Josef Martinez for MVP in 2022? Predicting who will be MLS' top player

Preseason is the time of hope and optimism among Major League Soccer fanbases from Atlanta to Vancouver. It's also time for pundits to offer their predictions, many of which are sent back in their face like a Dikembe Mutombo rejection by clubs and their supporters alike when they’re off base.

And yet, the Extratime crew won’t be deterred, offering their thoughts on who will claim the 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award at season's end. Matt Doyle, for one, didn’t hesitate.

Josef Martinez,” he said confidently. “Josef Martinez is going to play an entire season for a coach he doesn’t hate, in fact appears to like quite a bit. Gonzalo Pineda, over the last half-season he had last year, not even quite half a season, they played in transition all the time, or tried to anyway, which is exactly how Josef likes to play.”

Martinez won the Golden Boot presented by Audi and the MVP award with a 31-goal output in 2018, followed by 27 goals in 2019. He played just one game in 2020 and needed surgery to repair a torn ACL. He scored 12 goals a year ago in his return.

“I think last year he probably was 60-65 percent healthy, but if he’s like 85 percent healthy, I think he ends up around 25 goals and I think Atlanta end up top three in the East," Doyle said. "That feels like an MVP performance to me."

Co-host Calen Carr used the similar logic of a new coach, supporting cast and a return from injury to pick LAFC forward Carlos Vela, who won the 2019 Golden Boot/MVP double a year after Martinez with an MLS record 34 regular-season goals.

The opportunity for Vela to finally combine with Cristian Arango, who made a splash with 14 goals in 17 matches en route to Newcomer of the Year honors, also factored into Carr’s selection.

“You also look at the fact that like the injuries that he’s been dealing with have not necessarily been catastrophic ones, or things that you worry about from a structural standpoint or something that could really inhibit his movement or his ability,” Carr said. “For Vela, it’s really more like how’s he feeling? Is he ready for this challenge, is he motivated? Does he really want to go for things? Are there pieces around him and LAFC have re-established that central three core in a really good way and have some depth there as well?”

David Gass, who predicts Sporting Kansas City will be much improved, went a little off the board with his pick of Johnny Russell, who had a career season with 15 goals and eight assists a year ago.

Lastly, Andrew Wiebe chose Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez from the LA Galaxy, who had 17 goals and three assists as one of the top Golden Boot contenders a year ago. He cited the presence of Kevin Cabral and offseason signing Douglas Costa as reasons space will open up for Chicharito to get into quality scoring positions.

“When Chicharito’s 1-v-1, they have the ball in attacking areas and he can rely on his movement and his guile and his finishing ability. He will pile up goals," Wiebe declared.

There is an asterisk, though with Doyle and Gass saying if last year's Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos stays with NYCFC the entire season, which neither think will be the case, he’d be their selection to win the award.

None went with a repeat victor, as New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil took home the honors in 2021.