The 2021 MLS regular season is coming to an end and although the Playoffs are on everybody's mind, we should also start thinking about the individual awards.
The Landon Donovan MVP award is the most prestigious of them all, the one every player wants to win. Of course, only one can.
Most of the time, the MVP is selected from one of the league's best-performing teams, but forget about that for a moment. We're here to give everyone a moment in the spotlight.
So, let's look at one MVP candidate from every MLS team in the Western Conference:
1. Austin FC: Brad Stuver
Expansion side Austin are bottom of the West with just 29 goals scored - the least throughout the entire league. They've conceded a massive 49 goals, too, but it could have been a lot worse if not for the efforts of Brad Stuver, who leads MLS in saves (121) this season.
Stuver's expected goals on target against currently stands at 51.18, but he's only actually allowed 46 - a good indicator of his shot-stopping abilities.
2. Colorado Rapids: Jack Price
Only Carles Gil and Djordje Mihailovic (both 13) have managed more assists than Jack Price's 12 this season - he's the first Colorado Rapids player to reach that total since 2009. Okay, so seven of them have come from corners, but you still have to execute the delivery.
And besides, Price is far more than just a set-piece expert. The English midfielder can tackle, he's a great passer and an inspirational leader. In fact, just listen to Robin Fraser's appraisal.
"I think Jack is a great captain because he leads by example," he told 90min in an exclusive interview back in September. "He is incredibly vocal and extremely supportive of his teammates, but hard on them when he needs to be. And he is the person who has probably risen above the fray in that he can say whatever he needs to say to anyone else and they take it. Because, at the end of the day, he carries himself in such a way that you don't really question him.
"If I need to call Jack out I will, and he's man enough to take it. When other people see that Jack can take it, it's just another great example of him as a leader, because he has to not only be confident, and vocal, and complimentary, and hard on people. He has to have humility, too. And I think that that's a big part of Jack that separates him from other good players. He's got so much humility that he's not afraid to admit if he's made a mistake. I think he's someone who carries that sort of weight."
Price - and the Rapids as a whole - deserves more recognition. Much, much more.
3. FC Dallas: Ricardo Pepi
We all kind of thought Ricardo Pepi could be quite decent when he scored against the Portland Timbers in the playoffs last year. Well, turns out he's a little more than decent.
Still just 18, Pepi has scored 13 goals this season for a truly terrible FC Dallas team - with the exception of one or two individuals like Jesus Ferreira. His link-up play has looked really promising and his physical profile is excellent given his tender age.
All that has been enough to earn his first four caps for Gregg Berhalter's USMNT side, making an immediate impact with three goals and two assists.
As revealed by 90min, it's also been enough to attract the attention of some of Europe's biggest clubs, with a January move looking ever more likely.
4. Houston Dynamo: Fafa Picault
Like the rest of the Texas sides, it's been a drag for the Dynamo this season. But in Fafa Picault, they at least have someone to dunk on their rivals, with the 30-year-old scoring six goals in his five combined appearances against FC Dallas and Austin.
Picault's overall return of 11 goals and four assists is the best he's ever managed in a single MLS regular season and without his production in the final third, the Dynamo would be rock bottom of the West.
5. LA Galaxy: Chicharito
After a miserable and testing 2020 campaign - and year in general - Chicharito has been on fire this season, netting 13 goals already. That total would absolutely be much higher had niggling injuries not sidelined him at various points, and the fact he's done that in less than 1,500 minutes is quite remarkable. His rate of 0.8 goals per 90 minutes is second only to Ola Kamara (1) among players with more than 15 appearances.
Watching Chicharito this year in comparison to last year, it's clear he's now happy in his surroundings. And he really seems to care about the Galaxy. Without him, they wouldn't even be in a playoff spot. With him, they might just shock a few in the post-season.
6. LAFC: Cristian Arango
Diego Rossi is now at Fenerbahce, Carlos Vela has been injured most of the season, and Brian Rodriguez seems to save his best form for Uruguay. But fear not, LAFC fans, your forward line is safe in the hands of Cristian Arango.
The Colombian striker has already netted 11 goals in his first 13 appearances since joining from Millonarios in August and, to be honest, he's the one thing keeping the Black and Gold's playoff hopes alive.
