Breaking Down the Philadelphia Union's MLS MVP Candidates

The Philadelphia Union have been so good during the 2022 Major League Soccer season that they do not have a clear-cut favorite for Most Valuable Player.

A compelling case could be made for close to half of the starting XI to be considered for the league's top individual award.

Andre Blake is having another career season in net, but as crazy as it is to say, his terrific performances have become numb to the MLS audience because everyone knows how good he is.

Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes are co-front-runners for Defender of the Year. If you ask the locals, Elliott has the edge because he has been near perfect in the back line all season.

Kai Wagner is putting up numbers that no left back in MLS can touch and he has become one of the best two-way players in the league.

I just mentioned four players and did not even go into detail about how impressive Daniel Gazdag has been in attack with the third most combined goals and assists total in MLS.

So here you see the problem. The Union do not have a clear-cut MVP favorite because there are too many on the roster, but is there a way to determine which player is the most valuable of them all?

Andre Blake

Andre Blake is having another dominant season in net, but a case could be made that 2022 is his best season yet in MLS.

Blake is one clean sheet away from matching his single-season best of 12 shutouts set last season. He made 85 saves and has a save percentage of 81.

Blake recorded over 80 saves in three straight seasons from 2016-18, but his highest save percentage in those seasons was 72.1 in 2017.

The Union goalkeeper is on track to shatter his previous single-season best save percentage of 77.8 that was set in 2020. He only played in 21 games that season because of the COVID-19 pandemic shortening the schedule.

Blake is the only goalkeeper in MLS with a save percentage over 80 in at least 20 starts. In fact, none of the other 21 goalkeepers with 20+ starts have a save percentage over 75.

Blake is one of two goalkeepers in MLS with 20+ starts to have a goals against average under 1. Blake sits at 0.74. LAFC's Maxime Crepeau is second at 0.96.

All of the statistics point to Blake being the clear-cut choice for Goalkeeper of the Year and to be included in the MLS Best XI. He was given both honors in 2016 and 2020.

The only argument against Blake is that the defenders are playing so well in front of him that he does not need to make six or seven saves per game. Blake has only had five or more saves in three of the 10 games dating back to the start of July.

But the counter to that is Blake is in the right spots most of the time that he does not need to make dramatic saves on a weekly basis, like he had to earlier in his career, and by being so positionally sound he is making the difficult plays look routine.

Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes

Whether they like it or not, Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes are brought up in any awards conversation together.

It's a credit to the team defense that Jim Curtin has built.

Elliott and Glesnes have led the Union to the best defensive record in MLS. The Union have allowed 20 goals in 27 games. LAFC has the second-best defensive mark with 26 goals allowed.

The Union's defense has played so well that their goal differential has ballooned up to +31, which is two more than LAFC despite the Black-and-Gold scoring four more goals.

Elliott and Glesnes sit first and third, respectively, in MLS in clearances, per FBRef. Elliott leads the league with 147, while Glesnes is third with 126.

Both players have been positionally sound for most of the season and the defense is producing a high rate of clean sheets because of that.

Elliott probably has the edge over Glesnes at this point in the season. The difference is not far off, but Glesnes has made a few errors in recent games that puts him at the slightest disadvantage by the eye test.

One of the two center backs should win Defender of the Year, and you could make a case that one or both are the most valuable player on the team, but there is another defender that might have a better argument.

Kai Wagner

MLS is never going to award MVP to a left back.

Hell, the league was not too fair to left backs in All-Star Game and Best XI voting until recently.

But a case could be made that Kai Wagner is actually the Union's most valuable player.

The Union have the largest drop off in quality from Wagner to the backup left backs than they do at any other position on the roster. Matt Freese and Joe Bendik are reliable and proven backup goalkeepers and the Union can plug in members of the United States U-20 side into center back and the No. 10 role. Leon Flach can slot over to Jose Martinez's defensive midfield role, as can a few others. Left back has a drop off to Matt Real, who has not done the best with his playing time when received with the Union.

Wagner is consistently near the top in a handful of stat categories. He ranks first with 82 blocks, first in blocked passes with 72, is fourth in interceptions (67) and 16th overall in tackles and interceptions with 109.

Wagner is also sixth in assists. That is by far the highest placement of a defender on the MLS assist chart. Wagner is the only defender in the top 10 in key passes with 62.

The seven players ahead of Wagner in key passes are Carles Gil, Luciano Acosta, Emanuel Reynoso, Carlos Vela, Xherdan Shaqiri, Lucas Zelarayan and Hany Mukhtar.

And if you wanted one more metric to back up Wagner's case. He has 20 completed crosses into the penalty area. New England's Brandon Bye is the only MLS player with more.

You can scoff at the notion that a left back can win MVP, but if there ever was a year to do something different, Wagner sure fits the valuable part of MVP.

Daniel Gazdag

Daniel Gazdag has turned into everything the Union wanted and then some when they signed him to be the goal-scoring No. 10 from Hungary last year.

Gazdag leads the Union with 13 goals and he has chipped in eight assists. Only Mukhtar has more assists than Gazdag among double-digit goal scorers. Reynoso is tied with Gazdag for second on the assist chart among 10-goal scorers.

Gazdag is having a tremendous season from a goals and assists standpoint. He has combined well with Julian Carranza and Mikael Uhre and finally solved the long-term No. 10 issue that plagued the Union for years.

At his current pace, Gazdag will come close to totaling 30 goals and assists. The Union have a fairly easy schedule down the stretch that could help pad the Hungarian's numbers.

Goals and assists are the first things we think of by default when talking about MVP conversations in soccer. Just like we do with touchdown passes and the NFL MVP.

But Gazdag is in the rare situation in which goals and assists do not make him the clear-cut top choice for MVP on his own team.

If he goes on to score 20 goals, or hits the 30 G/A mark, then we are having another discussion because he could be the best in the league in one of those categories.

As you've noticed, it is hard to make a compelling case for the Union's top MVP candidate. The voters will have to figure that out over the next month, but it will not be easy to come to a conclusion.

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