Betting Favorites and Sleepers for the 2021 MLS Golden Boot

By Ben Morris in Soccer
| January 18, 2021 8:55 am PST
2021 MLS Golden Boot

LAFC’s Diego Rossi won the MLS Golden Boot last season, becoming the thirteenth player to get his hands on the coveted award. But in 2021, there will be numerous forwards aiming to finish as the league’s top goalscorer and snatch Rossi’s crown.

With former winners, Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez returning from injury, along with young stars like Daryl Dike and Ayo Akinola on the rise, the race for the 2021 MLS Golden Boot looks set to be fiercely contested.

In this post, I look at five players who are likely to be among the top scorers in Major League Soccer this year. After discussing some obvious names, I then look at five sleepers for the 2021 MLS Golden Boot.

Let’s get right into it!

5 MLS Golden Boot Frontrunners for 2021

Diego Rossi – LAFC

It only makes sense to kick things off with the defending MLS Golden Boot champion, right?

In the absence of the injured Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi netted 14 goals in 19 regular-season outings the last term. The Uruguayan heads into the new season, having bagged 53 goals in 102 appearances in all competitions for LAFC, as well as 21 assists.

Rossi finished two goals clear of three players in the 2020 scoring charts – Robert Beric, Gyasi Zardes, and Raul Ruidiaz.

With Vela returning from injury and likely to be LAFC’s main man again, Rossi may not get as many opportunities as he did last year. But on the back of his best MLS season to date, the 22-year-old will almost certainly be among the league’s top scorers in 2021.

Raul Ruidiaz – Seattle Sounders

Given that Raul Ruidiaz has netted 42 goals in 66 games for the Sounders, it’s hard to believe that he hasn’t won the Golden Boot. The Peruvian has enjoyed three hugely successful years in Seattle, although 2020 was arguably his best.

In 22 MLS appearances, Ruidiaz actually equaled Rossi’s total of 14 goals last term. But with two of those coming in the playoffs, he missed out on a share of the award.

Fellow Sounders stars Jordan Morris, and Nicolas Lodeiro also stood out in 2020, with Morris finishing joint-third in the scoring charts and Lodeiro topping the assist rankings. But Ruidiaz’s efficiency makes him an obvious Golden Boot frontrunner for 2021.

His 12 goals in 1,428 minutes gave him the joint-best goals-per-90-minutes ratio in Major League Soccer last season (0.76), alongside Toronto FC’s young gun Ayo Akinola (more on him later).

Gyasi Zardes – Columbus Crew

Along with Ruidiaz and Chicago Fire’s Robert Beric, Gyasi finished second in the 2020 MLS Golden Boot race. The USMNT regular scored 12 regular-season goals last term before firing the Crew to MLS Cup glory with another two goals in the playoffs.

We all know that Zardes has always been prolific; he scored 40 goals in 154 appearances for the Galaxy. But since moving to Columbus in 2018, the forward has taken his game to another level.

If he continues to develop further in 2021, there is no reason why Zardes can’t finish as the league’s top scorer. As you can see from the table below, 2020 was Zardes’ most efficient goalscoring season as a Columbus player to date.

GYASI ZARDES’ MLS RECORD FOR COLUMBUS CREW
Season Games Goals Goals Per Game Ratio
2020 26 15 0.58
2019 28 13 0.46
2018 36 20 0.55

Carlos Vela – LAFC

Carlos Vela only featured in eight MLS games last year, with a lengthy injury keeping him on the sidelines for the majority of the campaign. However, he still managed to score four goals.

Having produced the most prolific Golden Boot-winning season in MLS history back in 2019, it’s safe to say that nobody would be shocked if the supremely gifted Mexican returned to full-time action in 2021 and reclaimed the award.

The 31-year-old reminded everyone of what he is capable of by coming back to net three goals in two CONCACAF Champions League matches in December. LAFC eventually fell to Tigres UANL in the final of that competition, although Vela’s comeback stole plenty of the headlines.

On the whole, 2020 was not a great year for LAFC. I can’t see Bob Bradley’s men performing as poorly as they did the last term, so I’m expecting Vela to rediscover his best form in 2021.

Josef Martinez – Atlanta United

Like Vela, Josef Martinez missed a large chunk of 2020. In fact, the Atlanta forward only lasted 69 minutes before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in the very first game of the campaign.

But you only have to take one glance at Martinez’s phenomenal goalscoring record to see why I view him as one of the main challengers for the 2021 Golden Boot.

After joining the Five Stripes from Italian side Torino in 2017, Martinez netted 19 goals in 20 regular-season games in his maiden MLS campaign. The following year, he won the Golden Boot, scoring 31 goals in 34 matches before bagging four in five postseason outings.