Arango has an immensely high work rate, is robust enough to battle it out with defenders and is really intelligent with and without the ball. The key now is getting him on the field consistently alongside Vela.
7. Minnesota United: Emanuel Reynoso
Like a few on this list, any of hopes Emanuel Reynoso had of an MVP tilt have been quashed by injury. Still, after a slow start, 'Bebelo' is making Minnesota United's attack tick, with seven of his direct goal involvements coming since 25 July.
Reynoso's 81 chances created leaves him at least 47 clear of any other MNUFC player, while he's completed an impressive 90 dribbles - this time he's 55 clear of his nearest teammate.
Reynoso exploded into life during the 2020 playoffs, scoring once and setting up another six goals in just three appearances. Peaking late is crucial in MLS.
8. Portland Timbers: Claudio Bravo
The goals you stop are sometimes just as important as the ones you score and there are few players in MLS better at stopping the opposition than Claudio Bravo.
The Argentine left-back is third in MLS for tackles (82), fifth for interceptions (55) and third for crosses blocked (9), while he's been dribbled past just twice all season. In fact, his success rate when tackling dribblers is 81.8%.
The TImbers are at their best when they're hard to break down and swift in transition, Bravo ticks all the boxes.
9. Real Salt Lake: Damir Kreilach
Real Salt Lake have been Major League Soccer's great entertainers this season, with only four teams scoring more than their 47 goals yet still only boasting a goal difference of +2.
Damir Kreilach has played a part in 21 of those goals, scoring 14 himself and assisting another seven. Whether with his head or on the ground, Kreilach is instinctively deadly around the box and there's still every chance of him sealing the Golden Boot.
A shout out also goes to Aaron Herrera, who has set up five of Kreilach's goals, while five of the Croatian's assists have been for Rubio Rubin. He's the only player who appears in two of MLS' four deadliest partnerships this season.
Get Kreilach in the MVP conversation immediately.
10. Javier 'Chofis' Lopez
Like RSL, the Quakes can be incredibly fun to watch at times, yet even more calamitous at others.
A lot of their fun stems from Javier 'Chofis' Lopez, who has 12 goals to his name so far, seven of which have come in his last seven appearances.
The fact that you never quite know which Chofis will turn up completely rules him out the MVP conversations - alongside the Quakes languishing in 10th. But that's also part of what makes him fun. That, and him being capable of scoring pretty much any type of goal you could imagine.
11. Seattle Sounders: Joao Paulo
Ask any Seattle Sounders player, coach or supporter right now who the MVP should be and they'll give you two words: "Joao Paulo".
The Brazilian midfielder has eight assists to his name so far - at least four more than any of his teammates - with three goals himself for good measure. And trust us, they've been spectacular.
But more importantly, Joao Paulo has been the engine behind another ruthlessly effective Sounders team, posting team-highs for tackles (119), successful dribbles (34) and successful passes (1,469). There's nothing he can't do.
12. Sporting Kansas City: Daniel Salloi
Peter Vermes recently accused certain commentators and outlets of holding Sporting KC to "super club" standards when they fail, but ignoring them when they succeed.
Whether or not that's true across the board is up for debate, but it definitely applies to Daniel Salloi.
The 25-year-old forward has been immense in 2021, scoring 16 goals and setting up another seven. He's been on fire all season, but was particularly important at the start of the year when Johnny Russell wasn't quite firing - now, they compliment each other brilliantly.
Salloi has since established himself in the senior Hungarian national team, but remains an inexplicable snub in most people's MVP contender lists. Not here.
13. Vancouver Whitecaps: Brian White
Ryan Gauld has been a wonderful addition to the Whitecaps and MLS as a whole, but he's not quite been here long enough to be named his team's MVP.
For the 'Caps, that title goes to an unexpected player: Brian White.
The 25-year-old endured a relatively slow start after joining from the Red Bulls in June, scoring just once in 11 appearances. But since then, he's really cracked things open, netting 10 times in 12 games to help Vancouver charge above the playoff line. His hat-trick in a 3-0 win over San Jose was particularly impressive.
White is more than just a worker, and his understanding with Gauld and Cristian Dajome is developing quickly. Again, he's not quite done enough to be the league's overall MVP, but he'll be worshipped by supporters if he helps end Vancouver's four-year wait for playoff qualification.
Stats via WhoScored and FBRef