Major League Soccer

Every MLS team's leading MVP candidate - Eastern Conference

Chris Smith
Carles Gil has been the driving force being a potentially record-breaking Revs team.
Carles Gil has been the driving force being a potentially record-breaking Revs team. / Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
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The 2021 MLS regular season is coming to an end and although the Playoffs are on everybody's mind, it's also time to start thinking about the individual awards.

The Landon Donovan MVP award is the most prestigious, 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. Let's look at one candidate from every MLS team, starting with the Eastern Conference:

*Stats via Whoscored & Fbref.


1. Atlanta United: Marcelino Moreno

Moreno is second in MLS for successful dribbles.
Moreno is second in MLS for successful dribbles. / Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

He was already the best of a previously bad bunch, but since Gabriel Heinze departed, Marcelino Moreno has been a force of nature. The 27-year-old has six goals and three assists in his last 14 appearances, while he's now second in the entire league for successful dribbles (87) and fouls won (98).

The key to Moreno's influence has been Rob Valentino and Gonzalo Pineda allowing him to drift centrally again. From there, he can take the ball on the turn and drive at opposition defenders and regularly get into shooting positions, while also having the freedom to take up wide positions should he choose. It's exactly the job he was signed to do in the first place.

Ezequiel Barco's post-Olympics improvement has been impressive, and Miles Robinson is probably the best centre-back in MLS, but Moreno has been at the heart of everything good about Atlanta United this season.

2. Chicago Fire: Alvaro Medran

Medran has offered most of the Fire's rare bright sparks this season.
Medran has offered most of the Fire's rare bright sparks this season. / Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Another year goes by without the Chicago Fire making the playoffs, and with that, MVP candidates are in very short supply.

Though he's by no means fulfilled his potential in MLS, Alvaro Medran is the Fire's most likely candidate. The Spaniard has posted team-highs for assists (6), chances created (63), successful dribbles (59) and passes completed (1,097), sitting well clear of his teammates in each metric. Medran has just been let down by his defenders.

17-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina might well have been the winner here had he been put into the team earlier. But he's played just eight games so far, only recently earning his place. Eight excellent performances, but not enough to beat out Medran.

3. FC Cincinnati: Luciano Acosta

No Cincinnati player has scored or assisted more goals than Acosta in 2021.
No Cincinnati player has scored or assisted more goals than Acosta in 2021. / Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

This one is easy. FC Cincinnati are once again on the cusp of sealing the Wooden Spoon, but Luciano Acosta has been really, really good. No teammate has scored or assisted more than the Argentine, who has seven of each, while he's seventh in the entire league for chances created (70) and fourth for successful dribbles (78).

Posting those numbers of the league's basement side is quite incredible, and Acosta probably deserves some sort of award just to recognise that fact.

4. Columbus Crew: Lucas Zelarayan

Switching allegiances from Argentina, Zelarayan is now a full international with Armenia.
Switching allegiances from Argentina, Zelarayan is now a full international with Armenia. / Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

He's not been quite as effective as he was last season, but Lucas Zelarayan still has eight goals and two assists to his name this season. He's also created 64 chances, at least 39 more than any other Columbus Crew player.

The problem for Zelarayan has been those around him falling off a cliff after the Crew's MLS Cup win last season, while Gyasi Zardes struggling with injuries throughout 2021 hasn't helped either.

Still, Zelarayan is now a full international with Armenia, so there's that.

5. DC United: Ola Kamara

Kamara is the current MLS Golden Boot leader.
Kamara is the current MLS Golden Boot leader. / Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Ola Kamara is the frontrunner for the Golden Boot with 17 goals and, yet, he's barely featured in the MVP conversation.

Is that because a league-high eight of those strikes have been from the penalty spot? Or is it because, despite some clever movement, Kamara is generally ineffective in build-up play?

The counter, of course, being penalties still need scoring and movement creates space for others without being an easily measurable metric.

Either way, the Norwegian striker probably deserves a little more respect.

6. Inter Miami CF: Gonzalo Higuain

Higuain leads Inter Miami for goals and assists, despite underperforming generally.
Higuain leads Inter Miami for goals and assists, despite underperforming generally. / Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Inter Miami have only shown fleeting glimpses of life under Phil Neville and will likely be eliminated from the playoff race soon. Part of the reason for that is serious underperformance from their big stars.

Gonzalo Higuain falls into that category, but he's still managed team-highs for goals (10) and assists (5), while's he is second only to Lewis Morgan (59) for chances created (30).

Higuain isn't in the best shape of his life, but watch any Miami game and you'll see he's the one constantly trying to make things happen, and his frustration with those around him is as clear as day. He can't do it alone.

7. CF Montreal: Djordje Mihailovic

Mihailovic is joint-first in MLS for assists this season.
Mihailovic is joint-first in MLS for assists this season. / Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

Signed for a maximum of $1m from the Chicago Fire, Djordje Mihailovic is right up there among the signings of the season in 2021.

