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.”
Each month we check in with MLS talent, staff, writers and editors to get their thoughts on the 2023 Landon Donovan MLS MVP race so far. Thirteen ballots were cast for this one while everyone tried to figure out which Inter Miami CF rumored signings are true.
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.
- Dénis Bouanga - LAFC (9 points)
- Lucas Zelarayán - Columbus Crew (9 points)
- Roman Bürki - St. Louis CITY SC (5 points)
- Cristian Espinoza - San Jose Earthquakes (3 points)
- Giorgos Giakoumakis - Atlanta United (3 points)
- Jesús Ferreira - FC Dallas (2 points)
- Andre Blake - Philadelphia Union (1 point)
Phew, that’s a lot of folks receiving a vote. Leave it to a bunch of MLS nerds to go to war over the ninth-best player in the league.
Anyway, we’ve seen a few of these names on past MVP Power Rankings this year, so just a few quick notes. Bouanga has fallen off along with LAFC (probably related) and has just one goal since the CCL final. He’s still second in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race with 11 goals, but the numbers feel a little less impressive right now.
Zelarayán got done dirty here and I have no idea how the player with the league’s third-most direct goal contributions (goals plus primary assists) ended up in the “also” category, but here we are. Some of y’all owe him an apology or at least penance by watching this goal 20 more times.
Bürki has been by far the best ‘keeper in the league statistically and it’s good to see him start getting his due. Per FBref, he’s saved 6.7 goals more than average based on the post-shot xG he’s faced. The next closest ‘keeper, Austin FC’s Brad Stuver, has saved 5.0. And then it drops off to Nashville SC’s Joe Willis at 4.1. If those numbers mean nothing to you just trust me that he’s been really, really good.
Cucho only has five goals this year after putting up nine in virtually the same amount of minutes last season. However, he’s found a surprising space as a chance-creator for the Crew, piling up 10 assists on the year. Or, maybe more accurately, a chance before the chance-creator.
Of Cucho’s 10 assists, six have been primary assists (passes leading directly to a goal). Four of those 10 have been secondary assists (passes leading directly to the pass leading directly to a goal). It seemed far more likely that he’d be near the top of the Golden Boot race rather than tied for the league lead in assists, but here we are.
I mean, I don’t feel like I have to explain a ton here. It’s Carles Gil. He’s critical to everything the Revs do and the Revs are second in the league in points per game. That’s usually a pretty good MVP case.
Gil has seven goals on the year but, shockingly, just three primary assists. That number gets way better when you include his six secondary assists, but it’s still odd to see anyone but Gil leading the way in total assists on the season.
Almada is out Carles Gil-ing Carles Gil. Almada has a higher percentage of his team’s touches in the final third, one more goal and one more assist. Plus, it feels like he scores an AT&T 5G Goal of the Week contender every three weeks or so. Even more critically, he’s played a larger role in creating direct chances for his teammates. Almada’s nine primary assists are the most in the league and six more than Gil’s three. His 17 direct goal contributions are the second-most in the league and he’s second in the league in expected assists.
Acosta doesn’t quite have the same chance-creation numbers as Almada and Gil, but he has the second-most touches in the final third in the league while playing on the team currently on a record-breaking points-per-game pace.
That’s not to say he’s missing end product this year or anything. Acosta’s nine goals and four primary assists has him as the fourth-highest goal contributor in the league. He’s by far FC Cincinnati’s most critical player. Being by far the best player on by far the best team in the league is a great way to get a whole lot of MVP votes.
A near-unanimous choice. Again. You can’t be surprised.
Mukhtar has scored a league-leading 13 goals and has 21 goal contributions. He has more contributions to goals than six teams this year, including big-spending teams like the LA Galaxy, Toronto FC and Inter Miami. And he’s one goal scored behind the Colorado Rapids.
Barring some kind of extreme setback, it's his award to win. Again. You can’t be surprised.