Major League Soccer today revealed the 2016 MLS Best XI, recognizing the league’s top players at each position on the field as determined by media, MLS players and MLS club staff. The 11 players named to the Best XI represent some of the league’s most exciting and accomplished talent comprised of international stars and breakout players.
2016 MLS Best XI
Goalkeeper: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
Defenders: Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids), Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy)
Midfielders: Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact)
Forwards: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
The 2016 Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake suits up in between the posts on the Best XI. The Jamaican international had a breakout season in 2016, becoming the undisputed starter for the Philadelphia Union with 32 regular season starts en route to helping the Union qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The first goalkeeper to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft in 2014, Blake has outshined his competition this year with his remarkable shot-stopping abilities and athletic prowess, earning himself a 2016 MLS All-Star nod in the process.
Manning the Best XI back line are three standout defenders who led their clubs to the top three finishes in the Western Conference. The 2016 MLS Defender of the Year, Matt Hedges anchored FC Dallas in one of the franchise’s most successful seasons which saw the club capture the 2016 Supporters’ Shield and 2016 U.S. Open Cup title. Joining him is the towering 6-foot-7, 2015 MLS SuperDraft pick Axel Sjoberg, whose unassuming breakout season helped the Rapids complete one of the greatest turnarounds in MLS history, going from a last place finish in the West in 2015 to the Supporters’ Shield runner-ups in 2016. Closing out the group is LA Galaxy newcomer Jelle Van Damme, whose steadfast leadership and daunting presence along the back line steered the Galaxy to its eighth consecutive postseason appearance.
Some of the most skillful players on the ball make up a dangerous quartet of midfielders on the Best XI squad. From the Western Conference, Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy) was one of only two players league wide to register double-digit goals (14) and assists (12) in 2016, while Mauro Diaz ranked tied for third in MLS in assists (13) en route to leading FC Dallas to its double titles. In the Eastern Conference, Ignacio Piatti finished tied for third in the league with 17 goals, helping the Montreal Impact to become the first Canadian team to reach the Conference Championships. Rounding out the midfield group is 2016 MVP finalist Sacha Kljestan, who led the Red Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference with 20 assists, the second highest single-season assist mark in league history.
The Best XI forward contingent is made up of three of the most lethal strikers the league has seen, all hailing from the Eastern Conference. Combining for 121 goals since 2015 are 2015 Golden Boot and MLS MVP winner Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), 2016 Golden boot runner-up David Villa (New York City FC), and 2016 and 2014 Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls). All three players continued to light up the field this year, with New York rivals, Villa and Wright-Phillips, ending the regular season with 23 and 24 goals, respectively, while earning the tag as the league’s most prolific strikers over the past two years with 41 combined goals apiece. Giovinco has continued his dominance in Canada, leading the league in combined goals (17) and assists (15) for the second straight year.
Seven of the players named to the 2016 MLS Best XI are first-time selections, while Giovinco, Hedges, Kljestan and Wright-Phillips each make their second appearance.
2016 MLS Best XI Bios:
Andre Blake Goalkeeper Philadelphia Union Nationality: Jamaica Born: November 21, 1990
A Generation adidas signing, and the first goalkeeper ever to be taken with the top pick in the history of MLS’ college draft, Blake emerged in his first full season as a starter to guide the Union to its second ever postseason appearance and first since 2011. Blake has starred for both club and country, starting all three Copa America Centenario matches for his native Jamaica with 22 career caps while registering 32 starts between the posts for Philadelphia en route to his first AT&T All-Star and MLS Best XI selections this season.
Matt Hedges Defender FC Dallas Nationality: USA Born: April 1, 1990
The 2016 MLS Defender of the Year winner led Dallas to a historic double with a U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield title this season. Hedges receives his second consecutive Best XI selection as the 26-year-old led Dallas to back-to-back 60-plus point seasons, the first club in MLS history to accomplish the feat. The No. 11 pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Hedges has played over 2,000 minutes in each of his five seasons with FC Dallas.
