Voices: Sam Jones

MVP Power Rankings: Nashville SC's Hany Mukhtar to repeat in 2023?

May 2023 MVP Power Ranknigs - Hany Mukhtar

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 Landon Donovan MLS MVP race so far. Seven ballots were cast for this one while everyone was distracted with scrolling through Lionel Messi updates.

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. Messi received a vote too, but we decided to not count pre-emptive votes. Rules are rules.

Also receiving votes
  • Cristian Espinoza - San Jose Earthquakes (4 points)
  • Daniel Gazdag - Philadelphia Union (3 points)
  • Brian White - Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1 point)
  • Eduard Löwen - St. Louis CITY SC (1 point)

Espinoza has admittedly cooled off a bit after a hot start. He opened May with a brace against LAFC in a huge win for the Earthquakes but hasn’t scored since. The good news is he at least found time to add a couple of assists before the month closed. He’s still among the league’s best in total goal contributions (13).

Meanwhile, it feels like Gazdag is just starting to pick up steam. He’s scored three times and delivered an assist over the last four games for Philly. He’s got a long way to go to match his 2022 output of 22 goals and 10 assists, but seven goals and eight assists halfway through the year is still remarkable production...[whispering now]...even if six of his seven goals have come through penalties.

Anyway, Löwen is back on the list for the second straight month after continuing to be a dominant force in the St. Louis midfield as they put together one of the best inaugural seasons in MLS history. He’s been excellent at…pretty much everything so far. He’s one of the league’s best midfielders in several categories so far and is powering St. Louis’ instant success.

Speaking of excellence, I voted for Brian White because I wanted to make sure y’all were paying attention to Brian White and because spoiler ahead\] [Hany Mukhtar is, again, incredible. White has six goals and an assist on the season, but leads the entire league in expected goals (xG). xG isn’t everything of course, but no starter in the league is routinely putting themselves in positions to score like White. I'm not saying that makes him a genuine MVP candidate. I’m just saying I influence the ballot box and I wanted to mention Brian White.

Lucas Zelarayán
Midfielder (7 points) · Columbus Crew

He’s doing that thing again. Very few players are better than Zelarayán when he gets hot and, well, in his last six games he’s scored three times and dished out five assists. He’s got seven goals and seven assists on the season now.

But the question, as always, is whether or not Zelarayán can keep it up. He’s put up similar stretches before but they tend to come and go. This Crew team is getting better and better though, and it seems like things might be different this time (especially if that Cucho Hernández partnership really takes off). Maybe.

Look, don’t be surprised if Zelarayán’s not even on the list next month, just try to appreciate him while he’s on a heater. It’s always special when he finds a groove.

Thiago Almada
Midfielder (15 points) · Atlanta United

Almada is still tied for the league lead in assists with eight. He sent home another free kick this month and scored a goal off a deflection. But, as someone that watches more Atlanta than most, I can say this: he’s cooled off somewhat significantly over the last few games. To be fair, Atlanta as a whole have been far from their best, and he’s asked to do a ton to make up for some of the midfield’s deficiencies. There have been some odd choices in possession lately though. And a few too many errant passes.

Almada will be fine. Progress isn’t linear and all that. The Five Stripes sure would like him to find his early-season form though. They kind of need him to at this point.

Luciano Acosta
Midfielder (25 points) · FC Cincinnati

Acosta’s numbers won’t stand out in the crowd like some others on this list. However, he's the driving force behind the best start in league history (excluding the shootout era).

Brandon Vazquez has underperformed expectations. Brenner hasn’t been around. And last year’s three-headed monster has all but disappeared. Acosta is still producing though. In addition to three assists, he’s the team’s leading scorer with seven goals on the season. All that’s good for Cincy in attack filters through him and he’s done enough to get them on a path toward the Supporters’ Shield.

Yeah, LAFC came up short in the Concacaf Champions League final. But that’s certainly not on Bouanga. He scored seven times in the competition. The next closest player was Austin FC arch-nemesis Miche-Naider Chery, who scored four times for Haitian side AC Violette.

Meanwhile, Bouanga has still found the time to score 10 times and deliver two assists in 11 MLS starts for LAFC. He’s an incredible talent. And at this point, it kind of feels like he might be the only one who can catch…

Hany Mukhtar
Midfielder (75 points) · Nashville SC

He’s back where he belongs.

Mukhtar stepped on the gas and floored it in May. He’s jumped all the way to the top of the league in total goal contributions (17) with a co-league-leading 10 goals and a second-best seven assists.

You can fully expect him to keep putting up numbers through June and then things will get interesting. He should have a new DP No. 9 to play off this summer. We still don’t know who that is, but if Nashville get the signing right, Mukhtar’s numbers should, somehow, get even better. 

MLS has never had a back-to-back MVP winner. In fact, only one player, Preki, has won two. And he did it six years apart. Mukhtar is potentially in unprecedented territory here.