Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)
During Atlanta United’s 2020 MLS regular season-opening match, Josef Martinez suffered a devastating knee injury that resulted in a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). His long road to recovery began a few weeks later in mid-March, but several setbacks during his rehabilitation forced Martinez to have a total of five surgeries on his right knee during the 2020 calendar year. Martínez has said that he didn’t know if he would play again. Eased back into the starting lineup in 2021, Martinez refound his goalscoring form in late July, scoring eight goals in his last 10 starts (through games played Oct. 25), including scoring in three consecutive matches two separate times. Overall this season, Martinez has appeared in 20 games, made 15 starts and has a team-high 10 goals. He’s averaged a goal every 136 minutes played, seventh best in MLS this season, and became the fastest goalscorer in MLS history to reach 100 goals in all competitions.
Luka Stojanović (Chicago Fire FC)
In 2020, Stojanović’s debut season was cut short after just two appearances (one start) when the Serbian midfielder suffered a season-ending Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) injury against the San Jose Earthquakes in the MLS is Back Tournament on July 19. In 2021, his first full season with the Fire, the attacking midfielder has produced a team-high eight goals, including MLS Goal of the Year candidates against the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 28 and FC Cincinnati on Oct. 20.
Calvin Harris (FC Cincinnati)
After being selected second overall in the MLS SuperDraft, Harris made four appearances for FC Cincinnati before being sidelined with meniscus surgery. The midfielder from Middlesbrough, England returned to the pitch in September, making nine appearances down the stretch for the Orange and Blue.
Vito Wormgoor (Columbus Crew)
On July 11, 2020, defender Vito Wormgoor suffered an injury on his right ankle during the Crew’s opening match in the MLS is Back Tournament. After missing the remainder of the season, Wormgoor finished 2020 with only two appearances to his name. This year, the defender has bounced back from injury to make 15 regular-season appearances (14 starts) while providing two assists and helping the Black & Gold earn post two shutouts.
Marlon Hairston (CLB)
Since joining the Crew this year after making just nine regular-season appearances for Minnesota United FC last season, Marlon Hairston has gone on to make 18 regular-season appearances (14 starts) in 2021. Thriving as a center midfielder, Hairston is one of the five most accurate passers in MLS among players who have attempted 500 or more passes. Additionally, assist earlier this year was his first since the 2018 season, while his 18 appearances mark his highest number of appearances since the 2017 season.
Michael Barrios (Colorado Rapids)
After combining for over 75 goals and assists in his first five seasons in MLS, Michael Barrios experienced a down 2020 season by his own standards, which led him to no longer figuring in FC Dallas’ plans for 2021. The 30-year-old Colombian winger was traded to the Rapids in the offseason for an international roster slot and has since gone on to become the club’s leading goal scorer this season and a prime candidate for the team’s MVP.
Andy Najar (D.C. United)
Andy Najar reignited his career after suffering multiple injury setbacks and failing to make an impact on his MLS return to LAFC in 2020. After leaving the LA club at the conclusion of the 2020 season after making eight appearances, Andy Najar was reunited with the Black-and-Red and his hometown club when he signed a contract on April 16, 2021, eight years after departing the District for RSC Anderlecht in Belgium. The 28-year-old Honduran returned to the club where he made his name and his history working with Hernán Losada and Nicolas Frutos at Anderlecht has seen him reemerge as one of the leading center backs in Losada’s three center back system. In 2021, Najar has scored one goal and recorded three assists in 23 appearances.
Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas)
After his 2020 season was limited to only five appearances (three appearances following the restart of the 2020 season) due to an arthroscopic labrum repair and correction of CAM impingement, Paxton Pomykal returned to the field for the final 21 minutes of the home opener against the Colorado Rapids on April 17. Since then, he’s appeared in 28 matches, including 16 starts, and has scored a goal and recorded two assists in 1,329 minutes so far.
