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Cristian Arango, Djordje Mihailovic headline the Best of MLS for Week 6

By Favian Renkel and Justin Ruderman

Welcome back to Week Six of Justin and Favian’s Weekly MLS Awards where SBI staff writers Justin Ruderman and Favian Renkel bring you a glimpse at the best of each week in MLS. 

Let’s dive into this week’s selections:

Player of the Week

Justin Ruderman: Chicho Arango (Real Salt Lake)

Real Salt Lake’s record signing has lived up to expectations since arriving in the Beehive State but one could argue he was awaiting his first blockbuster performance in the claret and cobalt. Now, he’s undoubtedly got it with his first hat trick since his time at LAFC and his first MLS Player of the Matchday selection since then as well.

LAFC was unwilling to reward Arango’s 21-goal season with a small raise from his $683k salary. RSL, on the other hand, was eager to slap a DP tag on him, pay him over $2m per year, and award him the captain’s armband. Now, as Arango has always promised to do, he’s paying his club trust back on the pitch.

Down 1-0 in the 70th minute at home, Chicho put on his Superman cape and came to the rescue with a touch, turn on a dime, and arrowed shot from the top of the box. Last season’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Roman Bürki had no chance as the ball flew past him at full stretch into the bottom corner. Adding some drama, Arango waited until the 84th minute to bury the winning penalty before playing a give-and-go with Diego Luna to complete his rescue mission in stoppage time (90+1’). Never to be pigeonholed, Arango scored one goal from the #9 position, one from the #10, and one from twelve yards away. Put him wherever you want. As long as Chicho is on a football pitch, he’ll find the goal.

Favian Renkel: Djordje Mihailović (Colorado Rapids)

Despite facing a ton of doubters at the beginning of the season due to his unexpected move back to MLS that surprised fans across the United States, Djordje hasn’t truly made his mark in the league just yet. With expectations at an all-time high for the USMNT player, due to the Colorado Rapids spending the most they ever had on a transfer fee in their history, Djordje has had a hard time justifying the price tag for the “Burgundy.”

The opportunity arose for the 25-year-old this past Saturday when the Colorado Rapids were down by one goal and another loss loomed over Red Rocks Amphitheater like a pestering cloud on a beautiful day. Mihailovic got into the zone, leaned forward in his figurative chair as if he were playing EA FC with his younger brother, and scored two beautiful goals in the last 10 minutes against the reigning Western Conference Champions, LAFC.

His first goal in a Rapids shirt came from a beautifully placed free kick from the edge of the box that not even one of the best goalkeepers in the last 10 years could have stopped. These goals and their first win at home should put Mihailovic on the right path to becoming a star in the league once again.

Young Player of the Week

JR: Jake Davis (Sporting Kansas City)

I love it when I get to sneak in a 22-year-old who wouldn’t qualify for Major League Soccer’s official 22 Under 22 but qualifies for our slightly more lenient list requiring 22 years or under on the date of the match. And thank goodness because Jake Davis deserves recognition for recording the first muti-goal contribution of his young career.

A product of the SKC academy, Davis has been tasked with filling the boots of club legend Graham Zusi in the right fullback position at Children’s Mercy Park. Saturday night proved to be the latest step in his continuing progression. After debuting in 2021 and logging very few minutes in 2022, Davis took over the starting job last season and showed he could hold his own. Early in 2024, he’s been stepping up his game even further, showing that he can add some final product to the end of his game as well.

Boy, did he ever. 

In the 64th minute in Toronto, Davis powered home his first MLS goal with a knuckling shot from well over 20 yards, leaving TFC goalkeeper Luke Gavran on the ground as the ball flew across him into the back of the net. Davis’ assist, admittedly, was mostly the divine work of goalscorer Alenis Vargas but his performance was already impressive enough to earn my YPOTW nomination. If you’re still not convinced, Davis also recorded 10 passes into the final third and the most tackles in the match.

FR: Diego Gomez (Inter Miami CF)

Diego Gomez has been turning heads in MLS since joining the league, playing phenomenally well alongside some of the best players in the world. The match against NYCFC was no different; Gomez was one of the only bright spots for the Messi-less Herons.

Gomez had a run where he had a great chance to add another goal to his tally for the season. This was a chance he could have easily converted, but instead, he handed the ball off to Suarez who, despite being in insane form, shot the ball wide. This sequence could have completely changed the outcome of the match if the ball went into the back of the net as Inter Miami was in true desperation mode as the time ticked away with two points still left on the table. The team was playing frustrated the rest of the match with Suarez not getting the calls he wanted.

Diego Gomez showcased his skills against NYCFC with a 75% passing accuracy, drawing three fouls, and creating three scoring opportunities. He also made an impact defensively, succeeding in 5 of his 7 tackle attempts and winning 10 of 17 ground duels. The “Pitbull” in the midfield was effective in this match. 

