Once again, we’re back to ranking things. Once again, we all agree that Carles Gil is good at soccer.
And, once again, someone is going to blame Tom Bogert specifically for anything they disagree with in these rankings even though the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff collectively voted on this. It’s me. I blame Tom Bogert.
Here’s how the Landon Donovan MLS MVP race stands as August turns to September on the 2021 season. Onto the results!
Andreu Fontas, Ricardo Pepi, CJ Sapong and Joao Paulo
Andreu Fontas continues to be the lone defender who consistently shows up in these things. There’s a very, very good reason for that. For the entirety of the 2021 season he’s led the league in American Soccer Analysis’ “goals added” metric. As a center back, that’s extremely impressive. He’s been phenomenal and a steadying force at the position Sporting Kansas City most desperately needed a steadying force.
You may have heard of FC Dallas striker Ricardo Pepi. You may not have heard that he’s averaging 0.73 goals per 90 minutes, which is good enough for third in the league and first among players who have played more than 900 minutes this year. You’ve definitely heard by now that he’s just 18. And you’ve certainly heard that there’s a hype train to ride and you’re invited aboard.
CJ Sapong has quietly put together a stellar year for Nashville SC. The now 11-year MLS veteran has nine goals and three assists on the season and is a big reason why the Boys in Gold have the fewest losses in the league this season. Personally, I’m more inclined to give Hany Mukhtar’s eight-goal and eight-assist season an MVP nod from Nashville, but there’s no denying Sapong has been excellent.
And then there’s Joao Paulo, who does literally everything better than almost every other midfielder. Here are the statistics, in addition to assists, in which the Seattle Sounders DP is in the top five among all players in MLS this year, according to Second Spectrum: passes attempted, passes completed, pressured passes, progressive passes, primary shot assists...
I left some out. Joao Paulo is really, really good.
For as much attention as Carles Gil and Tajon Buchanan have gotten, Gustavo Bou has almost been able to hide just how productive he’s been for the league’s best team. He scored twice and added an assist this month to bring himself up to 16 goal contributions on the season, good enough for third in the league.
He’s tied for second in the league in total goals scored and is sixth in the league in goals plus assists per 90 minutes. On almost any other team, he’d be a superstar. For now, he’ll have to settle for being a scene-stealing supporting cast member for the Revs.
Taty continues to regress to the mean in the best possible way. Yet even with four goals and two assists this month, Castellanos still hasn’t grazed his ceiling. He’s got 16 goal contributions on the season now, putting him right there with Bou for the third-best mark in the league. Yet his expected goals and assists numbers indicate that he should be somewhere up around 19.
That’s easily the best set of underlying numbers in the league. As NYCFC continue to climb the standings and Taty continues to track back to the mean, don’t be surprised if he rises up these rankings and maybe even sits at the top of them by the end of the year.
We’ve mentioned two of the folks tied for the third-most goal contributions this season. How about the guy in first?
Salloi’s 12 goals and six assists make him the league’s most productive player this season. He’s outrun his underlying numbers a bit so far this year, but underlying numbers don’t win MVP awards. If he can even halfway keep up his current output the rest of the way, he’ll have a legitimate claim for this award.
By the way, even if his expected numbers aren’t quite as stellar, goals added have him as the fourth-most productive attacking player in MLS this season. That’s worth noting, too.
Raul Ruidiaz is the striker version of Flex Seal. Got a problem? Genuinely any problem? Just tape Raul Ruidiaz over it and it will probably sort itself out. When Seattle have been at their lowest points of roster attrition or struggles to break down a bunkering team, Ruidiaz has come in and saved the day over and over. Having the purest goalscorer in the league solves so many problems and Ruidiaz is exactly that.
He’s leading the Golden Boot presented by Audi race by two goals now (14 total) and it’s difficult to imagine anyone catching him. And the more he expands his lead, and the more he delivers when Seattle needs him most, the more he’ll have a chance at taking the top spot from...
Yep. Carles Gil is still here. He didn’t play all August and he’s still. Here.
That’s how far a lead New England's playmaker had on everyone else before missing time due to a muscular injury. He’s the hare laying around and waiting for the many, many tortoises behind him to catch up. Daniel Salloi is the only one who did. Even after sitting August out, Gil is still second in MLS in goal contributions.
His 15 assists are seven more than the next closest competitor. He still leads the league in key passes by 12. He leads the league in expected assists per 90. Pretty much every creation-based statistic, he’s first.
On top of that, he’s the second-highest-rated attacker in the league by goals added. Again, he’s been doing absolutely nothing for a whole month.
And now he’s back. He’s in training and expected to play again soon. The window to catch up has closed.