What’s more interesting than who made the MLS 2021 Best XI? (Which you can find here.) Who was snubbed, of course! If you listen to Extratime, you already know this.
We put together FIVE (!!!) Best XIs on the show, and easily could have expanded that to double digits. (#nerds.) Our main beef with the official Best XI was and is that it’s not a functional soccer team. It doesn’t take into consideration tactical trends, such as the 2021 prevalence of three-man backlines and wingbacks. In fact, there are almost never outside backs. Most years, there isn’t a defensive midfielder (Joao Paulo got in, thankfully) or box-to-box player. Mainly, it’s a goalkeeper, three central defenders, a handful of No. 10s and a bunch of center forwards.
The format (one goalkeeper, three defenders, four midfielders and three forwards) leaves lots of room for snubs. I’m going to go line by line and give you the players I think have the most to complain about. As always, I’m available on Twitter to argue about anything/everything Best XI, Audi MLS Cup Playoffs or whatever is grinding your gears this fine day.
We’ve covered this. Advanced stats say Andre Blake was the best goalkeeper in MLS this season. They said the same about Matt Turner last year, but Blake’s Union won the Supporters' Shield, so he got Best XI and Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year in 2020. Both are among the best goalkeepers in MLS history.
DeJuan Jones finished fifth in Defender of the Year voting … but was nowhere near making the Best XI, which is strange. He was, in my estimation, the best left back in the league this year. If you watched Tuesday’s Revs-NYCFC match, you can draw upon the most recent evidence.
Remember how I said the Best XI isn’t flexible enough to account for formational trends? Aaron Herrera is a prime example. He played both right wingback and right center back in a back three, plus a more traditional right-back role in a back four, piling up 11 assists to go along with countless attack-stopping defensive plays.
No offense to Miles Robinson, who is a wonderful player, but I would have preferred either Andreu Fontas or Jack Elliott in the Best XI. Fontas controlled games with his passing ability and was often asked to be a counterattack fireman for Sporting KC. Elliott might just be the most underrated player in the entire league, a technically gifted central defender with a nose for the ball as well.
Wingbacks, stand up! Daniel Lovitz and Julian Gressel were the top two true wingbacks in MLS this year.
Look, you can’t argue with Carles Gil, Hany Mukhtar or Joao Paulo, so that means there’s really only space for one true snub in the midfield. Here’s mine…
No offense to Tajon Buchanan, another wonderful player who had a very good year, but it’s my opinion that Damir Kreilach should have taken his place in the Best XI. Kreilach dragged Real Salt Lake along by himself for much of the season. Here’s the statistical comparison…
- Buchanan: 8 G, 5 A in 1,749 minutes
- Kreilach: 16 G, 9 A in 2,875 minutes
Again, Buchanan is a truly special player who made a massive impact for both club and country this year – plus got sold to a Champions League team for $7 million. But you can’t tell me he had a better individual season than Kreilach. It can’t be done.
Anibal Godoy made the Extratime Best XI as our two-way midfielder. He was an absolute workhorse this season for Gary Smith, impossible to play against and the key to linking the lines and getting Mukhtar in positions to make special plays. The Panamanian was NEVER going to be in serious consideration for the traditional Best XI, but he deserves to be recognized for his brilliant and consistent play. You can copy and paste all the above about Cristian Roldan as well.
Emanuel Reynoso was the best true No. 10 in MLS outside Gil. Mihailovic was the best young chance creator and second in the league in assists. Gil’s incredible season meant they never really had a fighting chance to make the Best XI, but they deserve some shine.
No forward appeared on more player ballots than Gustavo Bou. I respect it; 15g/9a is a helluva season, though I’d probably take Adam Buksa if I had to choose a Revs forward. But it’s baffling to me that there isn’t a single winger in the Best XI. I’d put either Daniel Salloi or Johnny Russell (pictured above, together) in ahead of Bou. Taty Castellanos and Raul Ruidiaz can fly the flag for true forwards.