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Kwadwo Opoku making MLS Young Player of the Year case

Mahala is playing a vital role on star-studded team.

Seattle Sounders FC v Los Angeles Football Club Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

It’s time. As the season gears up for the final push of the regular season, and the chaos that tends to arise during playoffs, it’s time we take a look at some possible season award considerations that may be crowned LAFC. One such player is a rising star who despite filling up the stat-sheet, should most definitely receive serious consideration for MLS Young Player of the Year for 2022.

Kwadwo “Mahala” Opoku’s rise has been glorious to watch. As conductors of his hype train since before the season began, it’s been really fun to see him not only gain more minutes, and trust within the squad, but provide in big moments and help contribute to what has been a great season for LAFC up to this point. In a team full of superstars, having just acquired two more global sensations, 21-year-old Opoku still stands out as a player many fans have grown to love throughout this season.

Opoku’s run really goes back to preseason friendlies, where despite most matches being behind closed doors, we still heard of the youngster putting on shows. Matches with multiple goals, crisp passing, flashing a great mix of decent pace with the ability to know how to use it. Not always going all out, burning energy, but picking the perfect spots to shift into that next gear to get past defenders.

This has continued into the season, and as his minutes grew, so did his stature within the club. He has scored five goals and provided three assists in just 1,330 minutes logged across 23 appearances. One of those goals was this banger that really opened up eyes from across the league.

The MLS Young Player of the Year award is just that, the award that goes to the best player under 22 years of age from the season. The competition for Mahala this season is pretty stiff. One name to keep tabs on would be 21-year-old FC Dallas forward Jesús Ferreira. He has scored 12 goals with five assists in 25 appearances, logging just over 2,000 minutes so far. One of the few put forward for the honor before the year even began, Ferreira has been consistently one of the better young players this season.

However, he benefits greatly from something Mahala doesn't, in that he is one of, if not the focal-point of the FCD attack. With the departure of Ricardo Pepi, he was given the baton ahead of the season. For as good as he is, and as well as he's been all season, Mahala is nowhere near the main option in attack. If we’re brutally honest, he's probably the fourth or fifth option at the moment, which only makes what he's done that much more impressive. Funnily enough, that banger Opoku scored in the video above? It was against the very same FC Dallas. In complete fairness, Ferreira also scored that match, but we all remember Opoku’s strike.

It’s that context that makes voting for these awards so difficult. Do you just pick up a stat sheet and choose the one with ‘better numbers’, do you choose the one doing well on the better team, the one doing well despite limited opportunities? So many factors, but it’s why Mahala deserves to be in the conversation at the very least. Coming into the season few outside of LA knew who he was. Yet, over the course of 2022, he’s gone from likely fringe-player, to finding himself in the starting XI with regularity, growing into a player trusted by those around him. The likes of Carlos Vela and Cristian Arango are always keeping a lookout for the youngster on the pitch.

The best part about Mahala is he isn't a gimmick. He's not just a pacey winger, or a poaching striker. There isn't just one reason he finds success, but many reasons. He's methodical on the ball, seemingly always several moves ahead. He's great at drawing in defenders, taking the attention away for the likes of Vela and Arango, only to hit them with a perfect pass to set scoring opportunities. He continues to grow within a club that is currently in win-now mode, acquiring all the talent money can buy.

The team’s newest arrival, Gareth Bale, will almost surely take away even more minutes from the young forward but something tells me you still won't quiet him down. As the regular season winds down and the postseason push gets underway, he seems to only improve with each match, setting him up for a big final stretch of the season. He may not finish the year with the most goals scored, or most assists served, he will however finish as a player who's made a name for himself in what is arguably the most talented roster we've ever seen in the MLS. Mahala magic is only getting stronger, now we see if he can cast charm on voters in these final matches of the season.

What do you think of Mahala’s season so far? Leave a comment below!