SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Chris Wondolowski  of the San Jose Earthquakes reacts after missing a shot against the Chicago Fire during an MLS game at Buck Shaw Stadium on September 29, 2010 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

by Robert Jonas - Center Line Soccer

Turn on your radio or television and you can’t miss them — campaign advertisements for politicians and propositions hoping to earn your vote ahead of state and local elections in early November. Most of these ads end up being of the mudslinging variety, but some try to focus in on the positive attributes politicians support and the promises they hope to bring forth if elected. Discussions and debates rage on between supporters on either side of each race and issue, while those few left in the middle and undecided try to weigh the merits of the opposing campaigns. In a few weeks’ time, all the fuss, all the arguments, all the vitriol will give way to a slate of winning candidates and new laws, and the losers will soon be forgotten.

In our little world of soccer, the same passion for debate is raised annually as the MLS regular season draws to a close and the individual player honors are subsequently awarded. Given that the playoff chase is essentially decided — outside of the plains states’ Rapids and Wizards fighting for that last qualification spot — now is as good a time as any to throw fuel on the fire of discussion for the league’s highest player proclamation: Most Valuable Player. As such, I stand forth to support and defend the candidacy of San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski.

For months I have insisted that the player that has performed the best for the Earthquakes was midfielder/defender Bobby Convey. His team leading 10 assists, of which 5 were on game-winning goals, combined with his tireless work ethic and field coverage have made the former Reading man indispensible to a San Jose team that has qualified for the MLS postseason for the first time in their three year existence. While I have called him the MVP of the Quakes on more than one occasion during the season, I feel it best to clarify that Convey should really be labeled as the team’s Most Outstanding Player.

Is it fair to distinguish between the MVP and the MOP? Absolutely, as long as you recognize why both identities exist separate of each other. The MOP is the best player on the field — no matter the position or the statistics — based on their demonstrated ability. Convey is that player for San Jose in 2010. The MVP is the player that without his results, his team would not achieve their stated goals for the season. Wondolowski with his 14 goals — 8 of them game winners — exemplifies that definition to a tee.

The Bay Area native did not enter the season on the radar screen of any of us who carefully scour the league for talented individuals. Even on the Earthquakes, Wondolowski was at best the fifth forward on the depth chart for a team head coach Frank Yallop felt had plenty of firepower on his front line. However, when injuries and trades thinned the ranks up top, Wondolowski was there to take the field for the club he cheered on as a kid. He rewarded his coach’s faith in him with four goals in his first four starts. To the throngs of Earthquakes faithful, “Wondomania” had come to Buck Shaw Stadium. As the season progressed, the 27-year old forward finished five 1-0 victories as the lone goalscorer which spawned a new term to the local lexicon — the “Wondo-nothing” win. He was scoring with both feet and with his head, with virtually every goal being a high-quality finish. With three games left in the season, Wondolowski remains just one goal shy of matching the San Jose franchise season record of 15 set by Ronald Cerritos in 1999.

Wondolowski’s 2010 statistical explosion has come as a shock to many observers on the outside, but not to Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch. Having to face the forward every day in practice, the ex-Fire ‘keeper sees the talent and passion for the game of soccer that has met with such a goal scoring reward.

“He works so hard in training and he spends extra time almost every day hitting balls from different angles and positions,” exclaimed Busch when asked to describe Wondolowski. “He hits a great ball — he really strikes the hell out of it. The ball moves and it dips. He is not necessarily a finesse finisher but he is definitely a power finisher.”

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Chris Wondolowski  of the San Jose Earthquakes jumps into the air as he runs to the corner after scoring against the Philadelphia Union on September 15, 2010 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Combined with that ethic to improve and hone his skills, Wondolowski still remains humble about all his on field success in 2010. He deflects away most questions about whether he deserves recognition for his achievements with an “aw-shucks” grin and a line about the team coming first. But when his teammate Busch is asked the same question, he gets straight to the point.

“Hands down, because of the importance of what he’s done for this team this year, he’s got to be MVP for sure.”

Now, I did mention earlier that I wanted to not just explain the reasons Wondolowski should receive the league’s MVP, but also to defend his candidacy against other rivals for the award. As I see it, the Quakes forward will be competing against four other highly acclaimed players for this season’s honor: Sebastien Le Toux of the Philadelphia Union, Fredy Montero of the Seattle Sounders, David Ferreira of FC Dallas, and Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy. All have grabbed headlines in 2010 for their efforts and accomplishments and are sure to garner significant votes in the MVP election, but none is more deserving than Wondolowski. Le Toux has been a shining star during a rather forgettable year for the expansion Union. His 13 goals and 10 assists are impressive — certainly worthy credentials for team MVP — but have done little to lift his team in the MLS standings. Without being on a postseason qualified team, it is hard for me to see the talented Frenchman taking the league’s highest honor.

Up in the Northwest, Fredy Montero of the Seattle Sounders has been a talisman for his club’s remarkable ascension in the second half of the 2010 season. The Colombian striker — now removed from the shadow of ex-teammate Freddie Ljungberg — has elevated his season statistics to 10 goals and 9 assists. However, his indifference to the game earlier this year, maybe a product of off the field distractions, has done little to convince me that he deserves the MVP. With his best playing years still ahead of him, and with a renewed effort to stay motivated and engaged over a whole season, I do not doubt that Montero will win this award in the near future.

The most consistent team this season in MLS has been FC Dallas, with their #10 David Ferreira leading the efforts for the Hoops. While not an out and out goal scorer — though he has netted 8 this season — Ferreira makes his mark by expertly orchestrating the Dallas attack from his attacking midfielder position, where he paces the team with 13 assists. He relies on excellent technical ability rather than brute physicality to carry possession and keep the ball away from opponents. He has been my MVP pick for much of the season, and I don’t see any way that Dallas would be currently riding a 19-game unbeaten streak without his efforts, but he falls short in my view in just how effective he is in elevating the play of his teammates.

For the Supporters Shield favorites Los Angeles Galaxy, Landon Donovan leads the way. As is often the case, the best player on the best team in the league runs away with the MVP. But, the U.S. National Team hero has been absent during games for many minutes at a time. Some say he is tired, but I believe he is just not putting in a full effort. At times Donovan has been brilliant — you need look no further than his game-changing play late in the Galaxy’s 2-1 come-from-behind win against DC United in September — but has also appeared to mail it in — a lethargic 1-0 loss to the Earthquakes in late August comes to mind. In fact, Donovan himself does not see himself as MVP of the league this season — he tapped Ferreira for the award — so I’m happy to leave him from further consideration.

So returning to Wondolowski, the deserved winner of the 2010 MVP can cement his candidacy with a fantastic finish to the season over the next three games. Passing Cerritos for the franchise scoring record is step one. Catching Edson Buddle of the Los Angeles Galaxy for the league scoring title and the Golden Boot award is step two. Sending his San Jose Earthquakes team into the postseason on a wave of winning momentum will be icing on the cake. Make that kind of late season statement to the voters and that embarrassed smile can turn to one of appreciative joy.

Robert Jonas is a writer and podcaster at Center Line Soccer and a frequent contributor to CSRN’s Around The League MLS show. He can always be reached on his twitter @robertjonas.
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