The Venezuelan goal-machine continued to fire in 2019, netting 27 goals in 29 matches. With 90 goals in 103 appearances in all competitions for Atlanta (0.87 goals per game), Martinez is destined to hit the ground running when the new campaign gets underway.

JOSEF MARTINEZ’S MLS RECORD FOR ATLANTA UNITED
Season Games Goals Goals Per Game Ratio
2019 32 28 0.88
2018 39 35 0.90
2017 21 19 0.90

5 Sleepers for the 2021 MLS Golden Boot

Daryl Dike – Orlando City

If his exploits in 2020 are anything to go by, Daryl Dike could prove to be one of the best MLS SuperDraft picks of all time.

The 20-year-old enjoyed an eye-catching debut professional season with Orlando City, notching up eight goals and three assists last year. With the Lions reaching the playoffs for the very first time the last term, Dike is likely to get more opportunities to impress in 2021.

Not only is the youngster blessed with natural pace and power, but he is also a pin-point finisher. He was even named MLS Player of the Month for August, contributing three goals and two assists that month.

If fellow Orlando stars Chris Mueller and Nani continue to provide consistent assists for Dike, he could find himself among the league’s top scorers.

Ayo Akinola – Toronto FC

Ayo Akinola is another promising prospect that burst on the scene last year. Well, the Canada international actually made his MLS debut in 2018 before being used sparingly in by Toronto in 2019.

But in 2020, Akinola made a real name for himself.

A brace against DC United and a hat-trick against Montreal saw the young forward score five goals in his first two MLS is Back Tournament outings. Two separate injuries meant he missed eight of the Reds’ 20 regular-season matches, yet he still managed to add another four goals to his tally.

As I mentioned earlier, Akinola finished the previous campaign with the same goals-per-90-minutes ratio as Ruidiaz. With more game time in 2021, the Toronto prodigy could easily better last season’s total and challenge the Golden Boot frontrunners.

Below is a list of the players with the best MLS goals-per-90-minutes ratios from last season.

  • Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC) – 0.76
  • Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders) – 0.76
  • Diego Rossi (LAFC) – 0.74
  • Jeremey Ebobisse (Portland Timbers) – 0.68
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips (LAFC) – 0.67

Kevin Molino – Columbus Crew

Kevin Molino isn’t exactly known for being a prolific goalscorer. The winger racked up 12 goals in 39 appearances for Orlando City, with a modest 25 goals coming in 75 games for Minnesota United between 2017 and 2020.

However, the 30-year-old ended the previous campaign with 13 goals in 21 games in all competitions, earning himself a move to newly-crowned MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew for the 2021 season.

Molino averaged 0.62 goals per game last term, with Minnesota finishing ninth in the overall standings. In a better team and with better players around him, I can see Molino enjoying even more success with the Crew.

Of course, Zardes is Columbus’ main man when it comes to goals. But Molino is likely to be handed an important role in Caleb Porter’s team, meaning he must be included in the Golden Boot conversation.

Kacper Przybylko – Philadelphia Union

After joining Philadelphia in 2019, Kacper Przybylko scored 15 goals in 26 appearances during his first season in Major League Soccer. He only managed to score eight goals in 28 games last term, although he was pivotal to the Union’s Supporters’ Shield triumph.

With two years of MLS experience in the bank, Przybylko is now well accustomed to the league. His goals-per-game average of 0.43 for Philly is already pretty good, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he improved his ratio in 2021.

Unfortunately, the U recently lost assist-maker Brenden Aaronson to RB Salzburg. If Przybylko is to challenge the top scorers in MLS this year, he will need help from elsewhere.

Valentin Castellanos – New York City

Valentin Castellanos’ breakthrough season came in 2019, when he notched up 11 goals and eight assists in 30 regular-season outings for the Boys in Blue. But last term, he enhanced his glowing reputation even further.

No player recorded more shots than Castellanos in Major League Soccer last season, while only one man – Diego Rossi – achieved more attempts on target. Based on that, I think the Argentine stands a pretty good chance of scoring plenty of goals in 2021.

When Does the 2021 MLS Season Start?

We are still waiting for an official start date for the 2021 MLS season, although Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber recently stated that the league remains intent on kicking off in mid-March.

Personally, I can’t wait for the season to begin.

Columbus heads into the new campaign as the defending MLS Cup champions, with expansion team Austin FC taking the total number of Major League Soccer clubs to 27.

Nashville and Inter Miami will both be looking to build on impressive inaugural MLS seasons, while teams like Atlanta United and LA Galaxy will be aiming get back to where they belong.

For more build-up to the 2021 MLS season, make sure you regularly check our soccer blog.

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