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Players That Are Destined to Light Up the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs

| November 12, 2021 8:17 am PDT

With the Major League Soccer postseason right around the corner, it feels like the perfect time to examine the players that could decide the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Of course, soccer is a team sport. But when the chips are down, certain players have the ability to produce moments of magic and singlehandedly win games for their side.

New England is the bookmakers’ favorite to win the 2021 MLS Cup, but can Carles Gil guide his team to glory? Will Hany Mukhtar take Nashville all the way? Or could Andre Blake lead Philadelphia to victory?

Join me as I look at ten players that are destined to light up the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Carles Gil – New England Revolution

Throughout the 2021 Major League Soccer season, Carles Gil has been the best player in the best team.

The Spanish playmaker has chalked up an unrivalled 18 assists in 28 appearances this year, helping New England to secure a record-breaking regular-season points haul.

Thanks largely to Gil’s creativity, the Revs clinched their first-ever Supporters’ Shield by finishing 12 points clear of Colorado Rapids in the overall standings.

New England stars like Tajon Buchanan, Matt Turner, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa have shone throughout the campaign. But in my eyes, Gil is the guy who can make the difference in the playoffs.

Following a remarkable season on a personal level, Gil is, unsurprisingly, the bookmakers’ favorite to win the 2021 MLS MVP award.

Sean Davis – New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls snuck into the playoffs at the eleventh hour, drawing with Nashville on Decision Day to seal seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

They finished just a single point ahead of both DC United and Columbus Crew. If it weren’t for the heroics of Sean Davis, Gerhard Struber’s men could easily have found themselves outside the top seven.

MOST INTERCEPTIONS IN MLS THIS SEASON
Player Team Interceptions/td>
Sean Davis New York Red Bulls 95
Auston Trusty Colorado Rapids 89
Nathan Cardoso San Jose Earthquakes 89
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez Inter Miami 88
Kyle Duncan New York Red Bulls 82

As you can see, Davis has made more interceptions than any other player this year. Consequently, the Red Bulls finished the regular season with the joint-best defensive record in the league.

The RBNY captain has been immense in the middle of the park this season. If the Red Bulls go deep into the playoffs, don’t be surprised to see Davis at the heart of the action.

Hany Mukhtar – Nashville SC

Numerous players have starred for Nashville in 2021. I mean, CJ Sapong, Randall Leal, Walker Zimmerman, and Joe Willis could all have a big say in the outcome of the playoffs.

Still, I think Heny Mukhtar deserves a special mention.

The German forward has bagged a whopping 16 goals and ten assists in 31 outings this season, firing his side to a commendable third-place finish in the East.

He even managed to score the fastest hat-trick in MLS history back in July, netting three goals in a crazy six-minute spell as Nashville thrashed Chicago Fire 5-1.

The Boys in Gold stunned everyone by qualifying for the playoffs in their maiden MLS season. With Mukhtar in the form of his life, the second-year side is now expected to mount a serious title challenge.

Valentin Castellanos – New York City

Valentin Castellanos registered more shots than any other player last season, putting himself among the 2020 MLS stat leaders. Fast-forward to today – the Argentine is the 2021 Golden Boot winner.

The New York City star scored 19 goals in 32 regular-season outings. Although DC United’s Ola Kamara netted the same number, Castellanos scooped the Golden Boot due to his superior assist tally.

2021 MLS Golden Boot Leaderboard
  • Valentin Castellanos – 19 goals, 8 assists
  • Ola Kamara – 19 goals, 5 assists
  • Javier Hernandez – 17 goals, 3 assists
  • Raul Ruidiaz – 17 goals, 1 assist

Castellanos has scored six goals in his previous four games, bagging braces against DC United and Inter Miami in the process. Needless to say, he heads into the playoffs as one of the league’s in-form players.

Once again, the Argentine has recorded more shots – and more shots on target – than anyone else this year. That’s why I’m backing him to light up the playoffs.

Andre Blake – Philadelphia Union

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that goalkeepers rarely grab the headlines in the postseason. The playoffs are normally decided by attackers, meaning shot-stoppers seldom get the praise they deserve.

That said, I can see Andre Blake making a big impact on the postseason this year.

Not only does the Philadelphia goalkeeper boast the best clean sheet percentage in the league (46.2%), but he also has the best goals-against-per-90 ratio (0.92).

Blake has achieved 12 shutouts in 26 MLS games this season, conceding just 24 goals along the way. The Jamaican gloveman played a key role in the Union’s second-place finish in the East.

Unfortunately, Philly was unable to defend the Shield this year. Yet, despite having one of the smallest wage bills in Major League Soccer, the U is back in the playoffs once again.

