The 2016 MLS season has just begun, but across the Atlantic the pinnacle of club soccer is rolling right along as the UEFA Champions League concluded its round of 16 play and the draw for the quarter finals has taken place. The next round will see massive stars taking on massive stars, and, if you look close enough, you may see a little bit of some Whitecaps in those players.
Comparing MLSers to Europe's brightest stars of course has to be taken with a grain of salt. I'm certainly not saying they're on the same skill level, just that they share certain traits and bring the same type of things to their respective teams. Disclaimer in place, let us proceed!
Jordan Harvey: Maxwell, Paris Saint-Germain
Maxwell, besides being Zlatan's best friend, is known as a hard working left back that will run himself ragged up and down the pitch for ninety minutes. Sound like any defender you know? Maxwell is more gifted technically then Harvey, but they both time their overlaps to perfection, both serve up some great crosses and can add a goal or two. The part of his game Maxwell struggles with the most is tackling, something both of the Whitecaps full backs could relate to last season.
Matias Laba: Blaise Matuidi, Paris Saint-Germain
The tough Frenchman was one of my favourite players to watch during the 2014 World Cup and it's no coincidence he matches up with my favourite Whitecap. Matuidi is the destroyer in Paris St. Germain's three-man midfield and can dominate just like Laba does in MLS. A strong tackler that racks up the interceptions for his team, Matuidi does to attackers in Ligue 1 what Laba does to attackers in Major League Soccer. After regaining possession, Matuidi uses quick, short passing to get the play going back the other way, something Laba needs to start doing with more consistency playing alongside a deep lying playmaker.
Kendall Waston: Pepe, Real Madrid
This is one I think supporters of other clubs in MLS would agree with more so then Whitecaps fans. Pepe is perhaps the most hated man in European soccer and Waston isn't so sweet to the other nineteen clubs in MLS. They both play a nasty, physical game and are good for a booking every couple of matches. Funnily enough, both also dominate the air in their own penalty area, but aren't as productive as their defensive partner on set pieces at the other end.
Christian Bolanos: James Rodriguez, Real Madrid
Another star from the 2014 World Cup where James and Colombia burst onto the scene, he draws a comparison to another man who found great success in Brazil. While only playing two matches for the club, Whitecaps fans have already seen Bolanos ability to hit the key pass to set an attacker free. Both players use their great vision to play teammates through, both are dangerous on set pieces and both have a great ability to anticipate contact and draw a foul in situations where there isn't much else to do.
Kekuta Manneh: Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich (on loan from Juventus)
This comparison was the first one that came to mind for me when I was thinking about writing this. Coman has been a joy to watch this year for Bayern Munich, the exclamation mark coming against his parent club Juventus last week. He put the final dagger in Juventus' grave with a 110th minute goal and gave this story legs as a result. Coman, like Manneh, is a young winger with the ability to play alongside another striker in a two-striker formation. Both, on their day, will run at defenders for ninety minutes and punish them. They love to play direct and can disappear for an hour only to make a breathtaking run down their wing. As Whitecaps fans saw last year and Bayern fans have noticed this year, the players' crossing and passing has come leaps and bounds as they mature. And, lastly, both leave a lot to be desired when through one on one with a goalkeeper, as displayed last Saturday in Kansas City.
David Ousted: Joe Hart, Manchester City FC
While from a pure entertainment standpoint, I wish Ousted drew closer to Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak or Bayern's Manuel Neuer, as they are a treat to watch. But in MLS there isn't a 'keeper I'd rather have than Ousted. And same goes for City's first choice goalkeeper, not a flashy player but is steady all the way through. A controversial figure to some, Hart has held off pushes from Jack Butland and Fraser Forster this season to remain England's number one for the time being. Hart is very vocal with his back line and makes some superb reflex saves, similar to the Great Dane. Hart, like Ousted, often goes full stretch to juuuuuuuust push attempts wide. An added bonus? Hart also boasts the fourth best penalty save percentage in Premier League history, coming in at 26.3%. And, well, the 'Caps goalkeeper isn't too bad at that part of his game, either.
Pedro Morales: Ivan Rakitic, FC Barcelona
Another that seemed a natural fit-Rakitic has been the sneaky cog of Barcelona's prolific attack this season. His passing and vision has led to many goals for Neymar, Suarez and Messi. He, like the 'Caps captain, is a master at lofting the perfect ball just over the back line to set free a bombing attacker. Rakitic and Morales both see the game better than the other 21 players on the pitch and use it fully to their advantage. Not that it happens often to mighty Barca, but Rakitic also does a good job of calming a match down when it becomes a little too back and forth, an element the Whitecaps missed from Morales last year during some ugly performances.
Blas Perez: Nicklas Bendtner, Wolfsburg
Those familiar with the work of the Danish striker will know this comparison goes beyond their play on a soccer pitch. Both are a little bit on the crazy side, with Bendtner closer to Zlatan than Suarez on the crazy scale, but a frustrating figure nonetheless. Antics aside, 'Lord Bendtner' and Perez play a similar style as a big striker for their clubs, as well. They can dominate aerial duels but are competent playing on the ground, and do a great job of linking up play with the midfield. Both absolute handfuls, they'll be more than likely to draw a card or two when they are in peak pest form.
Any similarities you see in any other players plying their trade in Europe right now? Any players you could see potentially suiting up for the 'Caps (or in MLS) in the near future? Let us know in the comments!