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Chicharito, Bale, Higuain: Which stars will need to step up to win MLS Cup?

12:30 AM SGT 11/10/22
Bale Chicharito Higuain split
GOAL takes a look at each team's star player ahead of the playoffs

Major League Soccer is a league based on stars and starpower, even if those two don't always lead to on-field success.

Since the league's inception, MLS has been a league driven by big names, with the league's roster rules lending themselves to teams featuring at least one easily-identifiable star man.

For some, those names are familiar: former European-based players that have long seen themselves play on the biggest stage. For others, the stars are less familiar, but no less vital, as one of the beautiful things about MLS is how teams can build in a variety of ways.

Even so, each team has at least one key player to look out for. GOAL has you covered when it comes to each team's star to watch on the road to MLS Cup.

  • Gareth Bale LAFC

    LAFC - Gareth Bale

    We've only gotten a slight taste of how good Bale can be in MLS.

    The former Real Madrid star arrived this summer, but has been somewhat eased in to life at LAFC. He has just two goals in 12 appearances, but it should be noted that he's only started in two of those matches.

    Those matches, though, were during the regular season, and Bale wasn't brought in for the regular season. He was brought in to lead this team to the MLS Cup glory that it has been oh so close to since arriving in the league.

    By many measures, LAFC are the best team in MLS, and Bale is that team's most talented player. He hasn't even scratched the surface of his abilities yet in MLS but, if he does, LAFC will be clear favorites to win it all.

  • Daniel Gazdag Philadelphia Union 2022

    Philadelphia Union - Daniel Gazdag

    It could be easily argued that Gazdag should be the league's Most Valuable Player.

    His stats are ridiculous: 22 goals and 10 assists in MLS play. He's only the ninth player in MLS history to hit the 30-goal contribution mark.

    And the Union, for large stretches of the season, were the league's most entertaining and dominant team, regularly beating the snot out of opponents by multiple goals. Gazdag was vital to that and was vital to pretty much anything the Union did all through their run to the top of the East.

    The Hungarian is a true monster of a midfielder, and one of the signings the Union have hit big on to supplement the homegrown core that has them right up there among the league's elite.

  • Sebastian Driussi 2022

    Austin FC - Sebastian Driussi

    Another MVP candidate that was at the top of his game this season.

    Driussi was right up there in the Golden Boot race all year, finishing with 22 goals and seven assists to his name this season. And it was those goal contributions that saw Austin FC reach a different level after finishing as the third-worst team in MLS in their debut season.

    There's nothing more valuable than a consistent difference-maker, and that's exactly what Driussi is. Every MLS team is hunting for a goalscorer like Driussi, and Austin FC sure has a good one to lead them into the postseason.

  • Mihailovic Montreal 2022

    CF Montreal - Djordje Mihailovic

    This will be the midfielder's last go around in MLS, and there is a legitimate chance Montreal can make it a special one.

    Mihailovic is bound for the Eredivisie this winter, having already signed a deal to move to AZ Alkmaar. But, before that, he'll finish off the season in Montreal, having helped the Canadian side seal the two seed in the East.

    It's no wonder AZ wanted the midfielder, who has provided 13 goals and 22 assists since joining the Montreal before last season. His assist numbers dipped this season from 16 to six, but he more than doubled his goal tally from last year by scoring nine this season.

    For Mihailovic, there's also the last-gasp hope of a World Cup spot looming large, even if he is unlikely to make the U.S. roster at this point.

  • Jesus Ferreira FC Dallas 2022 celebrate

    FC Dallas - Jesus Ferreira

    At this point, it may be unfair to say, but Ferreira is playing for a lot more than an MLS Cup.

    The U.S. men's national team star is fighting for a starting spot at the World Cup, as he remains locked in a battle with Ricardo Pepi, Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok to be the go-to No. 9. His spot on the team is all but assured, but he still may need some goals to truly cement his spot in the lineup against Wales.

    And that's not to say anything of the pressure he faces at FC Dallas. The son of a club legend, Ferreira has emerged as a star in his own right, scoring 18 goals while providing six assists this season after moving from more of a No. 10 to a No. 9 spot.

    With veterans like Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola teeing him up, Ferreira will be in charge of the goals for Dallas, who will hope to return to MLS Cup for the first time since 2010.

  • Talles Magno New York City MLS 2022

    New York City FC - Talles Magno

    The Brazilian starlet may not be in MLS much longer.

    After selling star striker Valentin Castellanos midseason, NYCFC put their faith in Magno, the young Brazilian star that was signed despite interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs.

    Magno, like Castellanos before him, is an investment in both the club's present and future. Currently, he's good enough to contribute in MLS with seven goals and 10 assists this season. And, in the future, the belief is that he can command an eight-figure transfer fee.

    NYCFC are the defending MLS Cup champions, but are a much different team without Castellanos. Can Magno be good enough to make up for that? That's the big question, isn't it?

