All Designated Players are important to their team, but some are more important than others. Marco D’Onofrio takes a look at the top 10 Designated Players of the 2021 MLS season…
1. Carles Gil (New England Revolution)
Carles Gil has been the biggest reason for the New England Revolution’s success on the pitch this season, leading the league in key passes by a mile. The Spaniard has been fantastic setting up his teammates and providing important assists when they need them the most and will continue to play a big role for New England going forward. No team in all of Major League Soccer had more assists than the Revolution in 2021 and Gil can be thanked for that as he was always looking to setup his colleagues. He was named MLS Player of the Month for June having provided five assists in just three games played.
2. Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders)
The 30-year-old Peruvian has been sensational for the Seattle Sounders ever since arriving in June 2018. He picked up the pace this year, as he battled to be the league’s top goal scorer all season long. He was also named to the MLS All-Star team earlier this year and it wasn’t even a debate. He led the MLS playoffs in scoring in 2019 the last time the Sounders won the MLS Cup and seems to only be getting better with every season he spends in North America. While he is a Designated Player, his $2.1m annual salary is an absolute steal for the contributions he continues to make.
3. Gustavo Bou (New England Revolution)
The second New England Revolution Designated Player in the top three, but when you absolutely dominate the regular season like the Revolution have in 2021, it only makes sense that their Designated Players have had strong seasons. The Argentine joined the Revolution in the middle of the 2019 campaign, but is really enjoying a breakout year in 2021. He was named the MLS Player of the Month in July after scoring five goals and providing one assist during the month. He was also named to the MLS All-Star team for the first time in his career.
4. Emanuel Reynoso (Minnesota United)
The 25-year-old Argentine quietly joined Minnesota United last September from Boca Juniors, but made a big splash once he arrived in North America. He set a single season MLS record last year with the most assists in playoff history with a total of seven in 2020. He was also the first player in league history to have multiple three-assist games in the same postseason. This year, he has kept up the momentum in Minnesota by contributing in multiple ways and being the creative force behind the attack. He had the second most key passes in all of MLS during the regular season and is a bargain at just $1m per season.
5. Adam Buksa (New England Revolution)
The 25-year-old made his debut for the Poland national team in September, scoring against Albania in World Cup qualifying. After an incredible season playing in New England, he is now a regular member of his national side playing alongside the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski. The striker contributed offensively for his club in a big way by more than doubling the amount of goals he had last year, while also providing assists when required to as well. The Revolution are a talented squad and have found three Designated Players who complement each other well both on and off the pitch.
6. Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez (Los Angeles Galaxy)
The Mexico international got off to an incredibly fast start to the season and was named MLS Player of the Month in April/May as a result. He had seven goals and an assist in his first seven games of the year, ensuring the Greg Vanney-era in Los Angeles got off to a proper start. While he hasn’t featured in as many games as most players on this list, he still deserves credit his contributions with the Galaxy. When he is not on the pitch, Los Angeles are clearly not the same team and it is obvious how much of an impact he makes when he is in the starting XI.
7. Luis Nani (Orlando City)
Playing in his third season in MLS, Luis Nani has been standout player for his club helping to score goals and provide assists. Despite having turned 35-years-old in November, the Portuguese winger earned a spot in the MLS All-Star team for the second time in three seasons playing and showed no signs of slowing down. He may go down as the greatest player in Orlando City history when all is said and done, but fans are hoping that he will be sticking around for years to come.
8. Albert Rusnak (Real Salt Lake)
The Slovakian midfielder is now in his fifth season in Utah as he continues to be a key contributor for his side. Real Salt Lake battled to make the playoffs all season long, but without Rusnak in the line-up they wouldn’t have come close. He concluded another campaign near the top of the league for assists and continues to be a massive presence for his club. After a disappointing year last year, the 27-year-old has rebounded nicely to be one of the top Designated Players in the league in 2021.
9. Joao Paolo (Seattle Sounders)
Joao Paolo’s loan to Seattle was made permanent at the beginning of the year and it has been a deal the Sounders have not looked back to regret at all. The central midfielder has been a force in the middle of the pitch for the Sounders and has been a constant in the starting XI. The Brazilian reached double-digits in assists as well for the season as he has been able to contribute on both sides of the pitch. He was also named to the MLS All-Star game for the first time in his career.
10. Hany Mukhtar (Nashville SC)
The 26-year-old German became the first Designated Player in Nashville’s history when he signed from Danish club Brøndby IF. His debut season didn’t exactly go as planned, scoring just four goals in 15 games, but he has been a real revelation in Nashville this season. He scored his first hat-trick in MLS on July 17, breaking the league record for the fastest hat trick from the start of the game. He found the back of the net in 10th, 13th and 16th minutes of the game to lead his club to victory.