It’s mostly quiet times in MLS right now, with preseason under way and most signings dying out. Aside from a couple of ongoing storylines (like the Cristian Pavon issue with the LA Galaxy), we’re waiting for the season to start.
Today, let’s take a look at some under-the-radar players who could find their way into the MVP race if things break right. We know about Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez. These are the dark-horse candidates.
Raul Ruidiaz, Seattle Sounders
Ruidiaz is familiar to MLS fans, but he’s not a guy who’s been mentioned in the MVP conversation all that often.
With Jordan Morris leaving, that could change this year. The Sounders don’t enter the season as the clear favorite, with weaker players on the wings and some questions remaining at center back. Unless one of the Homegrowns shows up, they are mostly biding their time until the summer, when Garth Lagerwey can snap up a DP who leads the Sounders to a deep playoff run. That’s what usually happens, anyway.
If Ruidiaz wins the Golden Boot (entirely possible! +400 to do so) and the Sounders are in the thick of the playoff race, he’ll have a shot at MVP. Nicolas Lodeiro, always Seattle’s heartbeat, will also be in contention. Voters may lean toward Ruidiaz’s box score stats.
Emanuel “Bebelo” Reynoso, Minnesota United
Reynoso arrived midseason last year and immediately became Minnesota’s playmaker. After a productive 13-game, nine-start regular season cameo produced a goal and seven assists, Reynoso went off in Minnesota’s run to the Western Conference Finals. He produced identical production (1g, 7a) in just three games, an incredible run of playmaking.
Minnesota will hope that Reynoso can carry that over into the regular season. After losing Kevin Molino, they will need someone to replace that attacking production. It seems like veteran Juan Agudelo will start at center forward. Agudelo is good, but not a top end option. Reynoso’s path to MVP is putting up more goals than expected — he’s more of an assist guy — and carrying a defense-first Minnesota into the elite of the Western Conference.
Carles Gil, New England Revolution
Last year, Gil missed most of the season, appearing in just six regular season games. He was back for the playoffs, though, and like Gil, he came up with huge production as his team made a big run. The Revs went from the play-in round to the conference finals as Gil scored two goals and three assists.
New England will be good again this year, led by Bruce Arena’s solid tactical system and a quality defense. They have depth across the roster and enough attacking talent to give Gil support. They survived without him in the regular season last year with production from Teal Bunbury, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa, all of whom will be back.
We’ve seen that all-around teams that finish near the top of the standings produce MVP candidates. Philadelphia’s Brenden Aaronson was an example ast season. Gil could combine big numbers with a quality team.
Maxi Moralez, NYCFC
Moralez is like Lodeiro: longtime playmaker on a contender whose importance to his team cannot be overstated. NYCFC will have a tougher time this year, with star striker Heber out until the summer and defensive midfielder Alexander Ring traded to Austin FC. That could doom NYC to a playoff dogfight, depending on the performances of young midfielders Keaton Parks and James Sands.
There is also a scenario in which Moralez has a great season and singlehandedly pushes NYC farther than they would otherwise go. His age (34) is a concern. If he empties the tank and produces the way he has in past seasons, he will have a chance to get MVP votes.
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