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Major League Soccer's 2022 season, the 27th in its history, begins Saturday, Feb. 26. There is more excitement around the league than ever before with a record 28 teams set to participate. Charlotte FC are the new club, and there's also a boatload of new talent. 

With a long journey until the MLS Cup final in November, this season will largely be determined by which superstars can step up consistently and get hot at the right time. So ahead of kickoff, here are my five top contenders for 2022 MLS MVP along with a prediction of their season stats. 

5. Josef Martinez, Atlanta United

The Atlanta United star remains one of the best players in the league, but his production has certainly gone down due to the injuries. After 27 goals in the 2019 season, when he won MVP, he had zero in 2020 due to injury but had a solid 2021 season with 12 goals while playing in an inconsistent team. Now with Thiago Almada next him as a creative machine, Martinez will get back into the MVP discussion ... if he can stay healthy. 

Stats prediction: 15 goals, seven assists 

4. Raul Ruidiaz, Seattle Sounders

He keeps it quiet, he isn't flashy, but boy is he the most complete striker in the league. The Peruvian international is coming off a campaign where he scored 17 goals in 26 games, and this figures to be another strong season. Ruidiaz has increased his scoring total in each of his four seasons, and he figures to do it again now that he's got Albert Rusnak providing assists. 

Stats prediction: 20 goals, five assists

3. Hany Mukhtar, Nashville SC

The German talent was the key in Nashville's instant stability with the club making the playoffs in each of its first two seasons. Mukhtar has been the team's star, producing 16 goals in 31 games last season. With the ability to put the ball away from the tightest of angles and make defenders look silly, he figures to once again be in the running for the award. Regardless of who wins it, with it often going to the person with the most eye-popping stats, you can argue that no player is as valuable to their team as he is.

Stats prediction: 15 goals, eight assists

2. Carles Gil, New England Revolution

The former Aston Villa man (and reigning MLS MVP) has been the heart and soul of Bruce Arena's team, combining with Gustavo Bou form quite the 1-2 punch. That's expected to continue as they look like real contenders for MLS Cup. In Gil the Revs have the most talented creator in all of the league, somebody who can produce a moment of magic out of nothing. His 18 assists last season paved the way to win the award, but no player has ever won it back-to-back.

Stats prediction: Six goals, 16 assists 

1. Valentin Castellanos, NYCFC 

With River Plate and Boca Juniors both having shown interest, it feels like his time in MLS may be limited. He's been absolutely clinical and scored in the MLS Cup final last season, and before long Castellanos could move to Europe. Because of that, fans of the club have to enjoy him while they have him. So far, it's been easy to do. The prolific forward scored 19 goals in 32 league games in 2021, and looks poised to hit the 20-goal mark this season. He's the star in attack for the reigning MLS champs. Assuming Castellanos can continue to produce stellar goals while also cleaning up in front of the net, there is no reason why he can't finish the season as MVP ... and be in contention to help his club go back-to-back as champs.

Stats prediction: 22 goals, 6 assists