Voices: Sam Jones

MVP Power Rankings: Cristian Arango overtakes Lionel Messi

MVP Power Rankings 18

The MVP Power Rankings are back. That’s right, it’s an even more subjective rankings column than the regular Power Rankings. A place where voters not only get to arbitrarily define “power,” but “most valuable” too.

Each month of the season, we check in with MLS talent, staff, writers and editors to get their thoughts on the 2024 Landon Donovan MLS MVP race.

Twelve (12) ballots were cast 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. Nine players received at least one point.

Also receiving votes

Tani Oluwaseyi - Minnesota United FC (1 point)

Sometimes people will mock the democratic process and put someone in fifth place to ensure they get recognized, even if they aren’t truly at an MVP level. Ok, fine. It was me, I did this. BUT… Tani deserves it.

Oluwaseyi is one of three players in MLS – you can probably guess the other two – averaging more than a goal per 90. He is the only player averaging more than one non-penalty goal per 90. He is the only player in MLS averaging more than 1.00 non-penalty xG+xA per 90.

Sure, he'll probably fall back a bit as he gets more consistent starting time, but he’s absolutely earned a spot in this discussion. No one has done more with their time on the field this season. And seven goals and four assists over half a season is nothing to dismiss.

Federico Bernardeschi - Toronto FC (1 point)

Bernardeschi’s total buy-in to his role as a wingback in John Herdman’s system has played a critical role in Toronto’s turnaround from Wooden Spoon-winner to a probable Audi MLS Cup Playoffs team. In 1,343 minutes, he has seven goals and four assists on the year and is the most productive attacking wingback/fullback in the league by a significant margin. Even among more traditional wingers, he’s producing at a remarkably high level.

Fbref - Bernardeschi

Christian Benteke - D.C. United (1 point)

Things haven’t been going all that well for D.C. United lately, but Benteke is still finding the net. His 12 non-penalty goals are the second-most in MLS and, most importantly, he still has a hilarious lead in aerial duels won. Benteke has won 179 on the season. The next-closest player, fellow D.C. United player Lucas Bartlett, has won 64.

Riqui Puig - LA Galaxy (4 points)

Riqui Puig’s statistical radars are breathtaking.

Fbref - Riqui Puig 1
FBref - Riqui Puig 2

This man has never once considered a defensive action nor should he have to. Why should an artist be forced to do the work of less gifted men?

Robin Lod
Minnesota United FC • Midfielder

Points: 10

Lod is right back where we saw him last month. As long as the Loons keep picking up points, he’ll probably stay here. He hasn’t been otherwordly, but he’s been the catalyst for Minnesota’s attack and made Emanuel Reynoso’s departure entirely palatable. Lod is tied for second in MLS with 10 assists and averages 0.75 primary assists per 90, the second-best mark in the league.

The bottom line is when you can step in as a creative force and make your team better than one of the better No. 10s we’ve seen in MLS ever did, you deserve some recognition for how valuable you’ve been.

Denis Bouanga
LAFC • Forward

Points: 18

Last month, we mentioned how Bouanga’s numbers suggested good things were coming. Since then, Bouanga has added four goals and three assists to his season tally and still has room to grow. He “only” has 10 goals and five assists this year, but he’s second in MLS in xG+xA.

As LAFC continue to use the ball a little more and add pieces to the attack, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bouanga go on a tear soon as he powers LAFC to a Supporters’ Shield lead. If it happens, you can expect him to join the remaining players on this list as a serious MVP candidate.

Luciano Acosta
FC Cincinnati • Midfielder

Points: 34

Lucho has followed up his 2023 MVP-winning season with…an objectively better season?

Last year, he averaged 0.69 non-penalty goals and primary assists per 90. This year, he’s averaging 1.00 per 90. That’s, uh, extremely good. He’s even putting up career-best underlying numbers, too. The biggest change is he’s scoring a little less and assists a lot more often. The only reason he’s not the favorite for a second-straight MVP win is because the two guys ahead of him are having all-time great seasons.

Lionel Messi
Inter Miami CF • Forward

Points: 65

Yep. Second. Almost unanimously. And with Messi set to miss at least the next few games to Copa América, he might fall behind a little more. At least in the media vote.

That, of course, doesn’t change the fact Messi has a hilarious total of 12 goals and 13 assists in 11 starts and is averaging 1.91 goals plus primary assists per 90. He’s still the best player in the league. But remember, we’re talking about “valuable” here. Not best.

Cristian Arango
Real Salt Lake • Forward

Points: 115

Arango has 16 goals and nine assists on the season. That equals Messi’s 25 goal contributions on the season. The difference is Inter Miami would probably be just fine without Messi and there’s zero chance RSL would be in the Supporters' Shield race without Arango. He’s been on a level this season we haven’t seen since 2019 Carlos Vela and if he keeps up this pace he’ll beat Vela’s record-setting 49 goal contribution-season by one.

The biggest difference right now is Vela contributed to 57.6% of LAFC’s 85 goals that season. Arango has contributed to 69% of RSL’s 36 goals thus far in 2024. When you’re doing that for a genuine Supporters’ Shield contender, how can you not be considered the most valuable?

Ok, that was admittedly a lot of words to get to the point here: OH MY GOD LOOK AT THIS.