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MVP Power Rankings: Luciano Acosta, clear favorite in 2023?

MVP Power Rankings - Oct '23 - Option 2

The MVP Power Rankings are back. That’s right, it’s somehow 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 we check in with MLS talent, staff, writers and editors to get their thoughts on the 2023 Landon Donovan MLS MVP race so far. Seven ballots were cast for this one. That’s what happens when the winner is kind of obvious: Lionel Messi (Just kidding, sorry, couldn’t help myself.).

As always, 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. Unlike always, only six players even received votes. We’ve come a long way since last month’s 14-player Royal Rumble.

Also receiving votes

Ryan Gauld is the lone player outside of the top five to receive votes. We’ve been doing these MVP Power Rankings for a while now and he’s a classic “Definitely not the MVP but definitely deserves recognition of some kind” vote.

The Scotsman has 11 goals and 12 assists on the season for a Whitecaps team that’s heavily leaned on him and Brian White to carry them in attack. But he has also put in the work defensively. Gauld has more tackles than fellow MVP candidate No. 10s Lucho Acosta and Thiago Almada combined.

Not much has changed since we talked about Herrera last month. The biggest difference is Herrera and his teammates have a shiny new US Open Cup in hand. The Dynamo have been increasingly excellent this year. Now they have a trophy to show for it and are heading into Decision Day chasing a top-four spot in the Western Conference.

Houston's rise is thanks, in large part, to Herrera’s outstanding performance this season. He has four goals and 15 assists, orchestrating an attack defined by its goals-by-committee approach. Only Corey Baird has more than four non-penalty goals on the season. Herrera has still found a way to rack up assists, though. That’s in addition to being an effective defensive presence.

The Mexican international has been critical to the best Dynamo team in recent memory.

St. Louis have overperformed their underlying numbers more than any team in MLS this season. Some of that is luck. The other part is Roman Bürki putting together the best shot-stopping season in MLS.

Per FBref, Bürki leads the league in post-shot xG minus goals allowed. Essentially, based on the placement of the shots on target he’s faced, Bürki has kept out nine goals more than the average goalkeeper. There’s an easy argument to make that those nine goals are the difference between St. Louis being first in the Western Conference or being out of the top four altogether.

Just on the surface, nine additional goals takes St. Louis from 43 goals allowed on the season to 52 – the same number allowed by the last-place Colorado Rapids. That doesn’t even take into account variables like a changing game state that could have altered several results for St. Louis.

It’s surprising to see Hernández here. He scored nine goals and delivered three assists in 14 starts in 2022, seeming primed for an elite goal-scoring season. Instead, he altered his game a bit in 2023 (at least relative to most expectations) and started working to create chances. Sometimes maybe even to a fault. He entered September with just six goals, but had piled up 10 assists along the way. That’s excellent production, but it didn’t come in the way most folks expected.

Well, Cucho finally gave people what they wanted this month.

Cucho bagged a hat trick against Montréal on Sept. 2, scored in the next game against Orlando, bagged another hat trick in the following game against Chicago, and has added two more goals since then for good measure. He’s scored nine times over his last seven games to bring his season total to 15 goals and 11 assists. He’s now tied for third in goals scored and his 26 goal contributions are tied for third-most in the league.

Like Cucho, Bouanga entered September with folks wondering when he would start to find the back of the net. He scored plenty across multiple competitions this year, but took a couple of months off from scoring in MLS play. He got back to it in the last couple of weeks.

Bouanga has five goals in his last two games and is suddenly the runaway winner of this year’s Golden Boot presented by Audi award with 19 goals and seven assists thus far. He’s averaging 0.92 direct goal contributions (goal or primary assist) per 90 minutes, the second-best mark in the league. Just think where he might have been without fixture congestion and extra competitions LAFC have faced this season.

No surprises here.

Lucho’s been in the lead for a while now and it was going to take an otherworldy performance to catch him. He’s carried FC Cincinnati to the Supporters’ Shield and his 29 goal contributions (16g/13a) lead the league.

Barring something wild happening with the end-of-year ballots, Acosta is your 2023 MVP.