It’s time, once again, for the MVP Power Rankings. We’re about 40% through the regular season and, frankly, you could probably throw about 30 names out there right now and they’d all have a legitimate argument for being considered “Most Valuable” on some level.
Even the collection of MLSsoccer.com writers, editors and voices that voted on this May 2022 edition struggled to put just five names on their ballot. Matt Doyle’s, for example, had 10 names. And with each one, I went “Oh yeah, totally, definitely the MVP.” In short: May's Landon Donovan MLS MVP voting was difficult.
Yet, we gave it a shot. 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. Eleven players received points this time but 15 players were at least scribbled in the margins of the ballots. The field is crowded folks.
- Hany Mukhtar, Nashville SC (10 points)
- Dayne St. Clair, Minnesota United FC (10 points)
- Alexander Callens, New York City FC (10 points)
- Carles Gil, New England Revolution (3 points)
- Jose Cifuentes, LAFC (1 point)
- Daniel Gazdag, Philadelphia Union (1 point)
We’ll start with Hany Mukhtar because the underlying numbers start with Hany too. Well, kind of. The actual league leader in non-penalty xG+xA, Taty Castellanos, isn’t even in the dang “receiving votes” section. Did I mention the field is crowded?
That being said, Mukhtar has a little (a LOT) less help in attack and 11 total goal contributions to Taty’s eight. Mukhtar has six goals, three primary assists and two secondary assists on the season. A good chunk of those goals came over the last few weeks. Hany scored four times in his last three MLS games while also adding two more goals in US Open Cup play. All told, he put up six goals and two assists across all competitions in May. And his underlying numbers, along with his performance last year, suggest that he’s just getting started. Don’t be surprised if he keeps climbing this list over the next couple of months.
Dayne St. Clair was the only goalkeeper to get a vote and I’m pretty sure the only goalkeeper to ever be included in the MVP Power Rankings since we started them up last year. That makes sense considering he’s on track for ... ahem ... literally the best season ever.
American Soccer Analysis’ Goals Added metric currently has St. Clair on pace for the best season by a goalkeeper they’ve ever recorded. Their data goes back to 2013 and, since then, Matt Turner’s 2019 and 2020 seasons are the only two that come close to St. Clair’s g+/96. If we simply look at shot-stopping, he’s currently just behind Turner’s 2019 season for the best-ever performance in goals allowed relative to expected goals faced.
Our monthly Defender Getting Votes is NYCFC’s Alexander Callens. It’s always a bit harder to articulate just how good defenders and midfielders have been, but Callens has led a group that’s currently first in the league in expected goals allowed, while also being one of the best passing center backs in the league. The Peru international has even found time to score three times this season. But, most importantly, he doesn’t let anyone by him under any circumstances. Per FBref, Callens is in the 99th percentile among center backs in the percentage of potential dribblers tackled and the amount of times he’s been dribbled past.
Carles Gil is Carles Gil. You won’t be shocked to learn that the Revs’ recent resurgence has coincided with him delivering seven assists over New England’s last seven games in all competitions. His job may get a lot more difficult with the sure-looks-likely departure of Adam Buksa to Ligue 1, but will you really be all that surprised if he’s running away with the league’s assist title by the end of the year? He’s currently tied with San Jose’s Cristian Espinoza, Austin’s Diego Fagundez and NYCFC’s Santiago Rodriguez with seven assists on the season.
Jose Cifuentes is currently second in the league in American Soccer Analysis’ Goals Added metric. The next closest central midfielder is Cincinnati’s Junior Moreno in 38th. Cifuentes is outshining his peers while being a catalyst for the current Supporters’ Shield leaders. I mean my goodness, just look at his FBref chart (below) over the last year.
There’s a good argument to make that he’s been the best player on the best team. That’s usually a good recipe for an MVP push. Or at least to get a vote from me just to make sure he got included in the article.
And, finally, Daniel Gazdag has quietly been scoring so often that he would be well within his rights to ask Big Soccer Media to stop writing so often about how worried we all are about the Union’s forward situation. Gazdag has seven goals and two assists on the season so far and, like Mukhtar, is carrying the load on a team that isn’t precisely offense-oriented.
