SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 20: Chris Wondolowski  of the San Jose Earthquakes gives the team mascot a fist pump after being honored as team MVP before a game against Chivas USA on October 20, 2010 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Wondolowski scored three goals as a substitute in the second half during the Earthquakes' 3-0 win. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

by Robert Jonas - Center Line Soccer

Over the past couple of weeks Major League Soccer has been collecting the ballots for the various regular season awards that will be announced over the next few weeks. The list included major awards like the Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, and Goalkeeper of the Year, along with lesser known awards like Referee of the Year and Public Relations Staff of the Year. Since the polls closed this past Monday afternoon, MLS has released the finalists in each award category and media members have revealed their first choices. For me, the most interesting of the categories is that of MVP.

I wrote a few weeks ago on this site that I believed that Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes was the most deserving of the MLS MVP award. Beyond just the obvious statistics of game winning goals and percentage of team goals, I tried to illustrate the idea that the MVP didn’t necessarily need to be the most outstanding player in the league, but one whose performance elevated his team beyond expectations. At the time I wrote that article, Wondolowski was trailing the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Edson Buddle for the league lead in goals scored. However, a late season surge by the Quakes forward saw him score 4 more goals in the last week of the regular season to take his 2010 total to 18 goals. He eclipsed Buddle’s season ending total of 17 goals, and was thus awarded the MLS Golden Boot award.

While the voting was open from mid-October for the MLS awards, I waited until after the last regular season game had been played before casting my ballot. Wondolowski’s performance in that last week reaffirmed my decision to vote him the league’s MVP. I voted for FC Dallas midfielder David Ferreira second and Philadelphia forward Sebastien Le Toux third — Seattle’s Freddy Montero and LA’s Landon Donovan just missed making the cut.

In addition to MLS taking into account the votes of the media, they also solicit votes from within the league as well. Players, coaches, general managers — even the referees — add to the voting total, diminishing the weight of the media vote and making it important to understand the feelings and perceptions of the other voting blocks when predicting the eventual winners. Perhaps in order to aid that predictions effort, MLS revealed the top three vote getters in all categories early this week. In the race for the league MVP, three players made the cut — Edson Buddle, David Ferreira, and Chris Wondolowski.

So I did manage to pick two of the three finalists, though that wasn’t my goal in casting my votes. Again, refer back to my previous article to understand my rationale for the MVP award, and I stand by my three choices. Buddle is the odd man on the list for me — I rate him highly for his goals scored, but not so high in other respects — with Le Toux being conspicuously absent. Perhaps this should come as no surprise when taking into account the whole spectrum of voters in the process. For the players, coaches, and GMs, their most important responsibility is to win games and make the postseason. Buddle is the leading scorer on the Supporters Shield winning LA Galaxy making him a logical choice for those voters. Le Toux had a wonderful season statistically, but even his remarkable efforts were not enough to lead to the Union to a successful season.

The question now becomes, which of the three finalists will be announced the MVP during MLS Cup weekend? I know who I voted for — and I have read that choice being made by the majority of media members that have revealed their votes thus far — but who will ultimately take home the trophy as determined by all the voting blocks. For a possible peek at the answer, I collated into the table below the major statistical categorical leaders in each of the last 15 MLS seasons. A league MVP who was also the regular season goal scoring leader or points leader is italicized for clarity (prior to the 2005 season, MLS kept track of the points leader, a measure of goals (x2) + assists, to award the Scoring Champion).

Interestingly, of the 14 past MVP winners, only 8 players were chosen based on those more familiar statistical accomplishments of goals and/or points scored. Twice the league assists leader was crowned MVP — Guillermo Barros Schelotto in 2008 and Mario Etcheverry in 1998 — boosting the total of statistically winners to 10 of 14. In the 4 remaining seasons on the list, the award winner emerged not from statistics alone. The most curious of those four was goalkeeper Tony Meola in 2000, where his case was supported by 16 clean sheets for the Kansas City Wizards. Valuable to be sure,

The other three winners — Landon Donovan in 2009, Christian Gomez in 2006, and Carlos Valderrama in 1996 — seemingly won the award through overall performances for winning teams. Not just statistical machines, these three players were adjudged to elevate the play of their teammates while contributed greatly to their success. In the case of Valderrama, the voters clearly were swayed by the sheer talent and excitement the Colombian native displayed in the league’s inaugural season.

And so I turn to 2010, and the three candidates for the MVP award that MLS has offered up for debate. Will the winner be Chris Wondolowski — a player that won the Golden Boot, netted 9 game-winning goals, and has scored the last 10 goals for the Earthquakes to end the season (breaking the previous record of 9 by Carlos Ruiz started in his MVP season of 2002 and extending to the following season)? Will the winner be David Ferreira — a midfielder maestro in the same vein as Valderrama in 1996 who arguably directed FC Dallas on their MLS record 19-game unbeaten streak this season? Or will Edson Buddle, the leading scorer on this season’s Supporters Shield winning team, take home the hardware?

Going by the historical record, Chris Wondolowski looks to have the inside track on the other two finalists. He has the statistical credentials that have been rewarded with the league MVP award in 10 of the past 14 seasons. We know the media vote favors Wondolowski, and his game winning numbers suggest the other voters will support him as well. And so, whether or not his San Jose Earthquakes advance in the playoffs, Wondo should have his bags packed and his passport ready for the trip to Toronto for MLS Cup weekend and the big announcement on November 19th.

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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