Ding, ding, ding - Laaaaaaaadies and gentlemen the following contest is scheduled for one fall!
There are four clear contenders for the title of “Best Player in Concacaf” right now, and there’s a case to be made for all four. It just so happens that those players also are distributed among some of the region’s best countries, so I reached out to some talented friends who support those teams and asked them to make the case for their player.
Those were the only parameters I put on it other than saying to keep it to about 300 words. I should know better than to trust a bunch of writers to stick to a word count.
Anyway, here we go! Read each case and then leave a comment with your own thoughts on who the top player in the region is right now, BUT state your bias in the comment section as well. You also can vote in this very scientific Twitter poll and follow me over on that microblogging site.
🇺🇸 - Christian Pulisic, Chelsea
We're getting to the point where it might be easier to list the things that Christian Pulisic can't do, rather than what he can. Despite struggling with a couple injuries in his debut Chelsea season, he's replaced all-in-one, offensive-engine Eden Hazard as well as anyone possibly could have. Despite playing as a de facto winger, he leads Chelsea in touches in the penalty area. And despite leading Chelsea in touches in the penalty area, he's second only to Willian in how far he moves the ball up the field with his feet each game.
He's the running back and the wide receiver all in one. Hell, he's the quarterback, too. Per the site FBRef, among players with at least 1,200 minutes played, only five guys in the league are creating more goals per 90 minutes. He builds it up, he gets it into the box, and he gets it into the goal. Did I mention that he's only 21? First he was the best American player, then he was the best North American player. Now, he's quickly becoming not only the best player on Chelsea but one of the best players in the Premier League. It won't be long until we can extend that filter out to the entire world.
🇲🇽 - Raul Jimenez, Wolves
Raul Barraza, better known as @TheColorfulKit with his blog full of both El Tri thoughts and Chicago Bulls nostalgia, sees the youth movement but says this year belongs to the man who has dominated from August-July: His tocayo RJ9.
The 2019-20 season has a couple of favorites for CONCACAF Player of the Year, but for me there is one player above the others: Raul Jimenez.
Biased? Maybe, but building a case for him is easy. The hardest league to play in is the Premier League, and the hardest thing to do in soccer is score goals. Raul has done that repeatedly this season, to the tune of 16 league goals along with 6 assists (through July 6). He has a chance at being in the top 10 in goals scored and in assists. I know Pulisic plays in England too, but he needs to stay on the field to challenge for the award. Raul has been on the field nearly twice as much as Pulisic this season: 3,881 minutes vs 1,953 minutes (across all competitions). This is a season-long award, not one that is decided by a hot month.
There is no doubt Pulisic will be a contender for this award over the next decade, but he falls short this season. I’m giving Raul credit for his durability in a tough league where he essentially plays every minute for Wolves.
Mexican fans are not the only ones heaping praise on him, WhoScored has Raul in their team of the season with him amongst the highest rated players in the league.
In addition to his league exploits, Jimenez has kept Wolves alive in Europa League with 9 goals and 4 assists. If he keeps playing this well, we could see Wolves in Champions League next year whether through league finish or as Europa League winners.
🇨🇦 - Alphonso Davies, Canada
I bothered my former Goal colleague (where neither of us work any more, hire us!) and friend Rudi Schuller on Canada Day asking him to write this, because everyone knows foreigners get to ask Canadians for one wish on Canada Day! Here’s why he thinks Davies is already tops:
It's crazy how much Alphonso Davies' stock has risen.
Prior to joining Bayern Munich in a then-Major League Soccer record transfer in 2019, the Canadian teenager was mostly known in MLS circles as a blazing winger with oodles of potential. Davies had previously burst onto the local scene with the Vancouver Whitecaps and quickly transitioned to the Canadian national team as the 2017 Gold Cup's Best Young Player and joint top scorer while still just 16 years old.
It was obvious "Phonzie" had talent, but dominating MLS and Concacaf doesn't always translate to a top-level career in Europe. When Davies moved to Bayern, he was seen as a bit of a wild card — raw and freakishly athletic but not yet ready for the bright lights of a Top 5 league.
However, as he's done at every level, Davies quickly proved he belonged.
After a half-season in which he adjusted to life in a new city, country and culture, the youngster was presented an opportunity in Niko Kovac's starting XI and grabbed it with both hands. Davies' worldly speed was apparent from the get-go, but his fearlessness and the ease at which he was able to adapt to top-flight football was astonishing. It wasn't too long before pundits and fans alike were convinced that Davies had claimed the starting left back position as his own, and when Kovac was replaced by Hansi Flick early into the 2019-20 campaign, it was Davies who benefited most as the Canadian cemented his place in a rejuvenated Bayern side.
