BLAINE, Minn. – Who will win this year’s Landon Donovan MLS MVP award?
It’s a question that generates some of the most heated debate across Major League Soccer as opinions on what makes a player worthy of the honor can vary wildly depending on who is asked, including the players themselves.
Together for the 2022 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, MLSsoccer.com caught up with some of the MLS All-Stars who are having the type of season that puts them in the conversation as potential candidates to win the award.
Here are their thoughts.
Austin FC have been one of the best stories of the league this season and Sebastian Driussi has been at the head of that success so far. A clear candidate for the MVP award, the Argentine star leads the 2022 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race with 16 goals and seven assists.
The 26-year-old is looking to stay humble as the excitement grows around him, revealing he speaks often with a sports psychologist to stay focused on the task at hand and not get carried away.
“She helps me in moments like these when I’m in the running for the Golden Boot and being considered for MVP after a short period of time here,” he told MLSsoccer.com on the second day of MLS All-Star training. “I try to stay calm and just keep working every day, which is what is going help me earn great things.”
As Driussi spends several days with the top players from around league he usually competes against, he was very clear on the teammate he’ll look to learn from the most.
“Carlos [Vela] is so good. I’m sure it’s not just me, but he surprises all the other players with his skill. He’s just so good technically,” he said. “He has my admiration. Today I have him right next to me, so I’m looking to learn from him as much as possible.”
The Nashville SC Designated Player was a finalist for 2021's MVP award, which ultimately was presented to New England’s Carles Gil. Hany Mukhtar is, again, putting together the type of numbers that earn players individual awards, with 13 goals and eight assists in 24 games (23 starts) this season.
“I’ve learned in my career that it’s really important to focus on the things you can influence. You cannot influence what someone is talking about you or not,” he said when asked about his chances to win the MVP award. “I have to do my job at Nashville and be successful with the team, score goals and give assists. That’s what I’ve been focusing on.”
Like Driussi, Mukhtar was quick to point out LAFC's Vela as the player he admires most from the ones surrounding him during All-Star Week, though he added another Mexican superstar to the mix.
“It’s really good to see guys like Chicharito and Vela, who have had great careers and stay at a top level. They are the best in the league,” Mukhtar said, before adding he also has a lot of admiration from another player who will not participate in the All-Star Game on Wednesday.
“Luiz Araujo from Atlanta. I really rate him,” he revealed. “I like his game in particular. He takes players on and moves directly to the goal. He has a lot of speed and he’s technically gifted.”
Luciano Acosta has been exceptional for FC Cincinnati all season, and he leads the league in primary assists (14). He also has six goals to his name and has been instrumental as Cincy aim to qualify for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since entering the league in 2019.
“It’s a great motivator that people speak well about your game and to be among those players who are considered to be great in the league,” the 28-year-old Argentine said. “That’s what you dream about.”
That said, he knows he has stiff competition for the MVP award in his fellow countryman, Driussi, who is also a close friend and someone Acosta tried to recruit for his own team before he joined the league in 2021.
“Before he went to Austin and I found out he was interested in coming to MLS, I told him to come join us,” he revealed. “He was already set on going to Austin though. He’s one of the best players here.”
“I do think Seba Driussi is having a great season and knowing the sacrifices he’s had to make, I know he’s someone who deserves it,” Acosta added. “He has it all. He can score, he can take players on, he has a great shot… he’s a complete player.”
Another Argentine in consideration for the MVP award, Emanuel Reynoso has Minnesota United FC fourth in the Western Conference standings, having lost just once in their last eight matches. Reynoso has led the way with nine goals and six assists so far in what has been an incredible turn of fortunes for the Loons.
“I’m happy for all the good feedback I keep receiving, it makes you want to keep doing good things in this league and my club,” Reynoso said. “With the trust I’ve been given by the coaching staff and my teammates I will try to help with goals and assists. If I do things right individually, the awards will come.”
During All-Star Week, Reynoso has had the opportunity to see his rivals up close and has come away impressed with their quality. He’s well aware he’ll need to take Minnesota to unprecedented successes if he’s to be considered for the MVP award, as competition will be fierce over the last stretch of the regular season.
“Driussi is scoring so much and assisting so much, but we don’t talk about it,” he said when asked whether they’ve discussed the MVP race. “We talk about other things like our clubs and our teammates. It’s been a fun experience.”
“Driussi, Carles [Gil] and all of them will be there fighting for it,” he added. “I will humbly be fighting to get that as well.”
Last year’s Landon Donovan MLS MVP award winner so far hasn’t put together the type of numbers that took the New England Revolution to an unprecedented 73-point season and the 2021 Supporters’ Shield. Still, he leads the league in key passes with 76 and is only behind Acosta in assists (12).
“I was very happy when I won it last year. It was a recognition to the work that was done as a team,” Gil said. “Once this season started, I put that out of my mind. It was important to do that. When you return after having such a good season, you look to maintain that level, which was very high. You try to keep it there.”
It has been a tough season for the Revs, as they are currently outside the playoff picture at 10th place in the East. Having won the award already, Gil offered some advice to those vying to be considered in 2022.
“It’s very important to not think too much about it. There is a lot that goes into winning that prize, numbers and statistics to consider. Ultimately, the most important part is what you can get collectively with your team,” the Revs' captain explained. "If it wasn’t for the type of season we put together, I would not have won.”
As for the current season, the Spanish midfielder also lauded the work Driussi has been doing individually for Austin FC.
“Seba is having a spectacular season. His numbers speak for themselves. His determination when coming into the box is so notable,” the 29-year-old said. “He’s not a player who is defined as a pure striker and to have 16 goals so far is impressive.”
“The fact that Austin is having such a good season also helps. They’re putting together great numbers and that makes him a very good candidate,” Gil added. “Of course, there are others that need to be considered like Lucho and any of the guys from LAFC. What they have been doing deserves attention.”
“In the end, only one of them will win it. But whoever it is will be deserving of it.”