Daniel Salloi’s case for the 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award continues to strengthen – and now Sporting Kansas City’s captain is using the bully pulpit to support his teammate’s bid.

Speaking after Sporting’s 4-2 win over Houston Dynamo FC on Sunday, Johnny Russell offered a strong rebuke of those doubting Salloi’s credentials. The homegrown forward, who plays on the left wing opposite Russell, recorded one goal and one assist to give him a league-leading 23 goal contributions this season.

“He's by far, for me, the MVP this year. The fact that he's getting left out of conversations, to me, is beyond baffling,” Russell said. “He's combining goals and assists, and even if you look at that, game-tying goals, game-winning goals – he's been invaluable for us this year.

“His confidence is on a completely different level. He's been amazing for us this year, he's been such a breath of fresh air. He's been like a new signing this year and it's been incredible the form he's been on.”

Salloi’s biggest competitors in the MVP race are likely New England Revolution midfielder Carles GilNashville SC midfielder Hany MukhtarNew York City FC forward Valentin Castellanos and the Seattle Sounders duo of forward Raul Ruidiaz and midfielder Joao Paulo. With New England’s considerable lead atop the league table, Gil’s long been considered the front-runner.

But should Salloi be more front and center? Head coach Peter Vermes isn’t too concerned and just wants the club to lift another MLS Cup after previously winning in 2000 and 2013.

“The simple way to put it is the pundits criticize us as if we're a superclub,” Vermes said when asked about Salloi perhaps not getting enough national recognition. “We're not a superclub, I'm here to admit that because look, we're a small market, we don't spend the kind of money people do on players in this league. So that's fair. But they criticize us like we're a superclub [and] they don't give the credit to the players when they play well.

“I'm here not crying about it by any means. I'm answering your question because at the end of the day, I really don't care. If Daniel gets the MVP, great. At the end, what we all want is we want to win a trophy. We'll just keep working towards that. The rest of it is what it is. But that's more of an answer, it's not a complaint. It's just the way it is. It's been like that, by the way, since I've played here. Same thing.”

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Salloi, who soon joins Hungary for UEFA qualifiers ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, has 16 goals and seven assists in 26 games (23 starts) this year. Concerns about his lull the past two seasons now seem like a far-off memory.

But does Salloi give much mind to the MVP race? To some degree, yes, and he also wants the Golden Boot presented by Audi. He’s currently one behind the leader, D.C. United striker Ola Kamara (17), after MLS Week 29. SKC have six regular-season games remaining to close the gap.

Kamara boasts a league-leading eight goals from the PK spot, while all of Salloi’s 16 tallies have come from open play. Against Houston, the 25-year-old tied SKC's record for most non-penalty goals in a single season (16), drawing level with now-Toronto FC forward Dom Dwyer.

“Yes, it's a proud moment but at the same time it's one of those that no one's going to care how many penalty goals you scored if win the Golden Boot,” said Salloi, the reigning MLS Player of the Week. “So I hope that my goals can take me as far as possible in the Golden Boot race and MVP race. I have a chance for it. I think this is the year where I can challenge those awards and it's amazing. This is why I'm kind of mad I could have had a hat trick today honestly. But [onto the] next one.”

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