Major League Soccer is a league that loves its stars, but there's only so much publicity to go around.
In a league with 27 teams, it's almost impossible to find the airtime and word counts to give every single player their place in the spotlight. And in MLS, the headlines are usually reserved for Designated Players and big-name European imports.
But MLS is full of unlikely success stories. Whether it be a player smashing the goals for a side further down the table or locking down the midfield battle to allow their forwards to plunder at the other end of the pitch, the unsung heroes are everywhere.
So, who have been the most unappreciated and underrated players in MLS in 2021? Let's take a look at 10 of them.
1. Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montreal)
Djordje Mihailovic is second only to Carles Gil for assists this season. Repeat, Djordje Mihailovic is second only to Carles Gil for assists this season. How is that not being talked about?!
CF Montreal parted with a fee that could rise to $1m to bring Mihailovic from Chicago Fire at the start of the season, a princely sum by MLS standards. And so far, he's been worth every penny.
Alongside his nine assists, the United States international has scored four goals and created 57 chances - at least 38 more than any other Montreal player - while he's second only Victor Wanyama (41) for successful dribbles (39). All for a side down in sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Put some respect on his name.
2. Ola Kamara (DC United)
Raul Ruidiaz has been as ruthless as ever. Josef Martinez is on his way back following an ACL injury. Chicharito has scored 11 goals in 12 appearances. But, with 16 goals, it's Ola Kamara who is top of the Golden Boot standings right now. That's a massive 41% of DC United's total haul so far this season.
And yet there are those who believe Kamara just doesn't do enough for Hernan Losada's side.
"Ola Kamara [is] scoring goals and doing what he's supposed to do but not in the same breath as some of these other top goalscorers in Major League Soccer," former USMNT striker Charlie Davies said on the Extra Time podcast recently.
When pressed on whether or not Kamara has MVP credentials, he added: "He doesn't do enough for me to warrant MVP conversation. As in, his presence within the game.
"Yes, he's scoring goals, but the build-up, the hold-up, creating opportunities for other players. All the other facets of the game, that's missing from him."
Quite a harsh assessment of the league's leading scorer.
3. Hany Mukhtar (Nashville SC)
Given his extensive and impressive history with the German youth national teams, Hany Mukhtar's arrival at Nashville last year was quite the head-turner. Unfortunately, he never quite got going in 2020, but this time around it's been a completely different story.
No player in MLS has more direct goal involvement's this season than Mukhtar, who has 10 goals and eight assists to his name so far. Given how big a hand this has played in Nashville climbing to second in the East, Mukhtar should absolutely be involved in the MVP conversation, yet, somehow, he's been continually overlooked.
“This year he’s achieving his true potential," Nashville general manager Mike Jacobs told MLSsoccer.com of Mukhtar recently. "He’s showing the rest of the league the things we saw in him when he was at Brondby."
4. Jack Price (Colorado Rapids)
Let's face it, we could probably put the entire Colorado Rapids team and coaching staff into this article, such has been the quiet nature of their rise to third in the West. But we'll just focus on Jack Price here.
The Englishman is the true engine of the Rapids midfield, sitting third throughout the whole of MLS for assists (8) and tackles (51), while no Colorado player has made more progressive passes (110) or passes into the final third (115).
Whether it be defending or driving his side forward, Price is a relentless midfielder with a great skillset. And in true Rapids fashion, few outside the club have even uttered his name at all, let alone given him the credit he deserves.
5. Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United)
The loss of Julian Gressel to DC United in 2019 was a huge blow among huge blows in the transfer market for Atlanta United. But in Brooks Lennon, they're definitely developing a potential replacement.
The former Liverpool youngster has created a team-high 58 chances for the Five Stripes so far this season, while he also carries out extremely specific tactical instructions with his movement often creating space for the likes of Luiz Araujo and Ezequiel Barco.
Lennon recently stated that he wants to hit double-digit assists this season. So far, he only has four, but that speaks more to Atlanta United's lack of attacking impetus earlier in the season and Josef Martinez only just looking like his former self following his ACL recovery. With the Five Stripes machine rolling on, expect Lennon's numbers to shoot up. And yet he'll remain way, way down the conversation when it comes to US right-backs.
6. Joao Paulo (Seattle Sounders)
The Sounders have been sensational once again this season and in Ruidiaz, Nico Lodeiro, Fredy Montero and co, they possess one of the most dangerous attacking outfits in MLS.
But none of their work in the final third would be possible if not for the efforts of Joao Paulo behind them. The Brazilian is just one shy of a century of tackles this season, has completed a team-high 1,197 passes and has the most assists (7) among his teammates.
Joao Paulo is a defensive screen, a possession metronome and a creative presence all in one and, like Mukhtar, is another who should probably deserve more mentions in the MVP conversation.
7. Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy)
Julian Araujo has once again provided serious thrust and defensive security to the LA Galaxy's right flank. If he continues his fine form, which has seen him notch a team-high five assists and lead the Galaxy for interceptions (44), then he'll surely attract more interest from Europe.
Usually, a 20-year-old with this sort of output would be right in there for the Young Player of the Year Award. But, unfortunately, Araujo and the rest of MLS' emerging talent has been run over by the Ricardo Pepi hype train. Still, Araujo deserves a nod of recognition here.
8. Felipe Mora (Portland Timbers)
There are a few strikers in this league who, had they seen more minutes on the pitch, would surely be pushing Kamara in the Golden Boot race. Martinez and Chicharito quickly spring to mind, but don't sleep on Felipe Mora, who has ten goals in 20 appearances for the Portland Timbers, just 15 of which have been from the start.
Aside from his goals, the Chilean offers great hold-up and link-up abilities to the Timbers' forward line. With at least one direct goal involvement in nine of his last 12 games, Mora has hit form at the right time and as the playoffs approach, MLS defences will be more and more alert to his threat.
9. Miguel Berry (Columbus Crew)
If defending MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew hadn't been such a car crash this season, we'd probably all be fawning over Miguel Berry's explosion onto the scene. After all, this is a 22-year-old who has managed just 331 senior minutes for the Crew since his debut in July. But in that time, Berry has netted a remarkable five goals. That's an average of 1.4 goals per 90 minutes.
If the Crew make the playoffs, they might well have Berry to thank for it. And then he must surely be considered for Newcomer of the Year (he technically signed for the Crew last year but was immediately loaned out).
10. Fafa Picault (Houston Dynamo)
If you want a goal in a Texas derby, look no further than Fafa Picault who has now scored at least once in all four of his appearances against FC Dallas and Austin FC this season.
Those five strikes have contributed to a nine-goal haul from the former Philadelphia Union man. In turn, Picault is responsible for 32% of the Dynamo's MLS goals this season.
This sort of attacking output - along with three assists - understandably goes under the radar when it's for a side sitting 12th in the West. But it definitely speaks to the quality Picault can bring to the table at his best.
Disagree with our picks? Be sure to let us know who you think is the most underappreciated player in MLS on social media!