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The 2023 MLS Golden Boot race has been predictably intense, with multiple players neck-and-neck till the end of September. Approaching the final few games of the regular season over the next couple of weeks, Denis Bouanga has instilled himself as the favorite to win the award and is also in contention to be the MVP of the season.
The Los Angeles FC attacker scored five goals in the last two matches to take his goal tally to 19 and pull three goals clear at the top of the goalscoring chart with just one match to go. Luciano Acosta is in second place with the joint-highest goal contributions (26) so far – a record he shares with Atlanta United’s Thiago Almada.
Acosta has scored three goals in the last five games for 2023 MLS Supporters Shield winners FC Cincinnati. The Argentine has scored 16 goals and pocketed ten assists in 31 appearances this season. Despite being directly involved in 47 percent of the goals FC Cincinnati have scored this season, Acosta may miss out on the Golden Boot but may become the MVP.
Behind Acosta, there are four players tied at the 15-goal mark. Brian White, Georgios Giakoumakis, Hany Mukhtar, and Juan Hernandez are all tied in third place. Trailing by four goals, the Golden Boot race may be over for all four of these players. The chances of a dramatic turnaround are quite slim, but it always remains a possibility in mercurial leagues.
Despite being in the lead with the smallest margin of a single goal, Mukhtar is backed by the strongest odds to win his second successive MLS Golden Boot award. Nashville SC are tumbling down the table due to a series of poor results, but the German somehow manages to find the back of the net to retain his top spot in the goal-scoring chart.
Odds for taken from bet365.
Mukhtar has one hand on the award but it could slip out at any moment as Luciano Acosta and Giorgos Giakoumakis are right behind him, each with 13 goals. Meanwhile, four players including Denis Bouanga, Julian Carranza, Cristian Espinoza, and Alan Pulido have 12 goals each. Last season’s runner-up, Gazdag, is right behind this pack with 11 goals to his name.
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Since the MLS 2023 season resumed after the 2023 Leagues Cup, many players were in contention for the award, including Alan Pulido, Facundo Torres, Daniel Gazdag, and Jesus Fereira were also competitors till the circumstances changed over the past few weeks. The first three are tied at the 14-goal mark, while Fereira looks set to end the season with 12 goals.
Fereira was the first to lose traction, as he only scored two goals after the mid-season break. Both goals came in the same match, after which the FC Dallas striker failed to score in four consecutive games – a goalless run that will extend to five games if he does not score against Colorado Rapids this weekend.
Gazdag has been a crucial part of Los Angeles FC’s squad. In 31 appearances, the Hungarian has scored 14 goals and nabbed six assists. However, he toppled down the Golden Boot table because of multiple poor performances towards the end of the regular season. The 27-year-old has scored just one goal in the last five games.
Pulido ended a short three-game goalless streak when he scored Sporting Kansas City’s third and final goal against Real Salt Lake last weekend, confirming a 3-2 victory. The Mexican was in fine goalscoring form shortly after the break but fell behind after firing blanks in three out of the last four games.
Torres was also on the scoresheet for Orlando City last weekend, as his contribution was crucial in handing the hosts a 3-2 win over New England Revolution. However, just two goals in the last five matches have dropped the Uruguayan out of the Golden Boot race. The 23-year-old has scored 14 goals and nabbed three assists in 30 appearances this season.
FC Dallas striker Christian Benteke also has a tally of 14 goals in 31 appearances. Three of those came over two weeks ago as the Belgian striker bagged a treble against the New York Red Bulls in a thrilling 5-3 win away from home. However, the season may end on a disappointing note, as FC Dallas may not qualify for the playoffs.
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As the teams gear up for the high-octane playoffs for the 2023 MLS Cup, Bouanga, Acosta, and Mukhtar are all expected to bring their A-game to the pitch in the final regular season games. If Bouanga fires a blank in the Los Angeles FC’s final game, Acosta will have to score a hattrick to draw level with Bouanga.
Meanwhile, the task is tougher for 2022 MLS Golden Boot winner Mukhtar, who is trailing by four goals. However, the tale has a positive twist for the German striker as his Nashville SC have two games in hand. The 28-year-old has failed to score in the last four games, but if he can turn his form around in the last two, there is still a chance for him to defend his award.
Bouanga became the third Los Angeles FC player to be named Player of the Matchday multiple times in the same season. A stellar first-half hattrick powered a resounding 5-1 win over Minnesota United last week and also confirmed the defending champions’ playoff presence this season.
The Gabonian was menacing last weekend as well, as he bagged a brace against Austin FC as Los Angeles FC nabbed a 4-2 away win. The double against Austin saw Bouanga reach a tally of 19 goals, posting the second-highest goal tally in a single season in the club’s history, behind Carlos Vela’s 34-goal tally, which was recorded during his MVP-winning season in 2019.
FC Cincinnati were nothing short of prolific in the regular season this year. They clinched the Supporters Shield with a number of games to spare and relied heavily on their talisman, Acosta, throughout the season. The Argentine signed a contract extension with the club this season and has created and scored goals regularly.
The attacking midfielder is on the verge of missing out on the prestigious MLS Golden Boot award this year. It is not an impossible feat to score four goals in a single match, but it certainly looks unlikely for the 29-year-old. Despite missing out on the Golden Boot, Acosta will be a top contender to become the MVP this season with the joint-highest tally of goal contributions.
The 2022 MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner, Mukhtar, is still in contention for the individual prize because Nashville SC have two games in hand. Both games are at home but will be tricky fixtures. Additionally, Mukhtar has not scored in his last four appearances. The German needs four goals to match Bouanga but has scored just two in the last eight games.
Looking at the upcoming set of final regular season fixtures, Bouanga will likely win the MLS 2023 Golden Boot award. Los Angeles FC’s last match before the playoffs will be against Vancouver Whitecaps – a team against whom Bouanga has already scored earlier this season. The Hungarian will surely try to hit the 20-goal mark in the next game.
With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. A writer at night and the founder of a gaming company, Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specialization includes soccer, basketball, tennis, and esports betting. Email: [email protected]More info on Nikhil Kalro
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