The United States international has been the creative hub behind CF Montreal's unlikely playoff push and, at the time of writing, is tied for first in the entire league for assists (13). He's also sixth for total chances created (71) and 10th for successful dribbles (53).

Mihailovic is a wonderful passer and can glide past opponents and if Montreal do, indeed, make the post-season, he at least deserves a nod in the MVP stakes.

8. Nashville SC: Hany Mukhtar

Mukhtar has been the driving force behind Nashville's attack this season.
Mukhtar has been the driving force behind Nashville's attack this season. / Mark Zaleski/ For the Tennessean / USA

As the season has progressed, more and more people have started questioning why Hany Mukhtar is not in the MVP conversation that he's now a de facto front-runner for the award.

The German has 14 goals and eight assists to his name this season and he has been the driving force, conductor and inspiration to a Nashville side that's risen to second in the East. An incredible turnaround from what was a relatively disappointing 2020 campaign from Mukhtar.

9. New England Revolution: Carles Gil

Gil has averaged 0.6 assists per 90 minutes this season.
Gil has averaged 0.6 assists per 90 minutes this season. / Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Joint-leader in MLS for assists (13), the only player to create more than 100 chances so far, sixth for dribbles (66); you name it, Carles Gil can do it. And that's why he's practically everyone's MVP favourite.

Well, that and the fact he's been the engine to a New England Revolution side that has ripped apart MLS and might well set a new league points record en-route to their Supporters' Shield win.

The only mark on Gil's record is that he's scored just four goals himself. But in this case, that doesn't matter. The creator-in-chief for the best team in the league? Crown him now.

10. NYCFC: Taty Castellanos

Though inconsistent, Castellanos has scored 13 goals this season.
Though inconsistent, Castellanos has scored 13 goals this season. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

He can frustrate the life out of you but, on his day, Taty Castellanos is one of the most dangerous strikers in MLS and has notched 13 goals already this season.

That's actually quite a disappointing total considering he's the league leader in expected goals with 19.99.

That's the main reason why the Argentine won't enter the MVP conversation, but he's still NYCFC's most threatening (and hard-working) player.

11. New York Red Bulls: Sean Davis

Davis has played more minutes than any other outfield Red Bulls player in 2021.
Davis has played more minutes than any other outfield Red Bulls player in 2021. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Goals and assists aren't everything and, in a team with the high-intensity style the Red Bulls employ, you need a good engine. Sean Davis is exactly that.

The homegrown midfielder is first among his teammates for tackles (82), pressures (610) and recoveries (416), doing his utmost to break up opposition moves.

And when he gets the ball, Davis has one thought: get it forward. The 28-year-old has played 201 passes into the final third this season, at least 136 more than any other Red Bulls player.

Davis has been excellent in the second half of the campaign, in particular, and will be getting a huge pat on the back from Gerhard Struber if the Red Bulls sneak into the playoffs.

12. Orlando City: Junior Urso

Urso has played more minutes than any other Orlando player this season, scoring four goals along the way.
Urso has played more minutes than any other Orlando player this season, scoring four goals along the way. / Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Nani was scintillating in the first half of the season but fell off a cliff, while Daryl Dike return from his Barnsley loan and struggled with injuries before finally exploding into life.

So, with neither attacker putting up a consistent season, that leaves midfielder Junior Urso as Orlando City's most reasonable MVP candidate.

The Brazilian has scored four goals this season, and some of them have been bangers. However, it's his robust, high-energy approach that really catches the eye.

Like most in this list, Urso won't get close to winning the MVP award. But Orlando would be much easier to play against and far slower in possession without him.

13. Philadelphia Union: Andre Blake

Blake has averaged 3.1 saves per 90 minutes this season.
Blake has averaged 3.1 saves per 90 minutes this season. / Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2020, Andre Blake has continued to perform at a ridiculously high level this year for the Philadelphia Union. He'll likely go up against Revs stopper Matt Turner in a bid to retain his title.

The Jamaica international has ironed out his game wonderfully in recent years and is now very reliable and commanding in his penalty area. His shot-stopping is second none too. In fact, Blake has conceded just 23 goals this season from an expected goals on target conceded total of 28.55.

14. Toronto FC: Yeferson Soteldo

Soteldo has improved as the season has gone on.
Soteldo has improved as the season has gone on. / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

TFC have fallen off a cliff following the departure of Greg Vanney and have only really started to come out of their tailspin since Javier Perez replaced Chris Armas.

Under Perez, DP forward Yeferson Soteldo has improved dramatically. Each of his three goals and six assists have come following that dreadful 7-1 defeat to DC United in July that spelt the end for Armas and, as the season has progressed, the Venezuelan has looked more and more like the South American star Toronto thought they were signing.

Obviously, he'll come nowhere near the MVP conversation this time but if he can put TFC back into the conversation in 2022, it's not hard to imagine him in the running.

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