Voices: Sam Jones

MVP Power Rankings: Who poses the biggest challenge to Lionel Messi?

MVP Power Rankings - 5.8.23

The MVP Power Rankings are back. That’s right – it’s an even more subjective rankings column than the regular Power Rankings. A place where voters not only get to arbitrarily define “power,” but “most valuable” too.

Each month we check in with MLS talent, staff, writers and editors to get their thoughts on the 2024 Landon Donovan MLS MVP race so far. Folks, not to spoil anything, but you can probably guess what their thoughts are on the 2024 Landon Donovan MLS MVP race so far.

The undercard is still pretty interesting, though. Who knows, maybe we’ll learn something.

Anyway, 13 ballots were cast for this one. A first-place vote received 10 points, a second-place vote received five points, a third-place vote received three points, a fourth-place vote received two points and a fifth-place vote received one point. Seven players received votes. It’s the smallest group we’ve ever had. I’m not sure what it means.

Also receiving votes

Denis Bouanga - LAFC (1 point)

Bouanga only picked up one vote, but it’s a deserved one. He’s not contributing at the same absurd rate we saw across all competitions last year, but he still has six goals and two assists in 11 starts.

It’s fair to expect that to pick up, by the way. Per FBref, he’s contributing 0.27 non-penalty goals per 90 but finding chances at a rate of 0.48 non-penalty xG per 90. And even when he’s not shooting from great positions he’s got this in his bag.

Christian Benteke - D.C. United (5 points)

Benteke has been more productive than Bouanga despite making two fewer starts. He has eight goals and two assists on the year and is fourth in the league in goals per 90. It’s not a fluke either. He leads the league in non-penalty xG.

Robin Lod
Minnesota United FC • Midfielder

Points: 11

The Loons are tied for the league lead in points per game and Lod is the main reason why. In Emanuel Reynoso’s absence, Lod has taken up the chance-creation burden and then some. He leads the league in expected assists per 90 and has put together a three-goal, seven-assist start to the season.

Did we mention he’s doing all this after returning from a season-ending knee injury in 2023?

Luciano Acosta
FC Cincinnati • Midfielder

Points: 27

Last year’s MVP hasn’t slowed down. In fact, he’s actually sped up. Even without Brandon Vazquez and Álvaro Barreal around to help him out, Lucho has five goals and five assists on the season. He’s averaging a higher rate of goal contributions per 90 this year and hasn’t taken a single penalty.

I could dig into the stats a little more, but the good folks at FBref have a handy visual representation of how good Acosta has been for Cincy.

FC Cincinnati - Luciano Acosta - FbRef

Typically, there are lies, damned lies, and statistical radars. But this one is telling the truth. For the second straight year, there isn’t a better No. 10 in MLS than Acosta. I mean, besides… well, you guys get it at this point, right?

Luis Suárez
Inter Miami CF • Forward

Points: 31

It’s still early in the year, but, uh, it’s probably time to concede that Luis Suárez's knees aren’t going to be an issue.

Suárez is tied for the Golden Boot presented by Audi lead with 10 goals in eight starts on the season. He’s even found time to dish out five assists. On the year, he’s averaging 1.85 goal contributions per 90. His underlying numbers aren’t far behind. He’s second in the league with 1.13 xG+xA per 90.

By the way, he’s doing a hilarious amount of nothing defensively. We’re talking 0th percentile stuff. And it doesn’t matter and it will never matter if the Herons keep scoring something like five times a game. He’s basically the greatest cherry picker in MLS history right now and it’s a blast to watch.

Cristian Arango
Real Salt Lake • Forward

Points: 63

You almost have to feel bad for Chicho. In any other year, he’d be a runaway favorite for MVP. He means everything to a Real Salt Lake side that’s currently sitting atop the Western Conference with 21 points in 11 games. Those 21 points have come through 18 goals over those 11 games, and Arango has directly contributed to 16 of those 18 goals.

Chicho has nine goals, seven assists and has been involved in 89% of his team’s goals. The definition of “most valuable” has never been all that clear, but that seems pretty damn valuable.

In a normal year, those aren’t just MVP numbers through 11 games. Those are all-time great numbers. He’s on track for around 27 goals and 21 assists. That would give him one fewer goal contribution than Carlos Vela’s historic 34-goal, 15-assist season in 2019.

Obviously, it’s going to be difficult to keep that pace up. Arango's underlying numbers suggest it’s pretty much impossible for him to do so. But it’s worth noting that a player who’s on one of the best starts in league history didn’t get a single first-place vote. If he ends up with a 20-20 season, can we make a second award? Just for Chicho?

Lionel Messi
Inter Miami CF • Forward

I mean… 10 goals. 12 assists. 675 minutes. 2.93 goal contributions per 90. 13 first-place votes.

What else do you need to say?