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Five players to look out for in Major League Soccer this year

Sports Mole picks out five players to keep a close eye on in Major League Soccer this year.

Major League Soccer made its welcome return this morning, with reigning champions Los Angeles Galaxy edging out Chicago Fire 2-0 to kick on from where they left off last year.

While flagship names such as Thierry Henry and David Beckham have hung up their boots over the past couple of years and said goodbye to American soccer, the division is still full of talent with a number of high-profile stars making the move Stateside during the off-season.

Below, Sports Mole picks out five players to keep an eye on this season - including a 22-year-old midfielder who is on track to becoming a homegrown star.

1. Kaka (Orlando City)

Kaka of AC Milan during the Serie A match between AC Milan and US Sassuolo Calcio at San Siro Stadium on May 18, 2014© Getty Images

Where else to start but with the one-time world player of the year, who is about to embark on the latest chapter in his glittering career. Having agreed to join Orlando City, one of the two new 'designated clubs' in the league this year, the Italian brings with him bags of experience to help the central Florida outfit establish themselves in the seasons to come.

A 14-year playing career, which has included spells at European giants Real Madrid and AC Milan, as well as two separate stints at Sao Paolo, has seen Kaka rack up a raft of major honours both individually and collectively. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that head coach Adrian Heath recently named him as club captain.

It must be remembered that the attacking midfielder still has a good five years of playing time ahead of him, so if he is in this for the long haul, Orlando could fast become contenders for the Eastern Conference title.

2. David Villa (New York City FC)

New York City Football Club (NYCFC) player David Villa poses during an event to unveil Major League Soccer (MLS) new logo, in New York on September 18, 2014© Getty Images

It was not all that long ago that Villa was tormenting defenders across Spain during spells at Valencia, Barcelona and most recently Atletico Madrid. He has made a positive impression at each of his previous clubs, and that could continue this term when he looks to add to his impressive career goal tally on American soil.

He should be nice and fresh, too, having had time to fully recuperate following a brief loan stint at Melbourne City in the A-League - a sister club of New York City's along with Manchester City - where he scored two goals in four appearances.

Frank Lampard may be the one receiving all the fanfare in the Big Apple, even if his drawn-out move has lessened the warmth shown to him by supporters, but it is the signing of Villa which could truly act as a springboard for the Sky Blues to challenge in what is their maiden campaign at this level.

3. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto)

Sebastian Giovinco of Juventus celebrates after scores his opening goa during the Serie A match between Udinese Calcio and Juventus at Stadio Friuli on April 14, 2014© Getty Images

Those familiar with MLS will know all too well how Toronto's season usually pans out. The perennial big spenders have failed to reach the playoffs since their emergence in 2007, despite bringing in a number of high-profile names.

The latest of those star signings, Jermain Defoe, returned to English football earlier this year which means that there is a big hole to fill up front. Luckily for the Canadian outfit, they already have a more than adequate replacement of sorts in the shape of Italy international Giovinco.

If an example were needed of just how the ever-growing league Stateside can attract big-name players, then this is it. Having fallen out of favour at Juventus, the 28-year-old opted to try his luck at Toronto, and to show his commitment to the cause he has spent much of the past five months or so training ready for the big kickoff. A return to European football should not be written off just yet, although his full focus at this stage of his career is simply on helping Toronto finally taste success.

4. Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy)

LA Galaxy captain Robbie Keane in action against Seattle Sounders on November 18, 2012© Getty Images

He will soon be joined by former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard in the luxurious Hollywood hills setting, but for now at least Keane remains the main man at Galaxy, as witnessed by his key goal against Chicago on Saturday morning. Named as the league's most valuable player last season, the Irishman has now bagged 54 goals in his 85 appearances for the West Coast club.

The retirement of Landon Donovan at the end of last season means that there is extra pressure on the shoulders of Keane until Gerrard arrives in the summer, but he certainly has the knack of delivering just when it counts, both at international and club level.

Galaxy will be expected to top the standings once more this season having won three of the last four MLS championships, and with Keane and Gerrard linking up through the middle, it will take an almighty task to overhaul them this time around.

5. Will Trapp (Columbus Crew)

Will Trapp #20 of the Columbus Crew controls the ball against Crystal Palace FC in an international friendly match on July 23, 2014© Getty Images

For all the league's high-earners, there are also a raft of youngsters coming through the ranks who will only add to Major League Soccer's rising credibility status. The advancement of academies in America has ensured that the likes of Gyasi Zardes (Galaxy), Harry Shipp (Chicago Fire) and Will Trapp have each become household names.

It is the latter of that aforementioned trio who is particularly making waves, though, having been named Columbus Crew captain and handed his USA debut earlier this year. Fielded as a defensive midfielder, Trapp is arguably the best player in the division when it comes to long passes, while his energetic pressing also makes him one of the most gifted individuals in the league.

At the age of just 22, it is likely that the Ohio-born star will only improve as he gains more experience at this level, and with the next World Cup still three years away, it would not be all that surprising to see the national side built around him as the United States look to reach Russia 2018.

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Robbie Keane #7 of the Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates with Alan Gordon #9 and Baggio Husidic #6 after scoring the Galaxy's second goal in the second half against the Chicago Fire at StubHub Center on March 6, 2015
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