Many pundits expect Gomez to be the next big talent to leave MLS for Europe. If the Paraguayan continues performances like the one he had last Saturday, he could be gone by the next transfer window. Look for Gomez to play an integral role while Redondo and Cremaschi recover from their injuries. Gomez has shone in a part of the field that has lacked consistency all season and will continue to do so.

Goal of the Week

JR: Anibal Godoy (Nashville SC)

Somehow, when Joakim Nilsson scored a bicycle kick in Matchday 5 for St. Louis City SC, neither Favian nor I nominated him for GOTW. I will not do Anibal Godoy the same disservice; partly because Godoy’s was much better.

Originally, Godoy made his run into the box in hopes of Hany Mukhtar finding him with a cross from the right flank but when the 2022 MLS MVP airmailed his box entry into the left half-space, Jacob Shaffelburg picked out Godoy as the Panamanian set himself for a stunning bicycle kick to give Nashville a lead in first-half stoppage time. 

Unlucky for Godoy it wasn’t enough to secure the three points. Lucky for Godoy, he scored the undeniable Goal of the Week.

FR: David Martinez (LAFC)

Wow, what a way for this youngster to start his tally in MLS! David Martinez has caught the attention of many fans of South American soccer with international games, but now MLS fans are catching glimpses of why some people think Martinez will be the highest outgoing transfer MLS has ever seen. 

The celebration makes it even better; the league needs a villain, and Martinez may be on a great trajectory to be a player that fans love to hate because they are just so good.

Team of the Week

JR: LA Galaxy

Just like old times, the LA Galaxy sit atop the MLS table. It may have been a while since we last said that but it used to be commonplace and the club’s new DP wingers are bringing the joy back to Dignity Health Sports Park this season.

Whether you focus on the fact Galaxy beat fellow MLS heavyweight Seattle Sounders in the league for the first time since 2018, or the fact that they recorded their first 1-0 win since their 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs opener against Nashville SC, or the fact that they’re unbeaten in their first six matches for the first time since 2010, everything is trending upwards for the five-time champions. A combination of their three DPs leading to Gabriel Pec bagging his first MLS goal in Galaxy’s first clean sheet of the season is just the latest marker on that graph.

So, are the Galaxy officially back? It looks like the litmus test will come next week in the form of a derby and their marquee El Trafico matchup with reigning Western Conference champions, LAFC. I, of course, will be there to cover every dramatic moment for SBI. Don’t miss it.

FR: Vancouver Whitecaps

The Whitecaps, currently sitting at 2nd in the Western Conference and just two points away from the Supporters’ Shield leader, have surprised many, especially with the suspension of Vanni Sartini to start the MLS season. Just like Sartini, the Vancouver Whitecaps are making a statement. With higher attendance numbers, Ryan Gauld playing out of his mind, and Vanni Sartini dropping gems in press conferences and being a character, the Caps are expected to compete this season and should be looking to make the playoffs once again. Let’s see how long it takes the rest of the league to notice that the 3rd wheel in Cascadia may actually be the best team in the region this season. Don’t sleep on the Whitecaps.

I will leave you with this beauty of an answer by Vanni Sartini.

Best Thing We Saw This Week

JR: Quinn Sullivan has the confidence

No, the 14-year-old Cavan Sullivan who reportedly agreed to a deal with Manchester City over recent days is not in MLS yet. I’m talking about his 20-year-old brother Quinn who is a very talented young player in his own right.

Now in his fourth MLS season – and already his most productive – Sullivan pulled out the spectacular on multiple occasions Saturday night despite not turning up on the scoresheet. Mixed in with his incisive passes and dangerous dribbling in the match, Sullivan came out of the halftime break with what the kids call ‘tekkers’. Starting in the 48th minute, the young American decided a normal clearance wasn’t cool enough for him so he sent Minnesota United’s attempted attacking move back to halfway with a rabona from inside his own penalty area. About five minutes later, Minnesota cleared a Union corner to the top of their box where Sullivan was waiting to thunder a full volley off the crossbar.

In years gone by, Americans would get criticized for a lack of technical ability and flare. Now we have a 20-year-old pulling out eye-catching skills in MLS while his younger brother is being hyped as the most talented 14-year-old in the world. We truly do live in wild times.

FR: Vancouver Whitecaps Attendance numbers to start the season

Having broken their own record last season in a playoff match against LAFC (30,204), the Vancouver Whitecaps are riding the city’s momentum, seeing higher attendance at each match. In a town where Head Coach Vanni Sartini gets called up on stage to sing “Rockstar” with Nickelback, it’s fitting that they are drawing the crowds they deserve. With the team performing well, Messi’s anticipated visit, and Ryan Gauld’s emergence as an MLS superstar, Vancouver residents are picking a great time to fall in love with their soccer team.

Last season, the Vancouver Whitecaps averaged just below 17,000 per match. This increase is a sizeable jump, and it’s always a sight to see when BC Place opens up the upper deck in a city that doesn’t have an NFL, MLB, or NBA team. Soccer is becoming the heart of the season. 

Expect the Caps to smash their attendance record when Messi comes to town, as the ticket sales count has already surpassed 50,000.

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