Who’s your pick for MLS MVP this season? Really? You sure about that? Let’s see if you change your mind after this weekend.
I’m not sure I can recall an MVP race as up-and-down and varied as the one we’re knee-deep in right now. Sure, frontrunners change all the time. But I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a season where, in the absence of one clear-cut candidate, the presumptive favorite seems to change with each match day.
So here, from front to back, is one man’s timeline of the changing winds of this year’s race for the trophy:
April 29, Robertson Stadium
Brad Davis assists twice as rookie Will Bruin nets a hat trick in Houston’s 4-1 rout of D.C. United. It marks the veteran midfielder’s fifth and sixth assist on the young season as the Dynamo turn around a winless start to the season.
Davis also wears the captain’s armband in the absence of injured Brian Ching, lifting a young team onto his back and leading them back into contention after a playoff-less 2010.
June 16, JELD-WEN Field
After a thrilling 3-3 draw in Portland, Thierry Henry completes an 11-game stretch in which he scores eight goals and adds four assists, giving him a hand in more than half of all goals scored by New York over that period.
In the process, he surges to the top of the MLS scoring charts — the breakout MLS had been waiting for since French legend first signed as a Designated Player nearly 12 months prior.
Of course, Henry is also red-carded in the draw, and his high-octane Red Bulls go on to taste victory only once between now and mid-September.
July 2, Pizza Hut Park
Brek Shea scores for the fourth time in as many games in a 2-0 victory over Columbus, pulling him even with Henry for the league lead with eight goals.
FC Dallas fans are no longer worried about how their team will do without reigning MVP David Ferreira, as the tall Texan clearly is the man to carry the team back into contention near the top of the Western Conference.
September 27, CenturyLink Field
Mauro Rosales dances all over D.C. United as the Seattle Sounders obliterate their guests 3-0. The Argentine playmaker dishes his seventh and eight assists on the season on gorgeous set-ups for Mike Fucito and Álvaro Fernández.
In the process, the Sounders stay in second place in the West and win for the 16th time in 21 games across all competitions. But it comes as a cost, as the presumptive runaway Newcomer of the Year leaves the field with an MCL sprain in his right knee. He has yet to return to the lineup.
September 28, Rio Tinto Stadium
Kyle Beckerman is red-carded after delivering a head-butt to Chicago’s Daniel Paladini in retaliation for a harsh tackle. Down a man, RSL are steamrolled in their own home by the Fire 3-0, their second three-goal defeat in four days.
The loss also effectively ends their quest for the Supporters’ Shield after an amazing run in the second half of the season in which they finally looked like the team that toughed its way to the Champions League final.
Thanks to Beckerman’s leadership, Salt Lake won nine times over 14 games from mid-June until late September, elevating them to second place in the West after a horrible CCL hangover and despite missing linchpin Javier Morales since May.
But the red card reverberates, as Beckerman sits out RSL’s crushing loss at LA three days later, then learns the following week that the league has suspended him for the final two games of the regular season.
September 29, PPL Park
In one game, one player’s MVP credentials also get dealt a blow while another’s are bolstered. Philadelphia grab a huge 3-2 victory over D.C. United that sees the Union jump back into second place in the Eastern Conference and a shot at an automatic bid at a playoff spot.
In the process, Sébastien Le Toux scores a brace, his sixth and seventh goal in six games, upping his season total to 10 after failing to score a single goal from the run of play for the first four months of the season.
The Frenchman had been struggling early in the year while playing out of position at times and behind now-departed Carlos Ruiz. But it’s also no coincidence that as Le Toux heats up, so do Philly, ending their midsummer swoon.
The game also bookends a crazy two-month stretch for Dwayne De Rosario, whose 21st-minute goal is his fifth in three games, following a first-half hat trick against Beckerman and RSL five days prior.
Since being acquired by D.C. from New York in late June, DeRo had ignited United’s lagging offense with 11 goals and dishing six assists in 15 games. But the loss also perhaps marks the end of D.C.’s postseason hopes.
October 1, The Home Depot Center
The Galaxy’s 2-1 win over Salt Lake is their 18th of the season, and all the points they’ll need to clinch the Supporters’ Shield. It caps a 22-game run since May 7 in which LA lost just once and kept 12 clean sheets in the process. Central to the crushing defensive effort is, once again, Omar Gonzalez, who helps LA’s back line limit RSL to just three shots on goal.
It’s another quietly dominant performance by the third-year center back, who has been the only constant in the heart of LA’s record-breaking defense — Gonzo has played in front of three different goalkeepers this season (four, if you count Mike Magee) and lost two center-back partners in Leonardo and Gregg Berhalter to season-ending injuries.
Of course, no defender has ever won MLS MVP — Jeff Agoos was the only one who even came close, as a finalist in 2001. Then again, arguably no defender has been this influential to his team’s success than Gonzalez.
October 15, Location TBD….?
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.