AP Sports Writer
With the MLS season beginning this weekend, here are nine players or duos to keep an eye on for the 2019 season:
— Josef Martinez and Pity Martinez Atlanta United. Josef Martinez, the reigning Golden Boot winner, decided not to move overseas and instead signed a new deal to remain in Atlanta. He lost Miguel Almiron as his partner in goal scoring, but the addition of Pity Martinez from River Plate in Argentina will help keep Atlanta among the most potent offenses in the league.
— Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy. Safe to say the Lion roared in his first MLS season. In true Ibrahimovic fashion, he arrived to great fanfare, backed up all the hype, considered leaving MLS after a half season and decided to return. As the 37-year-old said at a recent Galaxy event: “Because they say I’m old, I am looking to break every record in MLS this season.” Watch out.
— Lucho Acosta and Wayne Rooney, D.C. United. No team in the Eastern Conference made a bigger turnaround last season than D.C. United after the addition of Rooney and pairing him with Acosta. Acosta turned down overtures from France to remain in MLS and now gets a full season with Rooney. Throw in D.C. spending all of 2019 at Audi Field and expect the Rooney-Acosta combo to keep them among the contenders in the East.
— Tim Howard, Colorado. It’s the farewell tour for one of the best American goalkeepers of all-time. The 39-year-old announced in January the 2019 season with the Rapids would be his last as a professional after a sterling career that included three World Cup appearances and a lengthy stay in the Premier League at Manchester United and Everton.
— Darwin Quintero, Minnesota United. It’s time for the Loons to show up. They will move into their new stadium in April. They’ve added one of the best defensive midfielders in the league in Osvaldo Alonso. Now it’s on Quintero to be the leader of Minnesota’s offensive attack that will need to give fans something to get excited about showing up at Allianz Field.
— Zach Steffan, Columbus. The reigning MLS goalkeeper of the year will only be around for half the year — at least that’s the plan of now — ahead of his move to Manchester City. He’ll be a big part of Columbus’ early transition with coach Gregg Berhalter moving on to take over the U.S. national team.
— Chris Wondolowski, San Jose. Wondolowski’s next goal will match Landon Donovan for the most goals in MLS history. The 36-year-old is also trying to become the first player in MLS history with double-digit goals in 10 straight seasons.
— Carlos Vela, LAFC. Vela was responsible for 14 goals and 13 assists in LAFC’s debut season, enough to draw some flirtation from big European clubs. He stayed and will be trying to have LAFC build on last year’s stellar inaugural season that fell short after being upset in the postseason.
— Jordan Morris, Seattle. Morris never appeared in an MLS game in 2018 after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee during the CONCACAF Champions League. Before playing a game, he’ll be the front-runner for comeback player of the year and will add to a dangerous Seattle attack that will have Raul Ruidiaz playing at the top for a full season, allowing Morris to attack from a wing position. If they stay healthy, Morris’ addition may give Seattle the most dynamic attacking midfield in the West.