Major League Soccer is back with all its glitz and glamour as Nashville SC host New York City FC for the 2023 competition curtain-raiser on Saturday.
And, with the World Cup coming to North America in 2026, soccer fever continues to grow.
Home fans will be keeping a keen eye on young homegrown talent key to the USMNT’s chances of performing well on home soil, as well as experienced cult heroes as the league swings back into action.
We have picked out five American players to keep tabs on.
|What||MLS 2023 season|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||25th February - 21st October 2023|
|How to watch||Apple TV|
|Odds||Los Angeles FC 9/2, Philadelphia Union 7/1, New York City FC 8/1, New York Red Bulls 12/1|
Brandon Vazquez started 2023 with an important decision to make.
Born in California but eligible to represent Mexico, the young attacker boasted call-ups for both nations, though he chose to play for the USA at under-17, under-19 and under-20 level.
After he was overlooked for Gregg Berhalter’s squad for the World Cup in Qatar, doubts were cast over his future as the former Tijuana player remained uncommitted to either country.
He eventually joined up with the US senior team for a January training camp and made his debut in a friendly with Serbia, scoring with a header in Los Angeles.
With many a sigh of relief likely made after recent developments, attention turns to Vazquez’s club-level exploits.
He hit 19 goals in 35 appearances - 34 as a starter - for Cincinnati in last season’s competition and is at 33/1 to take top-scoring honours this term.
Named both an MLS All-Star and a part of the MLS Best XI, a regular spot in the national team could be in order if the 24-year-old can find that sort of form again.
Renowned for his inch-perfect crosses, Julian Gressel recorded seven assists for former club DC United before being traded to Vancouver Whitecaps in July.
A vital member of the 2018 MLS-winning Atlanta United unit, his total figures for 2022 - two goals and nine assists from the right flank, mainly as a full-back, though he can be deployed in midfield - again marked him out as a key performer.
An ever-present for DC in 2021, the now-29-year-old has grown a reputation for consistency, contributing 13 assists that term – the league’s third-best return and the best of any defender.
Born in Germany, Gressel, like Vazquez, also made his USA debut this January and could shine in a Whitecaps team tipped to struggle as 66/1 outsiders for the MLS Cup.
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Another 29-year-old, Walker Zimmerman will again bring heaps of MLS experience to the Nashville defence as the franchise looks to better their first-round play-off exit at the hands of LA Galaxy in November.
The centre-back has major silverware to his name in the form of the 2016 US Open Cup and was named as an All-Star in both of the previous two MLS seasons.
He made his USA debut in January 2017 and formed part of the Gold Cup-winning team of 2021, and as he approaches a half-century of caps, he will be hungry for more success at club level that will keep him in the frame for 2026.
Adept in the air, he has been well-suited to 16/1 shots Nashville’s organised, defensive style.
The youngest member on this list, 20-year-old John Tolkin was another addition to the senior USA set-up this January, rewarded for his performances with New York Red Bulls since his promotion to the franchise’s MLS roster in 2020.
The left-back caught the eye in a friendly against Barcelona in July 2022, audaciously attempting to scoop the ball over the head of Ronald Araujo by the corner flag.
It is this flair and confidence that put the formerly mullet-sporting Tolkin radar and while he remains a raw talent, his progress is sure to be tracked by those at USMNT headquarters.
Such an exciting prospect is Tolkin that his club named him Defender of the Year in 2022 and saw fit to tie him down to a new deal in October, keeping him on their books until 2027 with an option for a further year.
Added to MLS in its 2021 expansion, Austin FC are very much the new kids on the block, but still made it all the way to the Conference Finals - or last four of the MLS Cup play-offs - last season.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver was a key figure in this run and subsequent qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League, starring 67 times in all for the Texas outfit over the course of his two seasons with the franchise.
Now 31, Stuver can’t be considered a fresh young prospect ahead of the upcoming World Cup, but his influence could prove vital as Austin, priced at 14/1, aim to bring glory to Texas.