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5 players to watch in MLS this season

March 05, 2016 16:19 IST

Major League Soccer's highly-skilled big-name players who command the top salaries are under pressure to deliver results in the upcoming 2016 season after failing to provide success for their teams last year.

LA Galaxy's Steven Gerrard and New York City FC's Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard were among the high-profile players who were supposed to lift their clubs to new levels but the big salaries did not bring in the silverware.

Five players to watch during the 2016 Major League Soccer season, which opens on Sunday.

Steven Gerrard (La Galaxy)

Steven Gerrard

IMAGE: Los Angeles Galaxy's Steven Gerrard takes a shot on goal. Photograph: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

After joining the Galaxy last July following a 17-year stint at Premier League club Liverpool, the former England captain struggled in his MLS debut season despite playing on a team that had won three of the previous four league titles.

Gerrard ultimately found it hard to dominate and manage the midfield as he did at Liverpool, and in 15 appearances with the Galaxy across all competitions in 2015, he scored two goals.

Part of a talented team that includes Robbie Keane, Giovani Dos Santos and recent signings Ashley Cole and Nigel De Jong, Gerrard will not have to worry about being the only marquee player on the roster.

Still, Galaxy fans will be looking for the 35-year-old midfielder to justify his roughly $6 million salary and show that he is not using MLS simply to scoop up a final bucketload of money before retiring.

Darlinton Nagbe (Portland Timbers)

Born in Liberia and raised in Ohio, Nagbe became a U.S. citizen last September and promptly made his national team debut for Jurgen Klinsmann's team a mere two months later.

Experts have long been raving about the potential of the 25-year-old ever since he was taken second overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, and Klinsmann is an unabashed fan.

After four solid seasons, Nagbe took his game to a new level in 2015 and played an integral role in Portland's march to the MLS Cup championship, earning plaudits by some as the best box-to-box midfielder in the league.

Entering the prime of his career, now is the time for Nagbe to make the step and lead his team back to the postseason.

Cyle Larin (Orlando City FC)

The Canadian lived up to his billing after being taken first overall in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by scoring a rookie record 17 goals in 27 games during the regular season for the expansion Orlando City team.

The 20-year-old striker went on to claim MLS Rookie of the Year honours and will now do all he can to avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump" in 2016.

Larin proved to be one of the more efficient scorers in MLS as his average of .80 goals per 90 minutes (not including penalties) trailed only Didier Drogba of the Montreal Impact.

With one season under his belt, a boatload of confidence and being on a team with play-maker Kaka, Larin could very well be set to embark on yet another impressive campaign.

Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew)

The Sierra Leone-born striker, who scored 22 regular season goals and added four playoff strikes last year, has turned the pain from losing last season's MLS Cup into motivation for the 2016 campaign.

But one distraction for 31-year-old Kamara, currently in the second year of a three-year contract with Columbus, is that he is unhappy with his current deal and wants to renegotiate with the Crew.

Kamara was an MVP finalist last year, ultimately losing out to FC's Sebastian Giovinco, and Columbus are well aware that he would likely play a key role if they are to make a return trip to the MLS Cup later this year.

He was the Crew's leading scorer last year.

Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact)

While Didier Drogba understandably stole most of the headlines after joining Montreal mid-season, Piatti did not miss a beat during a campaign in which he scored nine times and was credited with eight assists.

The 31-year-old attacking midfielder from Argentina appears to have the ball on a string with his dazzling dribbling skills, and no doubt would be an international regular if he hailed from a smaller football power.

He showed his class to an international audience as the Impact made the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, and the team reportedly recently turned down a lucrative transfer offer from an undisclosed Latin American club.

With Piatti’s ability to both score, and create chances for Drobga and company, Montreal fans have plenty to look forward to in 2016, at the very least another playoff appearance.

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