Axel Sjoberg Defender Colorado Rapids Nationality: Sweden Born: March 8, 1991
The tallest player in MLS at 6’7”, Sjoberg emerged as a physically imposing force for a dominant Colorado Rapids defense that allowed a league-best 32 goals this season. The 25-year-old Sjoberg ranked second in the league with 162 clearances and led Colorado to an undefeated home record, only the fifth team in MLS history to do so. Behind a stellar defense, Colorado advanced to the Western Conference Championships, with Sjoberg playing in every minute of postseason play.
Jelle Van Damme Defender LA Galaxy Nationality: Belgium Born: October 10, 1983
In his first season in MLS, the versatile defender registered four assists over his 28 starts for the Galaxy, leading the club to a league-best eighth consecutive postseason appearance. A finalist for the 2016 MLS Defender of the Year award, Van Damme ranked third in the league with 27 blocked shots while finishing in the top 10 with 95 interceptions this season. The Belgian native has over 30 career caps for his national team including appearances in UEFA Euro and World Cup qualifiers.
Mauro Diaz Midfielder FC Dallas Nationality: Argentina Born: March 10, 1991
One of the most creative playmakers in the league, Diaz has flourished with Dallas, leading the team to U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield titles in 2016. Diaz helped FCD become the first franchise in MLS history to record consecutive 60-plus point seasons behind a team-leading 13 assists, topping his previous career best of 10 set in 2015. The 25-year-old Argentine is one of only five players league wide to record double digit assist totals in each of the past two seasons.
Giovani dos Santos Midfielder/Forward LA Galaxy Nationality: Mexico Born: May 11, 1989
In his second season with the Galaxy, dos Santos was one of two players league wide to register double digit goals (14) and assists (12) this season, ranking in the top 10 in both categories. After starring in MLS this season, dos Santos earned his first call to represent the Mexican National Team in over a year with a pair of appearances in 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, adding to an already decorated international career which includes a 2012 Olympic gold medal and three Gold Cup titles (2009, 2011, 2015).
Sacha Kljestan Midfielder New York Red Bulls Nationality: USA Born: September 9, 1985
Kljestan made history with 20 assists this season, the second most ever in league annals and the top mark since the second assist rule was changed in 2002. In addition to his league-leading assist numbers, Kljestan added six goals in helping the Red Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference regular season standings. Kljestan’s tremendous performance this season pushed him back into the fray for the U.S. Men’s National Team where he scored two goals and added two assists in five caps while playing in important 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.
Ignacio Piatti Midfielder Montreal Impact Nationality: Argentina Born: February 4, 1985
The Argentine playmaker ranked third in the league with a career-best 17 goals this season, eight more than his previous season-high in 2015. Piatti’s standout season brought Montreal to its second consecutive postseason appearance. The third Designated Player signing in club history, Piatti helped Montreal become the first Canadian club to advance to the MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Championships with four goals and two assists in five postseason matches.
Sebastian Giovinco Forward Toronto FC Nationality: Italy Born: January 26, 1987
In his second season in MLS, the 2015 Landon Donovan MLS MVP had another tremendous campaign, leading the league in combined goals (17) and assists (15) for a second straight year. Toronto’s all-time leading goal scorer, Giovinco was integral in the postseason, scoring four goals and adding four assists in five playoff games to help TFC become the first Canadian team to advance to MLS Cup. While leading Toronto to its highest point total in franchise history, Giovinco garnered his second consecutive selections to the AT&T All-Star Team and MLS Best XI squad.
David Villa Forward New York City FC Nationality: Spain Born: December 3, 1981
Villa makes his first MLS Best XI team after scoring 23 goals and leading NYCFC to its first ever postseason appearance this season. Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer, Villa has played in three World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014), leading Spain to the 2010 title while receiving the Silver Shoe for scoring the second most goals in the tournament. The striker’s 41 goals since 2015 are tied for the best in MLS over that span.
Bradley Wright-Phillips Forward New York Red Bulls Nationality: England Born: March 12, 1985
Wright-Phillips collected his second Golden Boot after scoring 24 goals this season, becoming the first player in MLS history to record two seasons with 20-plus goals scored. The Englishman’s 68 goals scored since 2014 set a league record for the most goals over any three-year span. Behind Wright-Phillips, the Red Bulls finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive season. This is his second selection to the MLS Best XI.