Voices: Sam Jones

MVP Power Rankings: LAFC's Dénis Bouanga overtakes Atlanta's Thiago Almada

MVP Power Rankings - April 2023 - Denis Bouanga - LAFC

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 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. Last go-around, we had Atlanta United's Thiago Almada in first place (hint: he's not there anymore). 

Twelve ballots were cast this time. 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
  • Hany Mukhtar - Nashville SC (6 points)
  • João Klauss - St. Louis CITY SC (5 points)
  • Eduard Löwen - St. Louis CITY SC (4 points)
  • Nicolas Lodeiro - Seattle Sounders FC (4 points)
  • Carles Gil - New England Revolution (3 points)

Both Löwen and Klauss have led the charge for the best story in the sport (MLS version) in 2023. St. Louis CITY SC are thriving as an expansion team in part because Löwen and Klauss, two DPs and ex-German Bundesliga players, have had immediate impacts.

Löwen has put together two goals and five assists across 10 games, in addition to playing a critical part in solidifying CITY SC’s midfield. Löwen is in the 95th percentile among midfielders in shot-creating actions per-90 while also sitting in the 83rd percentile for tackles per-90. He’s awesome.

Then there’s Klauss, who has five goals and four assists across nine games. He’s averaging 0.89 goal contributions per-90, a heckuva output for a player in his first year in the league with a first-year team.

Meanwhile, it’s very funny to see Gil and Mukhtar just hanging out in the “also receiving votes” section in an “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” kind of way. The last two MVP winners (2021 for Gil, 2022 for Mukhtar) are lurking in the background, slowly starting to put up numbers for two of the best teams in the league.

Gil has two goals and four assists in just seven starts this year, while Mukhtar has three goals and five assists in eight starts. That’s excellent output and we know that both players have even more production in them. Don’t be surprised if both have worked their way into the top five by the next MVP Power Rankings.

As for Lodeiro, he's got five assists in 10 matches for one of the league's best teams, plus is still logging crazy miles on defense + while orchestrating the Sounders' offense. All that's missing is goals so far.

Jordan Morris
Forward (14 points) · Seattle Sounders FC

Morris cooled off a bit after going nuclear to start the year. He hasn’t scored since April 1, but he’s still your Golden Boot presented by Audi leader with eight goals. That four-goal performance against Sporting Kansas City from Matchday 5 is doing a lot of work for him right now.

The good news for Seattle and Morris? They host SKC this Sunday for a Matchday 11 capper (4:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FOX). The bad news for Seattle and Morris? They don’t face SKC in the regular season anymore after that.

Thiago Almada
Midfielder (30 points) · Atlanta United

Like Morris, Almada has cooled off a bit after a sweltering start – at least in the sense he hasn’t banged home a goal from distance in a while. That was probably always a bit of a flash in the pan. The good news is, even with Atlanta not at their best for the last few weeks, Almada’s still generating chances.

The Argentine World Cup winner is second in the league with six assists and first in the league among starters in non-penalty xG+xA per-90. Basically, he’s getting off shots in good positions and setting up his teammates to shoot in even better positions. Unsurprisingly, Almada’s first in goals plus assists per-90, generating 1.29 goals every 90 minutes.

Djordje Petrovic
Goalkeeper (36 points) · New England Revolution

The last time we did this, I talked about how goalkeepers have the most statistically measurable effect on their team in a generally unmeasurable sport. Petrovic wasn’t the leader in shot-stopping categories like post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed last time. He still isn’t. 

Basically, we can measure the probability of a shot going in, based on placement and other factors, by using post-shot expected goals. Subtract it from the actual goals allowed and you can get a pretty good read on a 'keeper’s shot-stopping ability. Per FBRef, Nashville SC’s Joe Willis has saved 3.5 goals more than his post-shot xG suggests an average 'keeper should save. Austin FC’s Brad Stuver has saved 3.2 goals more than his post-shot xG. And Petrovic has saved 3.0. 

On top of that, Petrovic is leading the league in post-shot xG per shot. Basically, the numbers suggest no one is facing easier-to-save shots. Could those numbers be lying? Yes, they totally could be. Petrovic is clearly a step ahead of every other ‘keeper in the league by the eye test. And he can only save the shots that come his way. He’s not in control of that (or it's all a testament to great positioning). 

However, in an MVP discussion, especially involving a goalkeeper, you can make an argument that you want him to be putting together a league-best season production-wise. So far, Petrovic hasn’t done that. Though he’s pretty darn close. 

As for the rising Serbian international’s upside and potential transfer sell-on value? Those are undeniable. And nobody would be too surprised if he’s the Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2023, provided he sticks around the Revs the whole season.

I had Espinoza first because 1) giving our number one vote-getter all the first-place votes is boring and 2) because Espinoza has produced at an outsized level compared to his teammates – and, to some extent, most of the league. When we’re talking about "valuable," I think that’s something you have to take into account. Aren’t subjective discussions over semantics fun?

Anyway, Espinoza has nine goal contributions on the year, scoring six times and delivering three assists. Only Almada has more goal contributions. Per FBref, Espinoza is also generating 0.92 xG+xA per-90. That’s good for second place in the league among starters, just one hundredth lower than Almada. And Espinoza is the outright leader in expected assists, generating 5.9 xG worth of chances for his teammates, 1.2 xG more than Almada in second place.

The Earthquakes, under new manager Luchi Gonzalez, are looking like an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs-level team for the first time in a long time. Espinoza, their 28-year-old Argentine winger, is the biggest reason why.

We can talk about "value" relative to teammates all we want, but sometimes a dude is just doing so much absurd stuff you can’t help but acknowledge how absurd it all is and put him first in your MVP ballot. 




LAFC are set to win multiple trophies this year and Bouanga’s otherwordly performances are a key reason why. He has seven goals and two assists in eight MLS games, plus six goals and four assists in six Concacaf Champions League games. Unreal. 

But it is technically the Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award. Should we even be taking CCL games into account?????

(Yes, you nerds.)