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. For so, so many things.
Anyway, here’s how the Landon Donovan MLS MVP race (kind of) stands as we head into the final month of the 2021 season.
Daniel Salloi (SKC), Andreu Fontas (SKC)
It’s the same thing with Fontas every time we do this. He’s still leading the entire league in American Soccer Analysis’ Goals Added (g+) metric. He’s still a crucial part of one of the best teams in the league in a position where they really needed someone to step up and put in consistently solid performances. Instead, they got someone putting in the best performances of any center back in the league. He may not be the best defender among his peers, but no one is better on the ball out of the back. He’s in the 99th percentile among the league’s center backs in passes attempted, progressive passes and progressive carries per 90 minutes.
Salloi has also been a steady presence in these rankings. He just went a bit quiet over the last month, scoring once in the four games since the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target. That’s not really that quiet, it’s just that it left a little bit of room for some other players to pass him in a subjective power rankings vote. He’s fourth in the league among attacking players in goals added, and his 19 goal contributions this season have him tied for fourth-most in the league with Carles Gil, who, again, we all agree is really good at soccer.
By the way, if you really want to make a concerted argument for Salloi as MVP, your best bet is to probably point out he leads the league in non-penalty goals.
When you’re the top scorer on one of the two best teams in the league, you’re bound to get some MVP votes. Ruidiaz is second in the league in goals scored, just two behind the impossibly hot (and somehow seven-time scorer from the penalty spot) Ola Kamara. He’s third in the league in non-penalty expected goals and remains the purest goalscorer in the league.
Like Salloi, he’s also scored just once since the All-Star Game, and that came in the Leagues Cup. He also has just one assist on the season compared to Salloi’s six and is second in the league behind Salloi in non-penalty goals scored and his goal added total is in the negative very much unlike Salloi. I’m going to be honest with y’all: I voted for Salloi.
NYCFC have been struggling as of late, but that’s not on Castellanos. He’s second in the league with 20 goal contributions this year and is third in the league in non-penalty goal contributions behind Salloi and another player featured later in the rankings. He’s scored 10 non-penalty goals while contributing seven assists. And he’s fourth in the league in goals added.
That’s all pretty good. He could and probably should have even better numbers, though. He’s still leading the league in non-penalty expected goals plus assists by a considerable margin. All things equal he’d be leading the league in goals plus assists by four. Even still, despite a combo of bad luck and maybe not so great finishing ability, his numbers are among the best in the league.
And now we’re to the part of the month where we remind you that Joao Paulo is really, really good at practically everything you’d want someone to be good at on a soccer field. Among midfielders, he’s in the 89th percentile or higher in [ahem] assists, expected assists, shot-creating actions, passes, progressive passes and tackles. To name just a few.
It’s highly likely he’s been the most complete midfielder in the league this season. Do that on one of the league’s two best teams and you’re going to get a good chunk of MVP votes. Joao Paulo has become the pick that proves you watch and understand soccer. And for good reason. That will take you far among media types and message board posters.
Finally, Some new blood in this thing.
Not going to lie, I’m pretty stoked it’s Mukhtar. Nashville on the whole haven’t gotten enough attention for what they’ve done this year. Mukhtar is a massive part of that. He’s your league leader in non-penalty goal contributions with 20. Nine of those contributions are assists. He’s averaging a goal contribution nearly every 90 minutes. That leads the league among players with more than 1,200 minutes played. By the numbers, there hasn’t been a more complete attacking player in the league this year.
Were you expecting someone else?
He’s first in the league in assists and key passes, plus every other relevant creative stat on what could finish as the best regular-season team in MLS history. Look, we’ve been at this for months now. We can probably wrap this up.