Raul Ruidiaz – Seattle Sounders

Raul Ruidiaz LOVES the MLS Cup Playoffs – it’s as simple as that.

Since arriving at Seattle in 2018, the Peruvian forward has racked up nine goals and four assists in ten postseason appearances for the Sounders – averaging 1.3 goal involvements per game in the playoffs.

RAUL RUIDIAZ IN THE MLS CUP PLAYOFFS
Season Games Goals Assists
2020 4 2 1
2019 4 4 3
2018 2 3
Total 10 9 4

Although Ruidiaz has missed a large portion of the current campaign through injury, he has still managed to score 19 goals in 29 matches across all competitions for Seattle.

Having guided the Sounders to each of the previous two MLS Cup Finals, Ruidiaz is destined to light up the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Michael Barrios – Colorado Rapids

When it comes to discussing players that could decide the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs, Michael Barrios has to be included in the conversation.

This year, the Rapids recorded their highest-ever finish in the Western Conference – securing top spot at the expense of Seattle and Sporting KC.

It almost seems unfair to pick just one standout performer for Colorado this season, as so many players have contributed to the club’s rise. However, Barrios has the potential to fire his side to glory.

The veteran Colombian already has eight goals and six assists under his belt this year. If he can pick up where he left off in the regular season, he could take the Rapids deep into the playoffs.

Daniel Salloi – Sporting Kansas City

I could easily have selected Johnny Russell as Sporting Kansas City’s representative on this list. The Scottish winger ended the regular in blistering form, netting 12 goals in his last 12 outings.

Don’t get me wrong, I still expect Russell to shine in the playoffs. But Daniel Salloi has the ability to make an even bigger impact on the postseason.

Salloi has enjoyed a phenomenal year up to now, notching 16 goals and eight assists in 30 MLS appearances. Only four players have recorded more goal involvements in 2021.

The Wizards were the top scorers in the West during the regular season. They hit the target a mammoth 58 times, with Salloi contributing to more than 40% of his team’s goals.

Although the Hungarian is enduring a four-game goalless streak at the moment, I’m confident that he will rediscover his best form when they playoffs get underway.

Emanuel Reynoso – Minnesota United

Emanuel Reynoso is among the most valuable Major League Soccer players for a reason.

As a team, Minnesota United has been inconsistent throughout 2021. But on a personal level, Reynoso has continued to carry his side through testing periods.

Not only has the Argentine DP registered five goals and four assists this season, but he has also dribbled past more players than anyone else in the entire league.

MOST PLAYERS DRIBBLED PAST – 2021 MLS SEASON
Player Team Successful Dribbles/td>
Emanuel Reynoso Minnesota United 111
Lucas Zelarayan Columbus Crew 91
Luciano Acosta FC Cincinnati 90
Yeferson Soteldo Toronto FC 86
Marcelino Moreno Atlanta United 75

Better still, Reynoso has completed an outrageous 15 nutmegs this year. His nearest challengers – Luciano Acosta and Samuel Grandsir – have completed just ten.

Minnesota may not be among the bookies’ favorites to lift the trophy, but if Reynoso is at his best in the playoffs, the Loons will be difficult to stop.

Dairon Asprilla – Portland Timbers

Portland’s forwards have been on fire this season. Felipe Mora (11 goals, 4 assists), Sebastian Blanco (7 goals, 6 assists), and Yimmi Chara (6 goals, 5 assists) have all chipped in consistently.

Yet, as we head into the postseason, it feels like Dairon Asprilla holds the key to the Timbers’ success.

This year, Asprilla has notched ten goals and three assists in 34 MLS games. It is worth noting, however, that five of those goals have come in his last ten appearances.

The Timbers come into the playoffs on a three-game winning streak. When you look at the bigger picture, they have won ten of their previous 14 matches.

With both Portland an Asprilla in red-hot form, Giovanni Savarese’s side looks set to cause a stir in the coming weeks.

Looking Ahead to the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs

Personally, I can’t wait for the playoffs to get underway.

The regular season has already produced tons of memorable moments and plenty of drama, so I’m super excited to see what the postseason dishes up.

Since I limited myself to naming just ten players that could decide the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs, there are lots of players that can count themselves unlucky to have missed out on my list.

Josef Martinez (Atlanta United), Nani (Orlando City), Brian White (Vancouver Whitecaps), and Damir Kreilach (Real Salt Lake) are just some of the names that narrowly missed the cut.

If you’re planning to wager on the postseason, make sure you check out my 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs betting preview.

In that post, I break down the odds, analyze all the leading contenders and potential sleepers, and share some predictions and picks for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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