Favorites and Sleepers for the 2021 MLS MVP Award
Voted for by players, coaches, and select media members, the Landon Donovan MVP Award is given to the standout player at the end of each MLS season.
Robbie Keane, Sebastian Giovinco, and David Villa are just a few of the stars that have scooped the prize over the years, with Toronto FC’s Alejandro Pozuelo adding his name to the illustrious list in 2020.
With the new Major League Soccer campaign expected to kick off in March, now feels like a good time to discuss the favorites and sleepers for the 2021 MVP award.
Can Pozuelo become the first man in history to secure the prize two years in a row? Let’s take a look at the frontrunners and possible outsiders to be named Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Player this year.
5 Favorites for the 2021 MLS MVP Award
Nicolas Lodeiro – Seattle Sounders
Nicolas Lodeiro was one of five finalists for the 2020 MVP award. Naturally, that makes him one of the favorites to win the prize in 2021.
Since joining the Sounders from Boca Juniors in 2016, the Uruguayan has been one of Major League Soccer’s top performers. But it could be argued that last season was his best in a Seattle jersey.
Lodeiro notched up a total of eight goals and eight assists last year, including six goals and five assists in 17 regular-season appearances. The Sounders captain also led his team all the way to the MLS Cup final, only to fall at the last hurdle.
Brian Schmetzer’s side has secured four straight second-place finishes in the Western Conference, winning two MLS Cups in the past five years, as well as reaching a further two finals.
With Seattle invariably challenging for silverware, Lodeiro is always bound to stand out.
Carlos Vela – LAFC
It is no secret that Carlos Vela endured a frustrating 2020 campaign. The 31-year-old missed the majority of last season due to a damaging MCL knee injury, meaning he got very few opportunities to add to his impressive tally for LAFC.
But having won both the MVP and Golden Boot award in 2019, Vela could easily re-establish himself as the best player in Major League Soccer this year.
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You only have to look at Vela’s MLS record to see what makes him so special. The Mexican has averaged over one goal involvement per game during his time in America, making him one of the league’s deadliest players.
After watching from the sidelines for much of the last term, Vela will be desperate to hit the ground running in 2021.
Alejandro Pozuelo – Toronto FC
As the reigning MVP, Alejandro Pozuelo will surely fancy his chances of defending his crown when the new campaign gets underway.
After notching up 14 goals and ten assists in his debut MLS season, Pozuelo was probably a bit unfortunate not to be included on the 2019 MVP shortlist. But in 2020, the Spaniard got his hands on the award.
The Toronto playmaker topped the assist charts last term, creating two more goals than five other players. Oh, and he also contributed nine goals of his own along the way.
The Reds suffered a disappointing playoff exit in 2020, with Greg Vanney stepping down as head coach in the aftermath. If Toronto can get back to their best under Chris Armas, Pozuelo will almost certainly be at the heart of the resurgence.
Gonzalo Higuain – Inter Miami
There is no hiding from the fact that Gonzalo Higuain is one of the greatest goalscorers of his generation. I mean, the former Real Madrid and Juventus striker is arguably the most prolific marksman in Major League Soccer right now.
Higuain only joined Inter Miami midway through the 2020 MLS season, chipping in with one goal and two assists in nine outings. But with a full campaign to showcase his talent, I can see him taking the league by storm in 2021.
|GONZALO HIGUIAN’S CLUB CAREER IN NUMBERS|
The Argentine has consistently scored goals in the toughest leagues in world soccer, humiliating defenders in La Liga, Serie A, and the EPL. So, why can’t he do the same in America?
The Herons now have a season of MLS experience under their belt, with former England, Women’s head coach Phil Neville set to lead David Beckham’s franchise in 2021. Don’t be surprised if both Higuain and Inter Miami excel this year.
Jonathan Mensah – Columbus Crew
Gyasi Zardes scored the goals for Columbus last term, while Pedro Santos racked up the assists. But at the other end of the pitch, Jonathan Mensah was pivotal to the Crew’s 2020 MLS Cup triumph.
The club captain guided Caleb Porter’s side to glory last year, subsequently making the Best XI. He was also among the MLS stat leaders for 2020, achieving the most clearances in the league.
