MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot race heats up after electrifying Week 16 performances

Four frontrunners have taken center-stage in the race for the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot award, with a cluster of attackers not far behind. Week 16 of the campaign saw the 500th goal scored in MLS NEXT Pro, and with only 10 weeks left in the season, forwards are taking aim and hoping to improve their numbers in the race for the Golden Boot.

Here are the four leading candidates on the hunt for the inaugural honor:

John Denis
Forward · NYCFC II

Goals: 13, Games Played: 15

Denis is coming off of a Week 16 performance that saw the 24-year-old find the back of the net four times in an incredible 4-0 victory over New England revolution II. The four-goal haul saw him take a massive leap forward in the race for the Golden Boot, two goals ahead of the second-place contender. Denis is the first player to score four goals in one half of soccer in MLS NEXT Pro history.

Denis has scored seven goals in his last three appearances for NYCFC II, putting himself in pole position for Player of the Month contention during July.

Jack Lynn
Forward · Orlando City B

Goals: 11, Games Played: 12

Orlando City B's Lynn has shown to be one of the best goal scorers across MLS NEXT Pro throughout the inaugural campaign. Lynn has scored 11 goals in 12 games, all starts. Three of his 11 goals have come via header, one from the penalty spot, and the other eight from his laces in open play.

Lynn has three multi-goal-scoring matches this season, including a hat trick on May 21 against Inter Miami II. Here’s his second from that match.

Lynn is only two goals behind Denis, making for a showdown in the final 10 weeks of the season.

Bernard Kamungo
Forward · North Texas SC

Goals: 9, Games Played: 15

Kamungo sits tied for third in goals scored this MLS NEXT Pro season and has been a key player for North Texas SC all season. The 20-year-old leads his team in goals scored, finding the back of the net in nine out of 15 matches this season. Kamungo is still looking for his first multi-goal outing this season, but that hasn’t been an issue for his side this campaign. Kamungo has been as consistent as they come as a poacher in the box, with all nine goals coming off his laces inside the 18-yard-box.

As it stands, Kamungo finds himself just four goals out of contention for the golden boot.

Gibran Rayo
Forward · RNY FC

Goals: 9, Games Played: 14

Gibran Rayo, who recently sat down and spoke with, is having quite the debut season.

Rayo’s nine goals this season have all come from inside the 18-yard box, with two coming off his head and one coming from the penalty spot. He leads RNY FC in goals scored and has been one of the top attackers across the Eastern Conference all season.

Rayo's Week 16 hat trick suggests that he is hitting his stride at the right time. RNY FC's latest unbeaten streak grew to four following the display, and overall is looking primed to hold onto its current playoff spot down the stretch.

Honorable mentions:

Marlon Vargas | Forward | Tacoma Defiance | 7 goals

Noah Fuson | Forward | Columbus Crew 2 | 7 goals

Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez | Forward | Columbus Crew 2 | 7 goals

Note: Former Columbus Crew 2 forward Jacen Rusell-Rowe had scored 11 goals prior to the 19-year-old being awarded a first-team contract with the Crew Organization. He is not included in this list due to not being rostered with Crew 2 anymore.