  • Chicharito clown celebration Galaxy 2022

    LA Galaxy -Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez

    Who else could it be?

    The Mexican star scored his 18th goal of the season this past weekend, one more than last season, as he continues to be among the best strikers in MLS. He's long past any of those doubts that plagued his first season and long past the point of anyone saying he's anything less than one of the best strikers in MLS.

    The question is if will be enough for the Galaxy. Some pieces around Chicharito haven't quite shined, with Douglas Costa, this offseason's big signing, failing to live up to expectations. But recent addition Riqui Puig has been stepped in seamlessly since his summer transfer from Barcelona.

    Chicharito is this team's leader, its heart and soul, and if he steps up, the Galaxy will always have a chance.

  • Morgan Red Bulls 2022

    New York Red Bulls - Lewis Morgan

    An absolutely incredible signing for the Red Bulls, a team that has built itself around bringing in players for far less than they're worth.

    Morgan scored 17 goals in all competitions this season after being traded to the Red Bulls by Inter Miami, who needed a roster shakeup amid poor results and a bit of rule-breaking. They paid a hefty $1.2 million fee in allocation money, but you'll take that all day for a player that can reach Morgan's level.

    The former Celtic winger scores goals and presses his butt off, which is, as always, a big deal for the Red Bulls. So far, "the Red Bull way" hasn't produced an MLS Cup, but maybe Morgan can provide that little bit of quality they've been missing in the playoffs in years past.

  • Hany Mukhtar 2022

    Nashville SC - Hany Mukhtar

    The Golden Boot winner himself.

    Mukhtar has been absolutely spectacular since moving to MLS, but he continues to take his game to another level. That level saw him score 23 goals while providing 11 assists, almost singlehandedly keeping Nashville going at points this season.

    He's not all they have, as Nashville can always defend thanks to the presence of USMNT star Walker Zimmerman. But the German attacker is exactly the type of player that can put a team on his back in a postseason format and carry them all the way, much like, say, Sebastian Giovinco or Miguel Almiron, two players that made everyone around them that much better.

  • Luciano Acosta 2022

    FC Cincinnati - Luciano Acosta

    What a player.

    After emerging as a star in D.C. before falling off the radar in Mexico, Acosta is back and better than ever. The FC Cincinnati playmaker was the league's runaway leader in assists, finishing with 19 on the season, four more than anyone else.

    He's a special playmaker with forwards like Brandon Vazquez and Brenner in front of him, and that's always a dangerous combination. When you mix incredible service with reliable finishing, you always have a chance.

    But, for Cincy to move on, they'll need Acosta to be what he has been: spectacular.

  • Emanuel Reynoso Minnesota 2022

    Minnesota United - Emanuel Reynoso

    MLS is a league where the old-school Argentine No. 10s can still shine, and there's perhaps no better example of that than Reynoso.

    He's dealt with injury issues recently, but he was still a double-digit goalscorer and double-digit assister this season.

    And ne only has to go back to his 2020 playoff performance, one goal and SEVEN assists over three games, to see how good he can be in a playoff format. If he can somehow do that again? Look out.

  • Gonzalo Higuain Inter Miami 2022-23

    Inter Miami - Gonzalo Higuain

    What a story it could be.

    Higuain with one final swansong, one final goalscoring run, one final trophy. He'll never get the recognition or respect he deserves, and he'll never escape the toxicity that has come with his career, but Higuain deserves one more moment in the spotlight.

    Whether he can get that moment is something else altogether, though. There are certainly questions about Inter Miami, who were blasted by Montreal to close the regular season. But, before that, they'd been so good with Higuain's goalscoring renaissance lifting them into the postseason.

    Miami only have a chance if Higuain is the best player on the field and, down the stretch, he was very often. Can he create one last big moment? We'll see.

  • Savarino Real Salt Lake 2022

    Real Salt Lake - Jefferson Savarino

    This comes with the obvious caveat that Real Salt Lake is not a team with a star.

    And that's no insult, but rather part of the plan. RSL know what they are and they play their role well enough to find themselves in the playoffs year after year.

    RSL, as usual, do things by committee, but if there is one player that will need to step up, it is Savarino, the team's Designated Player. He left the club in 2019 to join Atletico Mineiro and returned this season, finishing second on the team in both goals and assists.

    At some point in the playoffs, every team needs a game where an attacking player can do something special and, with RSL, the bet is that it would be Savarino that does it.

  • Orlando Torres 2022

    Orlando CIty - Facundo Torres

    He's the club record signing and he's already carried Orlando City to one trophy. Torres was vital during the Lions' U.S. Open Cup victory and he's seemingly only getting better.

    At just 21 years old, he provided nine goals and 10 assists, giving him the most single-season goal contributions in club history. It's likely been the best individual season the club has seen in MLS.

    Yes, better than Kaka or Nani.

    Torres has has a long way to reach their levels overall, but he's been about as good as can be this season for an Orlando team that will now hope to ride the hot hand for a playoff run.