FC Cincinnati have undergone an attacking renaissance this year. They’re currently fourth in the league in expected goals scored and Luciano Acosta has been the single biggest driver of a turnaround that no one truly saw coming.
Acosta has 11 goal contributions this year, with five goals, two primary assists and four secondary assists on the season. He’s currently fourth in the league in non-penalty xG+xA and is fourth in the league in expected assists per 90 despite playing double the minutes of the three guys ahead of him.
Essentially, he’s been one of the best players in MLS at a club that has never had a player that could even remotely be considered that. If you’re the catalyst for ending a team’s three-year Wooden Spoon run and taking them into serious Audi MLS Cup Playoffs contention, then you deserve an MVP vote or two.
Best of Luciano Acosta in MLS: CIN and DC
Sebastián Driussi led the voting last month but dropped to fourth this month after he and Austin FC fell off a bit over May. He scored just once and delivered one assist this month after tearing through Austin’s early competition. That being said, he still has eight goals and four assists on the season to lead the way for a team that, like Cincy, has taken a big leap forward in 2022.
He’s right behind Acosta in non-penalty xG+xA and has clearly been one of the best players in the league over the first 14 matchweeks of the season. However, in a crowded field like this, he’ll need to do a little more over the next half-month of games to stay in the top five.
Paul Arriola is one of two FC Dallas players in the top five this month. Take that how you will when it comes to a “Most Valuable Player” race, but there’s no denying that he’s been phenomenal. He has seven goals and two assists this season as a winger and has had one of the best seasons so far of anyone else in his position group … although there might be arguments for Espinoza, Jordan Morris and Talles Magno, if we’re being honest.
But none of them quite had the month Arriola had in May (hence why he won Player of the Month). And you could argue that they just haven’t been as meaningful to their team’s success so far. Arriola scored six times in his last five games, netting at least one goal in each. He’s had seven goal contributions in his last six games. And he’s ninth in the league in non-penalty xG+xA.
There’s a bit of recency bias happening here I think. But Dallas are near the top of the West and Arriola has pretty definitely been a top-15 attacking player in the league. That’s more than enough to earn a handful of votes this go around.
Djordje Mihailovic nearly took the top spot here, and for good reason. When we’re talking about the “Most Valuable” players relevant to their team’s success, it’s perhaps hardest to imagine CF Montréal where they are now without Mihailovic. Montréal currently sit third in the East and lead the conference in goals scored with 28. Mihailovic has contributed to 11 of those directly (tied for third-most in the league), but it can be hard to illustrate his importance to folks who haven’t watched Montréal this year.
You kind of have to trust our eyes here. But you can take a look at his impressive FBref chart relative to his peers and get an idea of how often he’s involved in every aspect of what Montréal do in attack and how routinely effective he is once he gets involved.
That’s a lot of green. Hopefully, he can return soon from the ankle injury he picked up last week and keep contributing to what’s been a special season for CFM so far.
Strangely, the recent knock he took to his ankle may help his MVP case down the line. I’m sure he’d rather be with the US men’s national team and everyone else would rather him be there too. But if he misses regular-season time and Montréal struggle without him only to bounce back once he returns, it will make it incredibly difficult to argue against how valuable he is to the team.
Our third and final player from Texas on the list is also our MVP Power Rankings leader through May and the league leader in total goal contributions. Jesús Ferreira has nine goals and three assists on the season and has been the most effective player on an FC Dallas team hovering near the top of the West.
In a World Cup year where he needed to thrive to earn a spot on the USMNT roster, he’s honestly done a little more than that. Ferreira is first in the league in non-penalty xG so far and third in the league in non-penalty xG+xA. He plays a critical role as the false nine in Dallas’ 4-3-3 and has executed it to near perfection, routinely finding himself in excellent spots to score and to set up his teammates. He’s your standalone leader in non-penalty goals so far this season and it's clear to see why he tops our list nearly halfway through the year.
In a stacked competition that even includes his own teammates, Ferreira has contributed more to his team’s output than anyone else. At just 21 years old and with a Young DP deal in tow, the homegrown is proving he’s something special.