Griffin Dorsey (Houston Dynamo FC)
Griffin Dorsey joined the Houston Dynamo in May after being waived by Toronto FC and remained in town on trial till he signed with the team on July 5. Since then, the winger has appeared in 18 consecutive games and has scored two goals and has tallied five assists.
Dorsey earned MLSSoccer.com Team of the Week honors after he scored his second goal of the season and tallied an assist in Houston’s 3-2 victory over FC Dallas on Sept. 18. The 22-year-old is now a staple in Houston’s office and gives the Dynamo flexibility to cover ground as an outside back when needed.
Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez (LA Galaxy)
After dealing with a calf injury during the 2020 campaign, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was limited to two goals in 12 regular-season appearances for LA. Chicharito, now fully healthy, has been a lynchpin for the Galaxy in 2021, ranking first on the team with 14 goals and three assists in 19 appearances (18 starts). Notably, Chicharito has tallied eight goals in nine games played at home during the 2021 campaign.
Raheem Edwards (Los Angeles Football Club)
After missing over a third of the 2019 season due to a knee injury that limited him to just four matches and playing just 267 minutes in 2020, Raheem Edwards emerged as a key piece for LAFC in 2021. Edwards has already registered career-highs in games played, started and minutes–and has established himself as a versatile asset who ranks third in appearances this season for the Black & Gold.
Christian Makoun (Inter Miami CF)
Last year, after testing positive for COVID-19, the Venezuelan defender/midfielder had to stop training and playing with the first team as the virus left sequels on his body. After weeks of break, the 21-year-old slowly started to get minutes with Fort Lauderdale CF to regain his match fitness and was out of the first team for most of the remainder of the season. Makoun has made an impressive comeback this season, becoming a regular starter for the club, logging 23 appearances–20 of them starts–and adding two goals and two MLS Team of the Week selections. His outstanding performances made him earn his first-ever call-up to the Venezuelan senior national team earlier this month for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
Tyler Miller (Minnesota United FC)
Goalkeeper Tyler Miller joined Minnesota United in 2020 after a career-high season with the 2019 Supporters’ Shields winner LAFC. He kicked off the 2020 season on a high note, heading into the COVID-19 shutdown 3-0. Miller maintained his form in the MLS is Back Tournament, where he and the Loons were ousted in the Semifinals with a loss to Orlando City SC. Unfortunately, a lingering hip injury forced him to undergo bilateral hip surgery in August of 2020, shutting him down for the remainder of the season. After nine months of strict rehab and training, Miller returned to the pitch on May 12, 2021 and recorded the Loons’ first win of the season with a shutout victory. Since then, Miller has played every minute this season and is on his way to setting new personal and team records for Minnesota United. So far in 2021, with 27 games played (as of 10/25/21), Miller is second in the league in saves percentage with 76.7%, behind Andre Blake (77.4%), and tied for third in shutouts with 11, having played four games less than leading goalkeeper Joe Willis. Additionally, he is tied for sixth in goals against average with 1.04, top ten in winning percentage with .611, top ten in wins with 12 and top five in saves with 92. His 11th shutout cemented his new personal season best and tied for the Loons’ season record set by 2019 Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone. Miller is three wins from passing Mannone’s 2019 record and currently has the least amount of losses in a season for a Minnesota United goalkeeper.
Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montréal)
Since signing with CF Montréal at the end of 2020, the 22-year-old American has experienced a breakthrough season with the Club, smashing his previous personal records and establishing himself as a consistent lock-in with head coach Wilfried Nancy’s starting 11 this season, earning 29 starts in 31 games, and 2,551 minutes of play. After being considered one of MLS’ top prospects, a devastating knee injury (ruptured ACL) put a pause on his promising pro career. However, following a fourth season with the Fire in his native Chicago where he collected two goals and six assists in 20 games, Mihailovic has rapidly surpassed all analysts and pundit projections with his new club in 2021. Despite his young age, he has established himself as a leader on the pitch and as Montreal’s key playmaker, playing a central role in Montreal’s postseason push. In his first year with Montreal, Mihailovic leads his side by a significant margin with 15 assists, a new Club record previously held by Nacho Piatti (13 assists in 2018). He currently trails only New England Revolution’s Carles Gil at the summit of the MLS assist leaderboard (18).
