An argument can be made that in the most crucial moments of a game, you donâ€™t always need the most complete player to save the day, but rather, a player that is deadly in a specific situation.
Although Major League Soccer canâ€™t claim it has the most elite soccer players in the world, it can make an argument that its players have elite skills.
With input from former MLS midfielder Seth Stammler, hereâ€™s a look at some players whose specific elite skill rivals those of some of the best players in the world.
Heading: Conor Casey
The most dominant players in the air typically have height and physical presence (think Tottenham Hotspurâ€™s Peter Crouch or Liverpoolâ€™s Andy Carroll). Casey is among the biggest players in MLS, and his work through the air is second to very few. On set pieces and corner kicks, he becomes one of the deadliest weapons on the field.
Dead Ball Striker: David Beckham
Itâ€™s no secret that while Beckham may be the most marketable player on the planet, he has never been one of the best. But heâ€™s the perfect fit for the list in a couple of categories because heâ€™s always been exceptional on free kicks and corners. He still remains one of the best, if not the best, dead ball strikers in the world.
Best First Touch: Javier Morales
Managers will bemoan poor touches that destroy a great build-up on a counter or set piece. Promising playersâ€™ careers are often derailed by an inability to ever possess a good first touch. Deftly receiving a pass and quickly moving the ball along can change everything for a team and a player. Itâ€™s no surprise that Morales is among the best, as fellow Argentines Maradona and Messi are legendary for handling the ball like no one else.
Best Finisher: Juan Pablo Angel
A great striker is built on many skills. Some have speed, some are excellent at positioning and some play well off others. But what separates the most valuable strikers is the ability to consistently put the ball in the back of the net, regardless of position, angle or defenders. Angel isnâ€™t as fast or as agile as he once was, but with 58 goals in 102 appearances for New York, itâ€™s clear the 35-year-old Colombian knows how to score.
Best Distributor: David Ferreira
The best team in the world right now is Barcelona, and the Catalansâ€™ trademark is holding possession, passing without fear but with ultimate accuracy. Messi steals the headlines with all the goals, but itâ€™s Xavi that sets the table for the entire team. In much the same way, look at FC Dallasâ€™ success last season, and it's no wonder that it coincided with Ferreiraâ€™s emergence in an MVP campaign. Heâ€™s the central figure, a diminutive distributor controlling the connections throughout his team.
Best Crosser: David Beckham
Even on the run, Beckham still controls crosses like few else can, which makes the posturing for a return to Europe feasible years after he was dismissed as being capable of returning to the top leagues.
Best PK Taker: Landon Donovan or Juan Pablo Angel
Veteran savvy. Ice water in the veins. An understanding of the odds and simple approaches that come with penalty kicks. Itâ€™s a basic skill set that seems remarkably simple. Yet these two players convert at rates that arenâ€™t often seen and would be enviable at any level.
Best Marker: Chad Marshall
Every good team has a defender that opponents find an annoying and considerable pain in the rear. The bigger that guy is, the bigger his reputation seems to be, as well. Thatâ€™s the guy you send after the opposing teamâ€™s biggest offensive threat. Marshall is the two-time defender of the year in MLS for a reason. Heâ€™s effective, forceful and clogs up attacks. And if you need a man marked, Marshall will render him ineffective more often than not.
Best Tackler: Kyle Beckerman
The best tackler on a team is usually a guy that covers a lot of ground from box-to-box. Heâ€™s often teetering on the line of fearless and foul. He pushes that line and then makes opponents uneasy each time he comes charging at them. Beckerman does the dirty work and he does it well, careening through the ball and stifling his counterparts.
Best Leader/Team Captain: Landon Donovan
Go back six years and this may seem like a crazy pick. But Donovan has matured the past few years, thanks to experience on the U.S. national team, as well as a spell abroad at Everton. Formerly tagged as a prima donna pretty boy, heâ€™s matured into the leader of both club and country, full of swagger and uninterested in excuses.
Best Pace: Dane Richards
Speed kills in any sport, and Richards can fly with the ball, pushing it up the sideline, widening the playing field and spreading the defense out. It should continue to create space in the middle for players like Thierry Henry to carve out goals with fewer obstacles in the way.
Best Keeper: Kasey Keller
The only reason Keller is no longer the keeper for the U.S. national team is that Tim Howard has emerged as one of the top keepers in the world. But Keller remains sharp, and as a veteran of four World Cups, has all the experience imaginable to make up for any skill lost with age. Which is to say, he still doesnâ€™t seem to be missing much.
Most Innovative Manager: Jason Kreis
When he was hired as the manager of Real Salt Lake in 2007, Kreis was the youngest active head coach. He led the club to its first postseason appearance in 2008 and its first title in 2009. Great managers divert attention from their players, keep the media guessing and seemingly always have the right tactical approach. Kreis manages to do all this very well, and still understands how to make adjustments, instead of clinging to an original plan that wonâ€™t work.