Ayo Akinola - Toronto FC - July 17, 2020

Double-digit goals. We all know what it means to hit the mark. It’s a measuring stick, the mark of an elite goalscorer.


Doing it once is a career accomplishment for most. Doing it repeatedly is the sign of a truly elite attacking player. Here are five (ish) MLS players I think have a shot to get into double-digits for the first time in their professional career in 2021.


Did I miss someone? First, check their career stats. Second, let me know who I snubbed that’s going to hit 10 this season. As always, I’m on Twitter far too much at @andrew_wiebe.


Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC)

Five MLS players set for breakout double-digit scoring seasons in 2021 | Andrew Wiebe - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/akinola2.png?..1UbkN3vU8KyFcdjy_2CI0RFA8jRPzZ

Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola was one of the breakout performers at last year's MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando | USA Today Sports


Nine goals in 16 games. Almost, Ayo. If not for a couple ill-timed injuries, the 21-year-old would have hit the mark during 2020’s start-stop season, his first as a regular contributor.


Yeah, but did he outperform his expected goals? Was last year a fluky one in front of net? Nope, no once-in-a-career heaters here. Akinola played 1,121 minutes and had 8.5 xG per Opta and nine goals scored. He was bang on what was expected of him, and his non-penalty xG per 90 (.68) among players with at least 500 minutes played was tied for 2nd best* in the league.


Who was he tied with? Diego Rossi, the Golden Boot presented by Audi winner. What’s that mean? Toronto FC creates good chances, Akinola is on the end of many of those chances and, when he does get the opportunity to score, he generally does so. The only players with more goals per 90 were Jaroslaw Niezgoda (1.04 G/90, 0.41 xG/90), Anthony Fontana (more on him in a second), Kevin Molino (0.76 G/90, 0.4 xG/90) and Rossi (0.74 G/90).


Given Chris Armas’ desire to press and Jozy Altidore’s fitness/health issues over the past couple years, Akinola’s young legs are going to come in handy. Given he plays with Alejandro Pozuelo, the ball is going to be on a platter in the 18-yard box a couple times per game. I say 10 goals ought to be the starting point for his 2021 goal setting. The only real question I have is whether he’ll play for the US or Canada.


* Ricardo Pepi was first with 0.79 xG/90. He actually underperformed that number (0.54 goals/90) and probably should be in this list. I left him out only because Franco Jara and his DP tag (and mayyyyybe Jesus Ferreira, depending on how Luchi Gonzalez employs him) are standing in the way of starter-level minutes. I would be delighted if proven wrong on Pepi’s double-digit potential, all respect to David Gass who is driving the hype train.


Anthony Fontana (Philadelphia Union)


This was an interesting nugget from Marisa Pilla in Philly.

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Remember what happened the last time Curtin gave the creative keys to a homegrown midfielder? You better. It was last year, and now Brenden Aaronson is doing his thing in Salzburg. Fontana (five goals) actually outscored Aaronson (four) in 1,390 fewer minutes played in 2020. They were basically all absolute bangers, too.


That “he only scores bangers” thing might be a problem in the quest for double digits. There’s a real question about whether those goals and that production are replicable. I intentionally left out Fontana’s xG/90 vs. G/90 numbers above. Yeah, I wanted you to scroll, but also … 0.39 xG/90 … 1.03 G/90.


Does that feel sustainable? No, it does not. That’s OK, though. He’s got those in the bag. Let’s just say that Fontana is going to score at his 2020 xG pace in 2,400 minutes this season. That’s 10.4 goals. If he is somewhere in between the two numbers, he’ll be even safer into double digits.


Do I think that’s going to happen? Let’s just say I wouldn’t bet my own money on it, but I choose to believe that Charlie Davies is absolutely right about Fontana being the next Philly Homegrown to break out in a big way. This is a massive year for the 21-year-old and the Union, and a return to a “normal” schedule ought to benefit both. Just approaching double digits would be a huge success.


Danny Musovski/Corey Baird (LAFC)


I said five (ish). I’m hedging my bets, even if, somewhat surprisingly, LAFC haven’t piled up double-digit scorers as much as I’d expect during their time in MLS.


2018

  • Carlos Vela – 14
  • Diego Rossi – 12
  • Adama Diomande – 12


2019

  • Carlos Vela – 34
  • Diego Rossi – 16


2020

  • Diego Rossi – 14


I would have thought there’d be more from a club that’s scored 200 goals in three seasons, but LAFC have spread the love outside Carlos Vela’s absurd 2019 season.


As for 2021, the two candidates to join Vela and Rossi are Musovski, who got five goals in 629 minutes (three as a starter, two as a sub), and Corey Baird, whose goal totals have dropped from eight his Rookie of the Year season in 2018 to two last year. Neither are shoo-in double-digit scorers, but I expect 2021 to look an awful lot like 2019.


What I’m saying is that without Brian Rodriguez around, for at least half the year and possibly permanently, there are going to be lots of goal-scoring opportunities created by Vela, Rossi, LAFC’s midfield and overlapping outside backs. Finish and you’ll get playing time. With consistent field time, one of these guys is liable to crack double digits.   


Cole Bassett/Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids)

Five MLS players set for breakout double-digit scoring seasons in 2021 | Andrew Wiebe - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/cb%20celly.jpg?dBH6CttrzGMH4PSIvcc..WIqx_7aKwbk

Colorado Rapids' homegrown attacker Cole Bassett had five goals and five assists in 14 matches in 2020 | USA Today Sports


Each got halfway there during a truncated 2021. If I had to choose one, I’d choose Lewis, but Bassett’s late runs are going to give him a puncher’s chance at 10, too.


These picks are about two things 1) young players maturing and taking the next step regarding production and 2) the Rapids making the leap from frisky-but-young to playoff-caliber-and-proven. Colorado are going to be a goals-by-committee team, and I think that ought to help both guys in the quest for double digits.


Lewis is a terror 1v1 and on the counter, but opposing teams won’t be able to focus on him with so many other capable scorers. Bassett seems to understand space, where it is now and where it will be, and the movement of Lewis, Younes Namli, Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki ought to give him plenty of gaps to exploit.


I am rooting hard for both of them.         


Juan Agudelo (Minnesota United)


This is the year, a decade into his professional career! I’d be more surprised by that statistic, too, if I wasn’t reminded every year when we proclaim it Agudelo’s year on Extratime.


The now 28-year-old has seasons of eight, seven, seven, seven and six goals. He hasn’t scored more than three since 2017. Outside Foster Langsdorf, he’s the only true center forward on Minnesota United’s roster, and he’ll play in front of Bebelo Reynoso.


This is it, Juan! You got this.

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