Carles Gil (New England Revolution)
After missing almost the entire 2020 regular season with a bone spur injury, which held him out of all but six regular season games, Revolution midfielder Carles Gil returned to the team ahead of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs and has been in MVP-caliber form ever since. The Revs’ captain has played 26 matches for the Supporters’ Shield winners and leads with 18 assists – one shy of New England’s club record – and 119 chances created. Gil’s eight game-winning helpers are tied for the MLS single-season mark.
Brian Anunga (Nashville SC)
Brian Anunga has made a massive comeback in the 2021 campaign alone. Despite tearing his meniscus to start the season, and starting in only eight matches last season, Anunga was able to reach full health and appear in 24 matches this season for Nashville SC, including 17 starts. With Anunga in the lineup this season, The Boys in Gold own a record of 9W-3L-12D as the Cameroonian midfielder has supplied support in the Nashville midfield with Panamanian international Anibal Godoy missing matches due to Captaining the Panamanian National Team and filling in for captain Dax McCarty when the squad has rotated.
Heber (New York City FC)
Heber suffered a season-ending ACL injury on Sept. 23, 2020 against Chicago Fire. 357 days later, he returned to competitive action as an 81st-minute substitute against FC Dallas. Since his return, Heber has played a total of six games, all as a substitute, contributing with four shots, three being on target, and a 77.4% pass accuracy to date.
Ruan (Orlando City SC)
In 2021, Ruan faced personal adversity before the season even began. The 26-year-old Rio de Janeiro native returned home to Brazil in the middle of preseason camp following the death of his mother. Dealing with personal loss just before the season, as well as a near two-month-long injury beginning in May, Ruan has returned for City to score the first two goals of Orlando career and provide three assists along the way.
Jack Elliott (Philadelphia Union)
After appearing in every match in 2019, Elliott became a rotational player in 2020 amongst a group of strong center backs. Without missing a beat, Elliott stepped up in 2021 to play and start almost every match for the Union and has become one of the best and most consistent center backs in the league, earning him MLS Team of the Week honors four times. Elliott has scored two goals and added two assists thus far this season, the most points he’s tallied in his MLS career.
Sebastian Blanco (Portland Timbers)
Sebastian Blanco suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on Sept. 6, 2020, in a 2-1 win against the Seattle Sounders at Lumen Field. He underwent successful surgery on Sept. 14, 2020. Blanco made his return to pitch this season on June 19, 2021, and has since recorded four goals and six assists in 21 matches played (10 starts). Notably, he has tallied one game-winning goal and three game-winning assists. On Aug. 15, Blanco made his first start since returning from injury and scored his first goal of the season against the Sounders. He returned to Lumen Field to play Seattle again on Aug. 29, the same place he tore his ACL almost exactly a year prior, earning his second start of the 2021 campaign and tallying his second goal this year. Blanco helped a ten-man Timbers squad battle back a 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids with a goal and an assist on Sept. 15.
Jaroslaw Niezgoda (Portland Timbers)
Jaroslaw Niezgoda suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on Nov. 1, 2020, in a 1-0 win against the Vancouver Whitecaps. He underwent successful surgery on Nov. 9, 2020. Niezgoda made his return to pitch this season on Aug. 15, 2021, and has since recorded two goals in 10 appearances (1 start). Notably, he has recorded two shots total this season, both resulting in goals. In a total of 110 minutes played this season, he averages a goal every 55 minutes a game. Niezgoda scored the lone goal and game-winner against Miami on Oct. 3.
Andrew Gutman (New York Red Bulls)
Gutman was named starting left back in the beginning of 2021 and scored his first MLS goal at LA Galaxy in his second match with New York. The Hinsdale, Ill., native first suffered a hip injury that held him out for three matches then as he returned to first full training he suffered an MCL sprain that held him out for the next 8 matches. Once he recovered, Gutman has tallied one goal and two assists in 12 starts and helped anchor a Red Bulls backline to seven clean sheets.
