Who are MLS’s most underrated players in 2022?
Humans crave validation. I know this. You know this. We all know this, even if it’s not always comfortable to admit.
A sincere compliment can stick in our memory banks forever. A few kind words can change the course of our day, week, month, year or even life. True recognition might be the most powerful social currency there is in a society that often tells us what we’re doing isn’t quite enough. Getting validation feels good, and it motivates us to pay it forward and reciprocate.
Not getting any validation when you feel you deserve it? Well, that’s painful, even for the most outwardly confident among us.
Just to give you an example, I’ve been floating amongst the clouds all morning after Matt Doyle sent me this Scuffed Discord screenshot, which I am happy to interpret as 100 percent truth.
This column won’t assuage every tinge of bitterness around MLS – there are far more than 11 guys who deserve to be called out – but I’m going to do my best to make the underrated and underappreciated feel like their contributions are recognized in this Best XI column (my bread and butter). We’re going to validate the mostly unvalidated (at least in a national sense). It goes without saying, I couldn’t include every player who deserved to be on the team.
As always, thanks for playing along with my games on Twitter. If you want more than just my thoughts, the replies to this tweet are absolutely class.
If you’re not a Rapids supporter, my guess is you don’t have a particularly soft spot for Rubio. He plays with an edge. He’s not afraid to straddle the line looking for every little advantage. Another way of saying that is that he’s been fined twice this year for simulation and isn’t afraid to take a yellow card or seven.
You don’t have to love him, but you can’t argue with his production. He’s third in the American Soccer Analysis Goals Added (G+) rankings. The other players in the top five are Jose Cifuentes, Hany Mukhtar, Carles Gil and Walker Zimmerman. Elite company.
It’s nice to see a player you know has the ability to be one of the league’s best attackers deliver. The second Diego on this list doesn’t lack technical or tactical nous. It sounds crazy to say, but Fagundez is only 27. He’s smack dab in the middle of his prime; 15-plus goal contribution seasons ought to be the norm for him in Austin given the talent around him.
Austin supporters love him, but I don’t see many mentions for Fagundez among the best wingers/attacking midfielders in the league. He absolutely should be there.
How many names would you list among LAFC attackers before you got to Opoku? Vela, Bale, Arango, Bouanga, Cifuentes … and then Opoku (assuming you’re actually paying close attention)?
Mahala is one of the best per-90 attackers in the entire league and a wonderful scouting/development story for LAFC. He’s just 21 years old and only going to get better.
His numbers aren’t crazy in No. 10 terms – Vancouver haven’t exactly capitalized on all the shots he’s helped create, to be fair – but he’s asked to do far more than run the attack. Gauld runs his socks off for Vanni Sartini. Zero luxury player vibes here. He’s a blue-collar No. 10 with plenty of class as well.
I’m just going to leave this from Matt Doyle here: “Ruiz is key to everything for RSL. They might just fall apart without him.”
Gregore de Magalhães Silva
Chris Henderson knows defensive midfielders. Gregore is among the top five in the league at his position, zero doubt in my mind. He just blows up opposing attacks.
DeJuan Jones gets lots of love, but Bye is elite in three departments himself. His engine is seemingly unlimited, allowing him to play in both boxes. He’s an absolute monster when it comes to chance creation in the final third. There isn’t a better aerial fullback in the league.
Santos is doing about what you’d expect from a former DP winger turned outside back. The dude is practically running games from left back. He’s arguably the most important player in possession for the Crew, putting the team in position to enter the final third.
Quietly, and often overshadowed by teammates with big roles for Canada, Waterman is among the very best passing central defenders in the entire league. Wilfried Nancy asks a lot of his three central defenders. They are the feet from which Montréal build out of the back, and Waterman has delivered line-breaking passing and an ability to carry the ball forward that very few of his league-wide peers can match.
Ike Opara rightly got the headlines while he was with the Loons, but Boxall’s picked up the slack with aplomb. He’s among the league’s most consistently excellent players and leaders at his position. Here’s his recognition.
This is the sort of stuff Ivacic has been doing all year with very little fanfare.
That’s just a taste. Ivacic’s 2022 highlight reel is downright STUPID.
The folks at American Soccer Analysis have him as the second-best goalkeeper in the league this year in Goals minus Expected Goals (G-xG) behind only Djorde Petrovic, whose numbers are juiced by an extra penalty save. Same for G+ among netminders.
However you measure it, Ivacic is saving the Timbers’ bacon regularly and almost nobody is talking about it.