Voices: Sam Jones

MLS MVP Power Rankings: Who made the final cut as 2021 season winds down?

We made it. It’s the last MVP Power Rankings of the year.  We’re one day closer to looking back on all the things we’ve Power Ranked this season and deciding if attempting to subjectively quantify the abilities of teams, rivalry names and players alike made us better students of the game or simply just better friends.

Or maybe we gained nothing. It’s very likely that.

Anyway, since this is the last one and the MLS editorial staff that voted on this set of rankings probably has a few actual MVP voters sprinkled throughout it, this is probably a relatively decent straw poll of what will happen when it’s time for the final votes to come in. I mean, in this case, you could probably ask five casual MLS fans for their MVP and they’ll get the same answer we’re about to get. The outcome is obvious at this point. But hey, who are we to rob you of your last chance to tweet about your favorite non-Carles Gil player being fleeced by the good folks at MLSsoccer.com?

Receiving votes

Andreu Fontas, Raul Ruidiaz, Damir Kreilach, Julian Gressel, Cristian Roldan

This is a who’s who of MLS Guys Who Get Constant Shoutouts for Being Underrated. And also Raul Ruidiaz. I think the voters realized they could just put their favorites in at the bottom of the ballot and I’d have to talk about them/acknowledge their underratedness in some capacity. I mean, that’s what I did at least.

Which is why your leader in American Soccer Analysis’ Goals Added (g+) metric, Andreu Fontas, is once again in the MVP Power Rankings. I don’t know if I can technically say he’s been the wire-to-wire leader in g+. But he has been very, very good for a team that is starting to look like a back-to-back regular-season Western Conference winner. Fontas is a top-10 player in the “interrupting” element of g+ (basically just defensive effect) and a top-two player in the passing element of g+, nestled right between Carles Gil and Emanuel Reynoso. Fontas is a center back. Seems like good company to be in. As is the rest of this list.

Damir Kreilach has put in a 14-goal, eight-assist season for an RSL team on the verge of making the playoffs and absolutely deserves some love for a 22-goal contribution season in which he’s played a couple of different positions. It’s the best season of his MLS career so far.

Cristian Roldan has spent the season, unsurprisingly, doing Cristian Roldan things. He’s 11th in the league in g+ and second among attacking midfielders, just behind Gil. He’s in the upper half of almost every per-90 category among attacking midfielders. And he’s put together a six-goal and six-assist season. He’s not the most important Seattle midfielder (we’ll get to him later), but he’s still a crucial player on one of the league’s best teams.

Julian Gressel may be a Best XI player in addition to being the player I’m most excited about getting votes. He’s fifth in g+ and among fullbacks this season, he’s in the 95th-percentile or higher in assists, expected assists, expected goals plus assists and shot-creating actions. None of those are my favorite Gressel stat, though. But they do provide some key context for it. Gressel is in the top percentile for pass completion percentage. Nobody has had a less successful time consistently connecting with his teammates. And it doesn’t matter one bit.

Because Julian Gressel has understood the assignment. In Hernan Losada’s system, it’s not to pad numbers with simple sideways or backward passes. You’ve got to go for it. And I can’t think of another player I’d want consistently bombarding the other team with a cross from the wing. There’s a reason he’s third in the league behind Gil and Reynoso in key passes.

And finally, Ruidiaz makes an appearance after being in the top-five for most of the season. He’s still got 16 goals and is still in the running for the Golden Boot presented by Audi if he can return from a hamstring injury in Seattle’s final two games. But for now, the six games he’s missed since that injury have hurt his chances there and in the Power Rankings. Although maybe it should have helped? If we’re talking about the value it’s pretty clear Seattle isn’t the same without him in the lineup and they’ve only taken one point from their last four games.

A lot has rightly been made about Gil’s ability to dish out assists and not so much about the people getting on the end of those assists. Bou – and fellow forward Adam Buksa – has quietly been fantastic, piling up 15 goals for the Supporters’ Shield-winning Revs. But what’s really set Bou apart here is his ability to distribute the ball. Bou has nine assists and is in the 99th percentile among forwards in expected assists. When you’re that productive on what’s looking like a record-breaking team, it doesn’t really matter that you’re not that team’s best player. You’re still going to end up in the MVP Power Rankings.

Hany Mukhtar
Midfielder/Forward · Nashville SC

Mukhtar has one less goal than Bou, but the biggest difference is that Mukhtar is the driving force behind Nashville’s success this season. They’re built on having one of the best defenses in the league and while they definitely still have that, they’ve also scored the fourth-most goals in the East this year. Mukhtar’s 23 goal contributions are second-most in the league this season and his goal-scoring, assist and general passing numbers per-90 are almost exclusively in the top 75% of forwards in the league. On top of that, Mukhtar is still doing the work defensively. He’s in the 85th percentile in pressures and tackles among forwards, and in the 79th percentile in interceptions.

Oh good, it’s the time of the month where we remind everyone Joao Paulo is better at pretty much everything than pretty much everyone else. When you’re in the 97th percentile in assists per-90 AND in the 90th percentile in tackles per-90 among midfielders AND in the 92nd percentile or higher in passes attempted and progressive passes per-90, you’re doing a really good job of being a midfielder.

He’s the anchor for one of MLS' best teams and the best non-attacking player in the league. Non-attacking players in any sport don’t get much of a chance at MVP normally. For him to be this high up in the rankings is a genuine accomplishment and should confirm just how good he’s been. And if you needed a reminder of how crucial he is to Seattle, maybe take a peek at how things went without him last night against LAFC.

Salloi has been the most critical and consistent attacking force on a team that looks likely to finish at the top of the West. His 24 goal contributions are tops in the league and over and over again it’s seemed like Salloi has had the ability to say “You know what, I’ll just do this myself” and found the net for Kansas City at the most opportune time.

Johnny Russell has had an excellent season, but you could argue nobody has carried his team forward in attack as successfully as Salloi has in 2021. He’s been a part of every single MVP Power Rankings for a reason. And even if he’s not going to catch Gil, we’d be remiss not to mention him as one of the single most important players in the league to his team’s success and one of the league’s most outstanding performers. Through whatever criteria you use, Salloi is a legitimate MVP candidate.

Gonna level with you here. These rankings started being anti-climactic about three months ago. Gil has so far and away been the league’s most dynamic and powerful creative force that he missed the entirety of August and still comfortably leads the league in every creative category. 

He’s in the 99th percentile among attacking midfielders and wingers in expected assists, shot-creating actions and progressive passes per 90. He’s unfortunately only in the 98th percentile for progressive carries. He leads the league in key passes and assists. And when he’s gotten bored with that, he’s decided to do things like this…

He’s the best player on the most consistent regular-season team in MLS history. They wouldn’t be at that level over the course of the entire season without him. He’s your MVP.