Davies was no bit player — the 19-year-old has made more appearances this season than everyone on the Bayern back line except for Benjamin Pavard, and his breakneck pace has transformed the way the club plays in both defense and attack.
The affable teen earned a second-straight domestic double with the Bavarians, and his 2234 Bundesliga minutes far outpaces any other teenager in the German top tier. It's no surprise, then, that Davies was named the league's rookie of the season, putting an exclamation point on what has been a dream campaign.
Davies has gone from relative unknown to household name in the course of 1.5 years, all before his 20th birthday. Is that enough to make him the best player in CONCACAF? Perhaps not, but if you look at the statistics — he's the second-highest rated Bayern player on WhoScored after Ballon d'Or favorite (yeah, I said it) Robert Lewandowski and he's third overall in the Champions League on the same site behind Lewandowski and some guy named Lionel Messi — he's proving to have the steak to go along with considerable sizzle.
Simply put: Davies has made himself indispensable to a global Top 10 club in short order, and he's done it in style. He's put himself on a perch that no other current CONCACAF player even comes close to reaching.
🇨🇷 Keylor Navas, PSG
In all the hype about the new school, it can be easy to forget the old guard still standing strong. Costa Rica expert and MLS Cup format antagonist Eduardo Mendez, who tweets @crcfutbol and blogs about the Costa Rican league, on why the crown isn’t in search of a new head:
Look, goalkeepers are people too. I know everyone wants to be the guy who averages a goal every 184 minutes in the Premier League. It’s enticing to play on the field for Bayern Munich in the “Bayern Munich Invitational,” also known as the “Bundesliga.”
That’s cute, adorable even.
Lost in the immediacy bias plaguing this debate is the consistent greatness Keylor Navas displayed the last [insert clap emoji] seven [insert clap emoji] years.
Never mind the fact that he was named La Liga’s Goalkeeper of the Year his last season in Levante (2013-14). Forget about twice being named CONCACAF’s Player of the Year (2014, 2017). You still can’t disregard what he’s been able to achieve in recent years.
Navas wasn’t Real Madrid’s No. 1 until the 2015-16 season. The year before he took over, Madrid only boasted one major trophy, a FIFA Club World Cup. The same was true in 2018-19, when Thibaut Courtois unjustly took his place. Sandwiched in between were three seasons where Navas was Madrid’s unquestioned No. 1.
The club lifted one league title, two FIFA Club World Cups and three Champions League trophies in that time.
Navas wasn’t the sole reason for Madrid’s success, but he certainly was A reason. You can’t simply attribute that to Cristiano Ronaldo.
He wasn’t there when Navas was just as prominent for Costa Rica in the World Cup.
In Brazil 2014, Navas conceded just two goals in 410 competitive minutes. He reached the quarterfinals, something all of Mexico appears to be allergic to. In 2018—despite only playing three games—he was still asked to deliver double-digit saves (10).
Raul Jimenez only played double-digit minutes (54) in Russia 2018.
Like your typical, midlife crisis, everyone wants the younger, prettier thing, but there’s something to be said about consistency. Celebrate every goal Pulisic scores, but do it in the Champions League knockouts. Captivate yourself with every minute Davies plays for Bayern Munich, but play in a World Cup. Continue reading all the Jimenez-to-Manchester-United rumors you want, but pray he doesn’t flop like he did at Atletico Madrid.
Navas raised the bar for an entire generation of CONCACAF players. He’s the living embodiment of a Jay-Z lyric. Pulisic, Jimenez and Davies fight for building blocks.
Navas fights for blocks with buildings that make a killing.
He’s still operating on a level everyone else in the region is aspiring to reach. They’re just not there yet ... and that’s fine because we’re asking who IS the best player in CONCACAF, not who will be.
No, this isn’t a career achievement award. It’s not like Navas is rotting away on some midwest MLS roster. He’s still vying for his fourth Champions League title, this time with PSG. The current French champions — yes, another trophy for Keylor — await their destiny in the quarterfinals of the competition.
Remember that when you see Navas again come August. Remember that Navas has never been eliminated from the Champions League as a starter, either.
Talk about consistency.
It’s Jon, again: So, what do you think? Leave a comment and share the newsletter! Looking forward to some pleasant but partisan debate.