Lionel Messi is magic but it’s Chicho time in battle for MVP award in MLS

Ryan Baldi
Lionel Messi and Chicho with MLS badge
Lionel Messi and Chicho with MLS badge

Lionel Messi was at it again this past MLS weekend, but he’s not in line for MVP or the Golden Boot. That would be Chicho.


MLS winners

Him again
Any outlet increasing its reporting on MLS since Lionel Messi’s arrival (hello!) will get accused of fishing for those sweet, sweet clicks (it’s a well-known fact our mortgage lenders prefer to be paid in clicks rather than cash) and attempting to milk the growing interest in the league generated by the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner.

There’s more to MLS than Messi, the diehards will protest; MLS existed before him and it will continue to thrive once he’s gone; there are other interesting stories, characters and angles worthy a slice of the coverage he commands.

All valid arguments. But when Messi keeps doing in MLS what he has done just about everywhere he has played over the last 18 years or so; when he continues to defy the ageing process and all reasonable footballing logic with his utterly unique brilliance – how can we not bleat on about the GOAT?

In a rematch of last season’s Leagues Cup final, Messi scored twice and registered an assist in Inter Miami’s 3-1 victory over Nashville on Saturday.

His first was a close-range finish after goalkeeper Elliot Panicco had parried his initial effort, levelling after a early own goal from Franco Negri. In the 39th minute, a routine from the training pitch saw the Argentinian float a pinpoint-accurate corner on to Sergio Busquets’ head for the towering midfielder to notch a rare goal. And then with 10 minutes to go, he put the result beyond doubt from the penalty spot.

A hamstring injury has hampered his playing time this season, but Messi has now scored or assisted – and often, as in this case, both – in every game he’s played. And that late penalty was his 20th goal since joining Inter Miami last season, meaning he needs just nine more to equal the young club’s all-time record, currently held by compatriot Gonzalo Higuain.

In just five starts and one substitute’s appearance, Messi now has seven MLS goals and three assists. No player has been directly involved in more goals. And with Messi back and firing, Inter sit top of the Eastern Conference and are frontrunners in the race for the Supporters’ Shield.

He is him, as the young folk say. And it’s him again.

READ: Jordi Alba is Neville to Lionel Messi’s Beckham but he is still bloody brilliant


Chicho train on course for MVP
The only player in MLS so far this season who has outscored Messi is Real Salt Lake striker Cristian ‘Chicho’ Arango.

A month before Messi was unveiled as MLS’ latest superstar last year, Arrango had returned to the league to decidedly less fanfare. The former LAFC striker signed for the Claret and Cobalt from Mexican side Pachuca in a club-record deal.

His previous stay in Los Angeles was short but impactful. The Colombian striker scored 35 goals and provided six assists in 58-all competitions appearances across an 18-month spell, earning the MLS Newcomer of the Year award and helping LA claim the Supporters’ Shield.

And the 29-year-old is shaping up to be equally impactful for RSL. With eight goals from nine appearances this term, he is currently leading the chase for the MLS Golden Boot, adding to his tally this weekend with a brace and an assist in a 4-0 thumping of Chicago Fire at Soldier Field.

The victory took Real Salt Lake up to second in the West. And Arango’s individual showing strengthened what was already a formidable case for him to be a top contender for this year’s MLS Most Valuable Player award.


MLS losers

Sound of self-destruction
Before the 2024 season began, the Seattle Sounders were tipped to be among the contenders to win the Supporters’ Shield, the award given to the club with the best regular-season record across the two conferences.

Eight games into the campaign, they’ll just be glad there’s no relegation in MLS.

The Sounders sit 12th in the 14-team Western Conference, with just one win to their name. And while they have the talent and the underlying performance metrics to being doing much better, their showing on Saturday suggested they are trending in the wrong direction.

The Vancouver Whitecaps, whom Seattle hosted, don’t need any help beating up on the also-rans of MLS. They have been among the best sides in the league this term, scoring freely and defending stoutly. Yet the Sounders saw fit to give their visitors a helping hand or several.

For both goals in the 2-0 defeat, Seattle gifted the ball to Vancouver within striking distance of goal. The Whitecaps obliged, scoring through former Dundee United and Sporing CP prodigy Ryan Gauld and one-cap USMNT striker Brian White.

If that wasn’t enough, the Sounders also decided it would be uncourteous of them as hosts to trouble their opponents by fielding the same number of players as them. In the 43rd minute, Jackson Ragaen was shown a straight red after a VAR review deemed his challenge in midfield to have been dangerous. And another straight red, this time for Alex Roden, offered Vancouver a two-man advantage to match their two-goal lead for the final 15 minutes.


Not to be outdone in the self-immolation stakes, FC Dallas – one of only two clubs ranked lower than Seattle in the Western Conference – made doubly sure not to improve upon their record of one victory for the season to date.

Winless since the first weekend of the 2024 campaign, Dallas are the lowest-scoring team in the West. Away to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, Nico Estevez’s side scored three times. The only problem was that two of those goals were in their own net.

The first came moments before half-time, when defender Sebastien Ibeagha botched an attempt at blocking a low cross from the left, deflecting the ball into his own goal with his knee.

Then, three minutes into the second period, Calvin Harris – Colorado’s English winger, not the Scottish DJ – benefited from the kind of defending that was not acceptable in the 80s, nor any other decade. Left completely unmarked in the penalty area, he had time to take down a high cross from the left and shoot a low effort that Dallas’ Sam Junqua helpfully side-footed into his own net.

Readers of a certain generation might remember the famous TV whodunnit surrounding who shot the character JR Ewing in a soap opera named after the Texas city. There is less mystery about who shot FC Dallas this weekend; their injuries were entirely self-inflicted.