Defenders often get overlooked when it comes to the MVP award, with the goalscorers generally grabbing the headlines. However, if Mensah backs up his stellar 2020 campaign with another standout season in 2021, it will be difficult to overlook the center-back.
5 MLS MVP Sleepers for 2021
Andre Blake – Philadelphia Union
No goalkeeper has ever won the MLS MVP award. But if there is one shot-stopper that can buck that trend in 2021, it’s Andre Blake.
The Jamaica international kept eight regular-season shutouts on his way to clinching the Supporters’ Sheild with the Union last year, finishing second only to Nashville’s Joe Willis in the clean sheet charts.
After scooping the Goalkeeper of the Year award, Blake actually made it onto the MVP shortlist. But up against players like Pozuelo and Lodeiro, it was always going to be difficult for him to outshine the league’s most productive forwards.
However, if he picks up where he left off last term, Blake will put himself in the MVP conversation again.
Cole Bassett – Colorado Rapids
I’m expecting Cole Bassett to be one of the USMNT’s best young players in 2021.
The Colorado prodigy only featured in 15 matches last year, yet he still managed to contribute five goals and five assists. After showing what he can do with limited game time, just imagine what he can do in a full season!
In total, 46 players were initially nominated for the 2021 MVP award. Only two of those players belonged to the Rapids, with Bassett joining Jack Price on the list. That gives you a good idea of the 19-year-old’s ability.
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Of course, it would be extremely tough for a teenager to win the prize. Still, in my eyes, Bassett has all the right attributes to become a future MVP.
Is 2021 too soon? Maybe. But having watched Bassett develop over the past couple of years, he is definitely a realistic sleeper option.
Blaise Matuidi – Inter Miami
Let’s be honest – Higuain is likely to be Inter Miami’s standout performer this year. But let’s not forget about Blaise Matuidi.
Not only has the midfielder won a World Cup with France, but he also claimed countless domestic accolades during his time with PSG and Juventus. With four Ligue 1 titles and three Serie A triumphs under his belt, Matuidi is destined to shine in 2021.
Like Higuain, Matuidi only arrived in Major League Soccer towards the end of the 2020 campaign. Following his August transfer from Italy, the 33-year-old became a pivotal figure for the Herons, anchoring their midfield.
Matuidi’s strengths in both defense and attack make him a genuine threat at both ends of the pitch. With so many different dimensions to his game, I believe he stands a chance of winning the MVP award in 2021.
Walker Zimmerman – Nashville SC
Nashville’s maiden MLS campaign could not have gone much better, and that is thanks in large part to Walker Zimmerman. The center-back was named Defender of the Year for his efforts, with the Tennessee club going all the way to the conference semi-finals.
Zimmerman made it into the 2019 Best XI after helping LAFC to secure the Supporters’ Shield two seasons ago. Many believed that he was taking a backward step when he joined Nashville, but he has obviously proved his doubters wrong.
Granted, the giant center-back wouldn’t be the most glamorous MVP in MLS history. But having taken his game to the next level last season, 2021 might just be his year.
Nani – Orlando City
Even at the ripe old age of 34, I believe Nani has still got what it takes to be one of Major League Soccer’s best players.
The former Manchester United star is heading into his third season with Orlando City, fresh from firing the Lions to their first-ever playoff appearance. The previous campaign ultimately ended in disappointment, although the team can learn a lot from last term’s shortcomings.
Nani has racked up 21 goals 11 assists in 58 appearances since moving to Florida. The Portuguese bagged 12 goals and five assists in 30 regular-season games in 2019, before contributing nine goals and five assists in all competitions last term.
With a record that speaks for itself and a bunch of talented team-mates around him, Nani’s best MLS season could still be to come.
The Landon Donovan MVP Award has been dominated by goalscoring forwards in recent times.
Josef Martinez (2018) and Carlos Vela (2019) both scooped the prize in the same year they won the Golden Boot, with Robbie Keane (2014), Sebastian Giovinco (2015) and David Villa (2016) all winning the award on the back of high-scoring campaigns.
It would be nice to see a goalkeeper or defender being recognized in 2021, just for a change. However, looking at the previous list of MVP winners, that isn’t likely to happen.
I have already shared my thoughts on the favorites and sleepers for the 2021 MLS Golden Boot, and I have also taken a look at the early betting odds for the 2021 MLS season.