The 2021 MLS season is barely a month old, but that hasn’t stopped the Extratime crew from making some early predictions around who could win the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award this year.
Teams have played between four and six games, so much could change before Decision Day arrives on Nov. 7. Injuries are bound to arise, and incoming transfers may take the league by storm. Perhaps a young talent levels up and secures a high-priced move overseas.
With teams still seeking additional gears, Matt Doyle, Calen Carr and David Gass all offered up their way-early MVP picks. Check out the rundown below.
Chicharito leads the race for the Golden Boot presented by Audi with seven goals through five games, plus has dished out an assist. But what might be most impressive is the striker’s overall buy-in and leadership, which has a pronounced trickle-down effect on a Galaxy squad that includes over a dozen new players from their 2020 side that missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
This run of form appears in stark contrast to Chicharito’s 2020, when injuries and middling form limited him to two goals from 12 matches. He didn’t hit immediate expectations upon arriving via a high-profile move from La Liga’s Sevilla FC, but now the investment is paying off.
“It’s not just the goalscoring,” Doyle said. “Having an active, engaged and really positive center forward, a guy whose runs, whose movement is just going to create space for everyone and then whose leadership sort of trickles down -- Sacha Kljestan’s been in the Champions League, Victor Vazquez, he’s won everything there is to win in MLS. These guys are feeding off of Chicharito, but so is Efra Alvarez, so is Cameron Dunbar, so is Adam Saldana and Julian Araujo.
“So having that effect on top of putting up the numbers that he’s been putting up -- again, I don’t think he’s going to score 30, 35 goals, but I do think he’s going to score between 20 and 25. This is going to be the first good Galaxy season in a long time. It’s Chicharito.”
Raul Ruidiaz has developed a reputation for being lethal in the playoffs, and now Carr thinks the Seattle Sounders’ striker is due for league-wide recognition. The Peruvian’s off to a hot start as well, recording five goals and one assist as the Rave Green have stormed out to a 5W-0L-1D (16 points) record to lead the early Supporters’ Shield race.
Ruidiaz could miss time while at the 2021 Copa America, a likelihood that’d ding his year-end stats. But it’s hard to discount the 30-year-old’s importance to Brian Schmetzer’s team, especially with forward Jordan Morris likely out for the year with a torn ACL and playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro only appearing in one game off the bench while nursing his own knocks.
To date, Ruidiaz has 38 goals and nine assists in 59 regular-season games (56 starts). During the postseason, he has nine goals and six assists in 10 games (all starts).
“I’m going with Ruidiaz because much as I love Cristian [Roldan], it goes to the goalscorer usually, it goes to the numbers,” Carr said. “It’s all about that and Ruidiaz has five right now. Even last night, at the end of the match, there was just a moment or two he looked a little angry, maybe, that he didn’t get one.
“It’s kind of one of those ones where you feel like LAFC are vulnerable and there’s one in there for him at some point and he didn’t get one, then he’s kind of leaving the field with a bitter taste. That’s important and then I think Seattle has been a team that hasn’t maybe always gotten the accolades necessarily individually when it comes to these kinds of awards.”
Heading to the Eastern Conference, Gass went with New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil. Whether he’s playing as an inverted right midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation or centrally in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Spaniard simply finds ways to dictate the game and control the rhythm.
Gil, who earned 2019 MLS Newcomer of the Year honors, currently leads the league in key passes (27) and has three assists (and one goal), a figure that’s bound to increase if DP forwards Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa round into form.
Since coming to MLS, Gil has 11 goals and 19 assists in 46 games (44 starts). He missed most of the 2020 season while injured, but recovered in time to spark the Revolution’s trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
“Right now, New England’s probably a class above everyone else in the Eastern Conference,” Gass said. “They don’t score goals, he’s already got three assists. Maybe if they had goalscorers on the team it would be even better, but I picked them preseason to win MLS Cup. I think they’re on their way to contend for trophies all year and he is the best No. 10 in MLS.