December 3, 2016
A quick look at the 3 MLS MVP finalists
By Michael Lewis
Bradley Wright-Phillips scored a league-best 24 times for the Red Bulls.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Well, this certainly is a first and a rarity -- the three candidates for the Major League Soccer Golden Ball award are separated by a river.
Just what are the odds of that happening?
So, who do you like to win the honor -- Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan of the Red Bulls or David Villa of New York City FC.
I break down the three standouts performances, their value to their respective teams and chances of winning.
All three finalists enjoyed spectacular seasons. BWP won the Golden Boot as the top goal-scorer for the second time in two seasons, this time by two goals over Villa. Kljestan became only the second player in the league's 21-year history to crack 20 assists in a season.
I realize there is much vitriol hashed about among the supporters of each club, and they're going to build up their candidate(s) and put down the other sides, but logically and frankly you can make a good case for anyone of this talented trio to walk out of Spring Studios with the Landon Donovan MVP Award.
The No. 1 criteria I have for the MVP award is a player's value to his or her team. If a team doesn't have this particular player, how would have they fared?
From a pure statistical standpoint, BWP certainly soars above most MLS strikers' orbits. He struck for 24 goals, the second time he scored at least that many in three season (remember, he tied the league record of 27 in 2014 when Thierry Henry was around). Yes, Wright-Phillips had an outstanding playmaker in Kljestan to help set up his goals, directly and indirectly, but he has become the MLS master of scoring goals.
In his three complete regular season, the English forward has celebrated goals 68 times (69 if you include his stint at the end of the 2008 season). His 24 goals this past season was quite remarkable, considering he hadn't found the back of the net for his first six matches. Not too shabby at all, huh?
Wright-Phillips' scoring rate was 0.78 a game, the best in the league.
And oh yeah, the closest teammate in goals was Mike Grella, who finished with seven goals.
After three years in the league, sometimes I think BWP is taken for granted because he makes goal-scoring look so easy. I remember what former MLS and U.S. international striker Ante Razov once said about scoring goals: "If it was so easy then everyone would be doing it."
Goal-scorers can't score goals without someone setting them up and Kljestan was quite the set-up man this past season. In fact, he accomplished something that the great Landon Donovan, which this award is named after, couldn't do -- record 20 goals in a season.
It was pleasing to see Kljestan reach that rarefied plateau because playmakers are only as good as their goal-scorers. You could feed teammates perfect passes and crosses all day, but if they don't put them away you don't get another notch on your assist belt.
There aren't many players of that caliber in the league.
What also gratified yours truly wasn't just the numbers but the way Kljestan performed since he returned to MLS from overseas (Anderlecht in Belgium). He returned a much more mature player, playing within himself and abilities and not trying to do too much.
And we can only wonder if things would have been different for the U.S. national team if the fired Jurgen Klinsmann had used the former Seton Hall standout more in those two qualifying losses to Mexico and Costa Rica last month.
The Spanish international and 2010 World Cup winner played his heart out as the heart and soul of NYC FC the past two seasons as the league's most improved team in 2016.
For someone of his pedigree, Villa played every second as though he cared -- because he did. Win, lose or draw, the 35-year-old striker (he celebrated his birthday Saturday), literally left it all on the field. If more Designated Players performed like him, the league, teams and fans would get their money's worth.
Villa, incidentally, finished with 23 goals and boasted a scoring rate of 0.72, third in the league (Columbus Crew's Ole Kamara at 0.77). He certainly was helped by the presence of Frank Lampard (12 goals when he was healthy). The next two City players in goals was Tommy McNamara and Steven Mendoza with five goals apiece.
An interesting aside: it will be intriguing to see if Villa can continue his prodigious production at the age of 35 in 2017.
In fact, you could say the same thing about the two strikers mentioned in this story: heaven forbid for (please put the name of their team in here) if either man went down with an injury for any considerable length of time.
So, who's going to win?
Well, first of all, I have to admit I voted for BWP as MVP. I thought he deserved the award, although it took a lot of long and hard thinking about who should get my vote. Just how many goals does someone have to score over three years to get the ultimate recognition in the league.
As for who's going to win it, though is a different matter.
My gut feeling is that Wright-Phillips and Kljestan could very well split the vote since they play for the same team. That could allow Villa to squeak by.
Like I said before, I wouldn’t have a problem about which of the talented trio wins.