Voices: Sam Jones

MVP Power Rankings: Almada, Klauss & Morris emerge as frontrunners

March 2023 MVP Power Rankings - Almada

It’s back. A somehow even more subjective rankings column than the regular Power Rankings. Not only do voters get to arbitrarily define “power,” but they get to do the same with “valuable.” You know you missed it.  

Each month we check in with MLS talent, staff, writers and editors to get their thoughts on the Landon Donovan MLS MVP race. We’re five matchdays into the 2023 season, so let’s get the conversation going. It’ll be fun. Trust us. 

Sixteen ballots were submitted for this one. 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.

Also receiving votes
  • Djordje Petrovic, New England Revolution (9 points)
  • Obinna Nwobodo, FC Cincinnati (7 points)
  • Eduard Löwen, St. Louis CITY SC (2 points)
  • Ilie Sánchez, LAFC (1 point)
  • Caleb Wiley, Atlanta United (1 point)

Let’s be honest: it’s tough to say anything definitive about one player this early in the season, let alone five players. You can kind of tell how when people got past the more obvious votes, they defaulted to the tried-and-true “under-praised but highly-effective central midfielder who deserves some appreciation around here” method (Nwobodo, Löwen, Sánchez) or the “most notable goalkeeper who deserves some appreciation around here” gambit (Petrovic).

A word to the wise: you should always go with the midfielder if you’re trying to play it safe. We know all three midfielders mentioned have been excellent, but we generally can’t actually quantify the things they do well. You, dear reader, just kind of have to believe we know what we’re talking about. We can, however, do a pretty decent job at this point of quantifying the impact of a goalkeeper with statistics like Goals Allowed versus Post-Shot Expected Goals Against and, well, apologies to the voters here, but the best shot-stopper so far has been Brad Stuver. Petrovic has been good, though. And a few one-goal wins for New England doesn’t hurt the Serbian international’s case as far as “most valuable” goes.

Anyway, shout out to 18-year-old Caleb Wiley for showing up here after a three-goal, two-assist month. He’s fourth in the league in total goal contributions.

There's also time for last year's winner (Nashville SC's Hany Mukhtar) and runner-up (Austin FC's Sebastián Driussi) to pick up steam. A lot of time.

Luciano Acosta
Midfielder (12 points) · FC Cincinnati

Acosta is here after – and not to dox anyone’s ballots or anything but… – a pretty heavy push from the good folks at Extratime. He’s been good. Cincy are second in the Eastern Conference. He also has no goals, two assists (one primary, one secondary), and a lower non-penalty xG+xA than good-but-not-quite-MVP-caliber Vancouver Whitecaps FC forward Brian White. We all define “most valuable” in our own way I guess. And sometimes most valuable means “three fewer direct goal contributions than Austin fullback Jon Gallagher.”

OK, fine, that’s far too dismissive of a player who impacts the game in far more ways than what shows up on a stat sheet. We all know Lucho is one of the best players in the league. In the end, you need a little more end product to truly contend for these kinds of awards. Also, in the end, it’s been five whole games. He’s got time.

Bouanga deserves a spot on this list exclusively for his legendary game-winning goal this past weekend. Anyone who hops off a 13-hour flight to earn three points for his team is extraordinarily valuable in both a “winning soccer games” and entertainment sense.

Anyway, he’s got a decent mark of three goals and two assists (one primary, one secondary) so far in MLS. It also probably didn’t hurt him that he pulled off a ridiculous hat-trick against Costa Rica’s Alajuelense in Concacaf Champions League a few weeks back.

Playing alongside Carlos Vela and Kwadwo Opoku could limit Bouanga’s raw boxscore stats – the “defending MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winners have an extremely balanced attack” thing. But it’s a very, very safe bet he’ll be in this conversation all year long.

João Klauss
Forward (52 points) · St. Louis City SC

Klauss has been the face of St. Louis CITY’s magical run so far. Yes, he seems to have mastered the ability to use “confusion” on his opponents like a psychic Pokémon, but his contributions aren’t solely reliant on the other team just giving him the ball.

The Brazilian striker’s five goals are second in the league so far and the best player on the best team is always going to get votes, right? It’s a testament to how good St. Louis have been through five games that I don’t know how much I’m kidding about that. Either way, Klauss has been fantastic and there’s no real reason to think he’ll slow down too much anytime soon.

Jordan Morris
Forward (59 points) · Seattle Sounders FC

Any player that can evoke this kind of emotion has to be pretty valuable, right?

If you need a refresher on why SKC fans are so enthused there, Morris is counting up the not one, not two, not three, but four goals he scored in Kansas City last weekend. Just ruthless stuff. He’s always been explosive, but when he’s combining that physical skill set with movement and finishing like this…

Opposing defenses are going to have their hands full.

The US men’s national team forward has been on a different level so far, scoring seven times in five games. Only six teams in the entire league have scored more often than Morris. He’s already matched his total from last season and he’s been critical to Seattle’s success as they’ve started (mostly) without Raúl Ruidíaz and (sometimes) Héber.

It could also just be the bleach-blonde hair.

Thiago Almada
Midfielder (150 points) · Atlanta United

This is where I'm supposed to say Thiago Almada has four goals and four assists, he's scoring for Argentina after helping them win the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and there's an increased expectation he could break Miguel Almirón's MLS record outgoing transfer.

I could also just show you this.