Rubio Rubin (Real Salt Lake)
After a long stint in Europe that began at a very young age, Rubin returned to North America in 2018 where he featured for Tijuana and Dorados in Mexico before he left in the summer of 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic. Prior to landing with San Diego Loyal SC in the USL Championship at the end of 2020, he felt his future in the game was limited and close to over if his time in San Diego didn’t go well. He made an instant impact with the California side, drawing the attention of RSL. Joining RSL and making the move to MLS for the first time in his career ahead of the 2021 season, Rubin cemented himself in the team with a reinvigorated passion and drive for the game, notching eight goals and registered five assists having featured every game this season for the Club.
Jimmy Medranda (Seattle Sounders FC)
Medranda is having a career year in 2021 after a few oft-injured seasons of sparing play, setting career highs in goals (4) and assists (3). The Colombian wingback has as many appearances (25) and more starts (15) than he accumulated from 2018-2020 combined. Establishing himself as a regular in contributor for Head Coach Brian Schmetzer, Medranda’s four goals this season have come in spectacular fashion. He earned MLS Goal of the Week for his volley against Portland on August 15, in addition to stunning strikes against Vancouver on June 26, Colorado on Oct. 3 and Houston on October 16 (VIDEO OF ALL FOUR MEDRANDA GOALS). In a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup Final at Columbus on August 21, Medranda came off the bench in the 86th minute with Seattle down 1-0 and set up both of the club’s late goals in a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.
Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes)
Tommy Thompson battled knee injuries throughout 2020. After making a full recovery in the offseason, Thompson dislocated his shoulder in the team’s opening match of 2021. He has continued to work through various injuries to make more than 10 starts for San Jose this season.
Daniel Salloi (Sporting Kansas City)
Daniel Salloi’s sensational bounce-back season has become one of Major League Soccer’s best stories in 2021 after the Sporting Kansas City forward had struggled for two seasons, scoring one goal in 28 appearances in 2019 and going without a goal in a 2020 campaign in which he played 165 minutes. This year, Salloi has come back as an MLS MVP candidate in record-setting fashion. His 24 combined goals and assists are most in Major League Soccer, and Salloi is second in the Golden Boot race with a league-leading 16 non-penalty goals (most by a Homegrown Player in MLS history). Salloi is the only MLS player in the top five of both game-winning goals (5) and game-winning assists (4), and Sporting is in contention to secure the top spot in the Western Conference thanks to an 11-0-3 record when Salloi scores this season. Salloi, who earned his international debut with Hungary in September, currently has the fifth best single-season increase in scoring, from zero goals in 2020 to 16 goals in 2021, among MLS players all-time in back-to-back, season-long campaigns.
Ifunanyachi Achara (Toronto FC)
After suffering a season-ending ACL injury just one game into the 2020 season, Achara returned in 2021 and became a regular starter for TFC, scoring two goals and adding one assist (through 10/16/21)
Maxime Crépeau (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau has made a triumphant return to action in 2021, proving to be a massive part of the ’Caps' resurgence. The Canadian international suffered a severely fractured left thumb at the MLS is Back tournament on July 19, underwent successful surgery a week later, and was forced to miss the rest of the 2020 season, a total of 20 games.
In 2021, Crépeau has bounced back in a huge way by tallying six clean sheets, while also registering the fourth longest shutout streak in the league from September 19 to October 17 at 375 minutes. In addition, he’s recorded the eighth best goals against average in the league amongst keepers with more than 20 games and the fourth best save percentage in the league at 75.2 per cent amongst keepers with more than 20 games. The third-year member of the ’Caps also came up huge to keep the team in the playoff hunt with a game winning penalty kick save in a 1-0 home victory over FC Dallas on September 25, as he denied the Texas side from equalizing in second half stoppage time to preserve the three points. At the time of writing, Crépeau has made 24 appearances in MLS this season, two away from his career high.