Voices: Greg Seltzer

The 11 most underrated players of the 2021 MLS season (so far)

There's only so much publicity to go around in any field, which regrettably means there's always going to be performers who don't quite receive the credit they are deservedly due.

That intro brings us to one of my favorite recurring bits, the one that lets me give some love to players being woefully underrated across our MLS bubble. It's a bit like with movies. Supporting players can practically make a film (hello Kevin Kline, Joe Pesci, Heath Ledger and Christoph Waltz!), but the spotlight very often shines on stars up the casting ladder.

For example, the 11 guys saluted below have snagged just eight Team of the Week presented by Audi nods this season (out of a possible 198!), and five of them have been shut out of the weekly honor roll XI thus far. We're here to spread the spotlight out a little wider.

The Colorado Rapids winger has one of those Team of the Week nods, but it doesn't seem enough. Not only has Barrios reasserted his end product capabilities (four goals and three helpers after a letdown 2020 season), but he might be driving play toward the scoring zones better than ever.

No player in the league has dribbled his team into the area more than the offseason catch this season, and only eight wide attackers have carried the ball forward a greater distance. His trade from FC Dallas is looking more and more shrewd.

Fun fact time: So far this season, only Gonzalo Higuain and Raul Ruidiaz have bagged a greater percentage of their team's goals than the Vancouver attacker's 42% haul. Dajome has eight of the club's 19 goals, and they've all been important. In fact, the team is unbeaten (2-0-4 against several mighty tough foes) when he rings the bell.

That tends to happen when three of your strikes grab the lead, three pull your team level (including a stoppage-time equalizer) and the other two grant your side a two-goal edge. And like Barrios, counting stats don't tell the story of his ace build work.

First off, it would take too long to list all the positions Dotson has worked this term. It's easier to just say everywhere but center back, striker and 'keeper. And none of it has been cheap labor. As deeper stats from FBref show, the Minnesota United handyman makes a lot of things happen in a lot of places, and in an efficient manner.

To put it as a Dutchman would: The 24-year-old is one of the league's most useful plumbers, but also has the skill to be a painter when situational inspiration calls.

The FC Dallas left back mainstay has only one Team of the Week starting lineup citation this year, but that should be no surprise. Hollingshead (who I've long argued is worth a US men's national team look) would fit snugly on all-underrated lists made during many of the last seven seasons.

And considering all facets of his game, it would be quite easy to argue the vet is currently putting together his best season to date. Maybe we could make this category an official award and name it after him?

Metaphorically speaking, soccer history is littered with the bones of players who were asked to give left back a whirl. Then there's a small area reserved for those who took swimmingly to the dangerous assignment. That brings us directly to Jones, who plays the position so well you forget he's not actually a natural left back. Or even a defender. Or left-footed.

The New England Revolution man has used his smarts to adapt his skills to the post so well they become the very model of a modern fullback (as evidenced by these peer comparison numbers).

Here's another guy who appears destined to be perennially under-regarded outside his club's city limits. Lod seems like such an unassuming player right up until he suddenly pops up like Dr. Strange appearing through a magic portal to break opposing hearts (he already has three game-winners scored after the 80th minute this term).

The Minnesota United attacker confuses the hell out of defenses with his cleverly-angled runs. The Finland international is attacking even more freely than he did last season; both his goal-scoring rate and shot-creating actions per 90 are up about 35% over his breakout 2020 campaign.

The retirement loss of Ray Gaddis could have been a big blow, but Philadelphia were fortunate enough to have Mbaizo waiting in the right back wings. The 23-year-old has quickly shown the one-v-one defending chops to succeed the longtime Union regular, and has quickly become a far better flank play driver.

He's third among fullbacks in forward distance covered on the dribble, tied for second league-wide in progressive passes completed and only Carles Gil has completed more run-of-play passes into opposing areas this season.

For a while, the New York City FC attacker wore the dreaded "promising young player that isn't reaching his potential" tag. Medina started to trash that rep with his play last season, but he has positively Fargo-ed it through a wood chipper in 2021. And yet, it almost seems like people outside Yankee Stadium haven't noticed — somehow, the doozy below wasn't even nominated for AT&T Goal of the Week.

Nevertheless, the 24-year-old is shooting more and straighter than ever (hence his team-high seven goals) while also zooming toward career highs in all the playmaking categories.

Last season was rough on the Minnesota United netminder, who was shelved for the season after the MLS is Back Tournament by hip surgery. Stand-in Dayne St. Clair played so well that he swiped the No. 1 job away from the New Jersey native to start 2021.

After a four-game losing skid to open the year, the Loons put Miller back in goal. He's responded by going 7-1-5 (among those with at least six starts, only Tim Melia has pocketed more points per game) with six clean sheets and a 77% save percentage (third best in MLS).

The New England midfielder is so criminally overlooked, you'd almost expect a "photo not available" sign next to his player profile. The No. 6 spot has been the source of much inconsistency for the Revs in recent years, and it has often limited their collective ceiling.

Those days are now over thanks to Polster, who has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the league, both with and without the ball. The 28-year-old is now a cornerstone piece for the Supporters Shield frontrunners, more than justifying his stateside return from Scotland's Rangers FC.

It's not the norm, but every so often we see a late bloomer become indispensable to his team when he's closer to 30 than 20. The Orlando City wide defender is a prime example.

The 29-year-old is enjoying his best season yet, and more than half of his minutes have come with the righty holding down left back. Smith's possession support has enabled some of Nani's finest outings, and he also has or is about to leave his career bests in all defensive stop categories in the dust.