Week 21 of the 2022 MLS season has come and gone and the race for the Playoffs is starting to hot up.
No side can say they’re truly out of the running, though the situation is looking a little more desperate for some than others.
And the picture didn’t exactly become any clearer in the latest round of fixtures that finished of Rivalry Week, with the likes of Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew picking up huge wins. NYCFC also beat RBNY in the Hudson River derby and LAFC tasted victory as they handed debuts to Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini.
Let’s take a look at the top performers who made it happen in Week 21:
Playing away from home against a high-pressing rival, NYCFC needed someone who would take the game to the Red Bulls, running without fear and exploiting space in the opposition half.
Santiago Rodriguez was the man for the job.
The 22-year-old Uruguayan was a menace with his pace and always looked to be direct and dangerous, completing four dribbles and creating four chances.
One of those chances proved to be an assist for Taty Castellanos’ winner, which might just be his last goal in an NYCFC shirt as a move to La Liga side Girona approaches.
Rodriguez never let the Red Bulls rest and without him, it’s hard to imagine NYCFC testing them enough to take all three points.
The Chicago Fire’s best moments this season have come when they’ve focused on being solid at the back and hard to break down.
German center-back Rafael Czichos has been key to that defensive effort and was once again as the Fire beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 at Soldier Field over the weekend.
Nine recoveries, five clearances, two interceptions, two aerial duels won, and one tackle was the sum total of Czichos’ defensive efforts against the Sounders. But even more importantly, it was he who delivered the winning goal, finding space inside the box to head beyond Stefan Cleveland.
Quite the captain’s performance.
Real Salt Lake ended a four-game winless slump in style, thrashing rivals Sporting Kansas City 3-0 in front of another strong Rio Tinto Stadium crowd.
Who was the architect of RSL’s victory? It just had to be Jefferson Savarino.
The Venezuela international has been on a bit of a tear since returning from Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro and on Sunday, he assisted goal number two and scored the third to complete RSL’s rout of SKC.
That takes Savarino to four goals and two assists in seven MLS appearances this season, including five direct goal contributions in his last three matches.
Speaking of players on a tear, Lucas Zelarayan assisted Cucho Hernandez’s opener and scored the second from the penalty spot in the Columbus Crew’s 2-0 Hell Is Real win over FC Cincinnati.
The Armenia international now has a goal and four assists in his last three appearances, looks fully fit, and is already forming a deadly partnership with Hernandez that looks capable of taking the Crew to glory.
It could have been even better at the weekend for Zelarayan, who attempted four shots, created four chances, and completed five dribbles.
All in a day’s work for this MLS superstar.
If we were going to give an award for the best playmaker in MLS, Zelarayan would definitely be near the top of our shortlist. But perhaps one man who would overtake him would be Emanuel Reynoso.
Often described as the ‘best player in MLS on his day’ by head coach Adrian Heath, Reynoso proved just why, scoring both goals in Minnesota United‘s 2-0 win against DC United – both set up by Luis Amarilla.
Reynoso was unbearably good on Saturday, attempting five shots and completing four dribbles, while he probably should have had an assist of his own after creating three chances.
Nevertheless, that’s nine goals and three assists on the season for Reynoso, who is logging MVP numbers right now.
Next up? A chance to test himself against Premier League giants Everton.
Honorable mentions: Luis Amarilla, Robert Taylor, Yordy Reyna, Diego Rubio, Gonzalo Higuain, Juan José Purata, Pedro Gallese, Kai Wagner, Tim Parker, Jose Cifuentes.