0818 Attacking Trio

I never know what’s going to hit a nerve on MLS Twitter. For whatever reason, this tweet got people going on a sleepy August Tuesday.

I couldn’t just leave it as an open-ended Twitter engagement play. There was a column lurking in plain sight, and everybody knows I love a good MLS list/ranking. My only regret is that I couldn’t turn this into a Best XI somehow.

This ranking is a combination of my opinion and the numbers. I dug up the traditional statistics (goals, assists) as well as Non-Penalty Expected Goals and Expected Assists (better to measure true attacking influence via open play and dead-ball prowess than kicks from the spot). In parentheses after each player’s name, you’ll find their combined Non-PK xG and xA numbers for the year. I also put together each trio’s combined stats per 90 minutes to better measure the impact of, for instance, Toronto FC’s new attackers.

I do not claim that these numbers represent a comprehensive measurement of attacking quality or production. They are simply a useful and easily understandable snapshot to confirm what the eye test tells us. For the purposes of this exercise, 2022 season performance is the most important metric. Overall quality matters – I used it as a nebulous tiebreaker – but it is secondary.

Let the rankings begin! As always, they’re completely subjective and you’re welcome to disagree in my preferred public forum (Twitter).

Strictly by the numbers, Acosta is the top chance creator in MLS this season. He leads the league in assists (14) and, among players with 300-plus minutes played, chances created per 90 (3.70) and big chances created per 90 (0.80). Anyone who’s watched FCC play can tell you those numbers accurately reflect his influence on the team. If they make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, Acosta ought to be a Landon Donovan MLS MVP finalist.

Who benefits from Lucho’s brilliance? Vazquez and Brenner. Guess who leads the league in non-PK xG per 90? Did you assume Vazquez? It’s Brenner (0.60), with his running mate barely behind (0.56). The difference in overall production – 15 goals to nine – comes down to minutes played. From a potential bust to a big-time player, Brenner’s become one of the best influential forwards in the league, while Vazquez’s breakout season might just lead to a Golden Boot presented by Audi and a place at the World Cup with the United States.

There’s lots of quality competition, but that makes this trio No. 1 in my book.

I don’t have to tell you how good this trio has been this season, so I’ll use this space to remind you that Steve Cherundolo can also call on Gareth Bale, Brian Rodriguez, Kwadwo Opoku and, now, Denis Bouanga.

LOADED.

If this was a pure quality ranking, you know who would be at the top. The overall numbers reflect the recent arrivals of Toronto FC’s Italian internationals, but check the per 90 numbers. They’ve balled from the jump, and it’s only going to get better, even if Osorio’s long-term future is still up in the air.

You’ll notice neither No. 9, Jesus Jimenez nor Ayo Akinola, made the top three. Jimenez was flying to start the season, but cooled off in the summer months. Akinola is still trying to rediscover his 2020 form. If one of those guys can figure out how to take advantage of the space and chances the new DPs are generating, watch out.

This is the most UNDERRATED trio in the league. Gazdag ought to be getting MVP hype, even if his odds of winning it are low. Carranza might be the signing of the season, a striker whose career has been revitalized. Nobody is talking about Uhre, but he is going to quietly hit double digits during a season disrupted by a lack of preseason and injuries.

Wagner gets the bonus spot as an elite left back, one who’s now linked with a transfer to Leeds United and tied for third in the MLS assists leaderboard.

Combine the output of Finlay and Maxi Urruti (7g, 2a) and this might be the top threesome in the league. Hell, they have an argument just picking one of the two. Driussi and Fagundez have been that good, and Finlay and Urruti have both delivered in big moments at different times during the season.

You could easily argue that Austin and FC Dallas ought to flip-flop, but I’m making the tiebreaker Driussi vs. Ferreira. Driussi is my MVP vote, thus Verde & Black at No. 5.

They’ve been very good all year, if not always consistently so. Now, add Sebastian Lletget’s runs, vision and ability to combine in dangerous areas. Now, watch what Velasco (club-record signing) can do while settled and comfortable in Nico Estevez’s system with his teammates.

Check those combined numbers for Ferreira. Only Vazquez has better combined non-PK xG and xA. He is officially America’s No. 9. Thank the soccer gods that his father, David, chose MLS and FC Dallas all those years ago.

Based on Reynoso and recent form, I chose the Loons. You could choose any of the teams who were also in consideration and I wouldn’t argue too much. It’s a blessing to watch this league in the year 2022. The attacking talent is better than it’s ever been, and every transfer window brings more quality into MLS.

Bonus spots for Robin Lod (6g, 2a) and Bongokuhle Hlongwane (2g, 4a). Both guys are producing and big parts of Minnesota’s surge up the Western Conference table.

ALSO IN CONSIDERATION...

If Taty was still around, they might be No. 1…

It might lowkey be a snub to keep them out of the top 7…

If Ruidiaz was healthy all season…

Feel free to throw Yimmi Chara and Dairon Asprilla in here, too! They don’t have a dominant attacker, but they’ve got serious depth. And if only Felipe Mora didn’t miss most of the year to injury…

Too bad injury spoiled a potential MVP campaign for Djordje!

Don’t raise your eyebrow at the mention of Etienne. He’s got 5g/5a and leads the team – by a wide margin – in xG.

I’m just going to leave this quote from Higuain on Pozuelo (Miami stats only above)…

“Without a doubt, he is a player who has helped me a lot because with him on the field, I don’t feel an obligation to drop back and get the ball. I can play where I’ve played my whole career, up top as the No. 9. 

“His arrival has made the team better, which you can see with our recent results. I am so happy that he came for what he contributes to the team and for motivating me to play better and allowing me to stay higher up in the attack.”