Miguel Almiron - Josef Martinez - Atlanta United - talking

HANOVER, N.J. — There’s been a great debate about who will win the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award this year, with fans and pundits alike making cases for a number of standout players. 

Understandably, it appears record-breaking Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez is the favorite among a group of finalists that includes Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the LA Galaxy, D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney and Carlos Vela of LAFC

For New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, there isn’t a debate. His vote went to Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron.

“I was just reading an interview the other day with Martinez and he was saying that [Almiron] makes him better and I believe it,” Robles said after RBNY training on Tuesday. “I think Josef Martinez is an incredible striker and you can’t discredit 31 goals. He broke the MLS record this year and a lot of it has to go to his ability to score goals and get on the end [of service], the way he plays so gutsy and tenacious. He’s just willing to put his body on the line and so many goals he’s been able to score because of that.

“And yet, the engine that makes this team run is Miguel Almiron, so it’s going to be tough going up against those two guys.”

For a second straight year, Almiron was among the league’s leaders in assists, matching his total from 2017 with 14. He increased his goal total from eight to 12 despite missing the final two games of the regular season with a hamstring injury.

In the Eastern Conference Semifinals against New York City FC, Almiron was massive, scoring off a free kick to seal a 3-1 second-leg win after a strong 45 minutes in the opening leg at Yankee Stadium. 

The Red Bulls have done better than most when it comes to silencing Atlanta’s dynamic attacking duo. Almiron did have a hand in the Five Stripes’ lone goal against New York this season, when Ezequiel Barco latched onto his deflected shot in a 3-1 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in May. 

Both were largely non-factors in the return matchup, a 2-0 victory for the hosts at Red Bull Arena in late September. 

Still, RBNY midfielder Sean Davis knows the success of Atlanta’s attack will largely be predicated on how well Almiron can influence the Eastern Conference Championship, which kicks off on Sunday (5 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2, TVAS).

“Both of them are amazing. With Almiron, he can make a difference at any second,” Davis said. “He’s a guy I think every team circles before they play. We know that and we’re doing our due diligence with film and I don’t think it’s too far off to say he’s the most important player for them.”