNT? In this tournament, it will certainly not be Ricardo Pepi, because Berhalter surprisingly dropped him from the team. Maybe his successor in Dallas can do it. The 2022 MLS Young Player of the Year had a season to remember, scoring 18 goals to tie the club record for most goals in a season. Can that translate to the national stage? I think the dangerous approach when it comes to Berhalter’s line-ups is that he is likely to start the first game against Wales. But Ferreira, like most strikers, is on a short leash. They didn’t consolidate anything during the qualifiers and in fact now they have to recover in position. He has the quality to make the jump here, but the uncertainty at the top is working against him and the US at the moment.

Honorable mentions: Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland, Chicago Fire), Alistair Johnston (Canada, CF Montreal, Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador, Seattle Sounders)


World Cup 2022: Top 10 MLS players to watch in Qatar, including Ecuador’s Jose Cifuentes

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