The last time we did this, all the way back in June, we had 15 players who received some form of a vote, even if that meant a few illegal write-ins here and there. And it could have been more. This time we had nine players receive votes for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award and have a relatively clear hierarchy.
A crowded field has been whittled down and it will probably only get smaller from here on out. We’re all the way into “the not real MVP Power Rankings have the power to shift narratives on the actual MVP vote” territory now.
Nine MLSsoccer.com writers, voices and editors cast votes in this one. A first-place vote received 10 points, a second-place vote received five points, a third-place vote received three points, a fourth-place vote received two points and a fifth-place vote received one point.
- Lucas Zelarayan, Columbus Crew (2 points)
- Brandon Vazquez, FC Cincinnati (4 points)
- Jose Cifuentes, LAFC (7 points)
- Chicho Arango, LAFC ( 8 points)
Lucas Zelarayan has been a regular in this column for the last couple of years. He remains one of the better chance creators in the league, with 47 key passes, tied for the fourth-highest mark in MLS. And he’s delivered nine assists on the season, five of those primary. Add in five goals on the season for a resurgent Columbus Crew side and it’s understandable that he’d earn a vote.
Brandon Vazquez is almost held back by the fact that he has a fellow MVP candidate on his own team. It’s hard to give him a “most valuable” nod when he may not be the most critical FC Cincinnati player. But that doesn’t mean he’s been anything less than one of the best forwards in the league. Vazquez has 11 goals and four assists on the season and has played a major role in Cincy’s best season in club history. He may just even play a role on the US men’s national team World Cup squad at this rate.
Jose Cifuentes has shown up in the rankings for the entire season and somehow didn’t find his way on the roster for the 2022 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target. It’s a bummer. But at least he can get his recognition for helping lead LAFC’s midfield renaissance here. He’s done so much at an elite level this season that it’s hard to keep track of it all. Among MLS midfielders this year per FBref, he’s in the 90th percentile or higher in goals, assists, xG, xA, dribblers tackled, tackles in the attacking third, pressures in the attacking third, progressive carries, dribbles completed and even more categories that I’ve run out of room to list. There aren’t many, if any, better midfielders in the league.
And, finally, Chicho Arango earns a few votes in part because he’s been really good and in part because I think folks are mad on his behalf that LAFC would even think about bringing in a replacement for him. Arango has scored in seven of his last eight games and now has nine goals and three assists on the season. He’s the leading goal scorer on the league’s best team and it continues to feel absurd that they’d be looking elsewhere for their no. 9.
Minnesota United FC’s season changed on a dime. And it’s, of course, thanks in part to Emanuel Reynoso.
The Loons have taken 16 points from their last six matches and skyrocketed up the Western Conference standings and into a home Audi MLS Cup Playoff spot. It’s one of the most instantaneous turnarounds I can remember in MLS. In that time, Reynoso has scored six times and delivered two assists to bring his total to nine goals and five assists on the season. After being known for his chance creation his first two seasons in MLS, it’s like he realized he’d have to find goals for himself if Minnesota were going to succeed. Not that his chance creation has fallen off that much. He’s still second in the league in key passes and fourth in expected assists.
All considered, if we’re going by the concept of “most valuable”, it might be unfair to have Bebelo this low. It’s hard to imagine a player who dictates the level of his team’s performances like Reynoso.
Lucho Acosta has been outstanding for Cincy all season. He’s been the single-best chance creator in the league, leading MLS with 7.3 expected assists on the season while still finding time to score six goals for himself. His passing numbers overall are consistently in the 90th percentile or higher among attacking midfielders in both completions and completion percentage, and he’s in the 97th percentile for shot-creating actions.
But that’s just in attack. He also happens to be putting in a solid performance defensively. Among attacking midfielders, Acosta is in the 91st percentile in successful tackles and 89th percentile in tackles plus interceptions. He’s crucial to everything Cincy do and it’s hard to imagine Vazquez or the team having this kind of season without him.
Hey, remember how I said that it’s hard to imagine a player who dictates the level of his team’s performances like Reynoso? It’s only hard to imagine because Hany Mukhtar remains impossibly good and almost disappointingly critical to Nashville SC’s attack.
To be fair, it seems like Nashville could at least get by on their defense alone. But they wouldn’t be able to pull out wins with any consistency without Mukhtar, who has 12 goals on the season. The next closest Nashville player is CJ Sapong, with five. The next closest after that is a tie between Alex Muyl and Dave Romney with two. Who’s passing them the ball in those goal-scoring situations? Well, there’s a good chance it’s also Mukhtar, who has five assists on the season and leads the team in key passes by almost double the next closest teammate.
On top of being by far the best attacking player on NSC, he’s clearly one of the best attacking players in MLS, period. He leads the league in expected goals plus expected assists, and his 17 goal contributions tie him for the second-highest total in the league. If Nashville can find a way to get into a home playoff spot by the end of the year with Mukhtar leading the way, he’ll have a legitimate case at winning the whole thing.
As one of just two players with as many goal contributions as Mukhtar, Jesus Ferreira also has 12 goals and five assists on the season and has helped make life much easier for first-year manager Nico Estevez. He’s been good enough to play his way into a likely starting job with the USMNT in Qatar, and he’s been good enough to keep FC Dallas hovering above the playoff line for the entirety of the season.
That’s largely because almost no one finds better chances. Per Second Spectrum, Ferreira is tied for the league lead in average shot quality among players with 30 or more shots this season. He’s consistently in excellent positions while also being able to drop deep and provide creative help for Dallas.
He also just flat-out runs. So much. Like, so much running. Per Second Spectrum, he’s third in the entire league in distance covered while sprinting. The two players ahead of him are Ruan and Julian Araujo, both fullbacks. Ferreira is definitely not a fullback. He’s just a striker putting in a considerable amount of work relative to his peers. It’s part of his value that doesn’t show up in a box score.
Yep. 90. That’s a unanimous first place for Sebastian Driussi. And for good reason. He leads the league in total goal contributions on the season with 20, three more than the next closest player. He’s your current 2022 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi leader with 13 goals on the year and is tied for 11th in the league in assists (7).
Austin FC have been the best story of 2022 and Driussi has led the way. Sometimes that’s all you need for MVP votes. In this case, he just also happens to be the most productive player in the MLS.