[MLS SPOTLIGHT] If the Most Valuable Award meant more or less Player of the Year, which is the award given in most countries, the debate wouldn’t be any less strident, but it would be simpler: Which star had the best season, Landon Donovan or Thierry Henry or Dwayne De Rosario or somebody else?
Instead, voters and fans must compare a player’s importance to his team’s success with intrinsic performance, based on stats, evaluation, sabremetrics and fantasy-league points and whatever else goes into the process these days.
Every year, there is lamentation that MVP voters favor scorers over defenders and/or solid midfielders whose value outweighs their stats. (Except for 2000 MVP and Goalkeeper of the Year Tony Meola, goalkeepers are usually restricted to comparisons with their peers.) This is season is trickier, since a few of the league's best playmakers, including 2010 winner David Ferreira (FC Dallas) and Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), have missed most of the season with injuries.
As such, there’s strong support for midfield linchpins Kyle Beckerman of RSL and Oswaldo Alonso of Seattle, yet a very deserving player cut from the same mold isn’t meriting much attention.
If a hard-working, tough-tackling, sharp-passing, two-way midfielder can be a bonafide MVP candidate, so too must be Jack Jewsbury. While Beckerman is the better player, he’s not as important to RSL as Jewsbury is to Portland, as RSL proved Wednesday night by dismantling New York, 3-1, at Red Bull Arena with Beckerman out of the lineup due to suspension.
Both are captains, yet Beckerman plays for one of the league’s flagship franchises, while Jewsbury leads an expansion team backed by a rabid following at home games yet strangely impotent (seven goals scored, 22 allowed) away from home. Jewsbury also takes a lot of the set plays and penalty kicks, and while that has helped him compile numbers far superior to that of Beckerman, it also reflects just how irreplaceable he is. He leads the team in goals (7), assists (8) and minutes played (2430).
A player whose team doesn’t make the playoffs seldom receives a lot of MVP votes and if the Timbers miss out, Jewsbury probably goes from darkhorse to also-ran. He’s not close to being the best midfielder in the league. But in rating those players most important to their teams, since RSL and Seattle are also a lot further up the standings, it’s hard to imagine Portland even being in the playoff hunt without “Captain Jack.”
One can say the same about De Rosario at D.C. United, particularly with Chris Pontius sidelined for the season. Is D.C. in the playoff mix without De Ro, who has reached double figures in goals and assists? I'd say doubtful.
Of the other candidates, Brek Shea has taken on a greater burden in the absence of Ferreira and performed admirably for most of the season, along with a few highlight-reel masterpieces. But a heavy load of MLS, CCL, Open Cup and national team matches has taken a toll. Fatigue has set in, so his impact in the final month will be closely monitored.
Houston is drumming up a lot of support for Brad Davis, whose work on the left flank and through central midfield and on set plays has again pushed him among the league’s assist leaders. Yet the Dynamo's inconsistency hurts his chances. His exclusion from the U.S. team also works against him among voters, unfair as that is.
No 2011 acquisition has boosted his team more than Mauro Rosales, and if not for a sprained MCL suffered last weekend he could have wound up as the league’s assist leader. But since he’s a great candidate for Newcomer of the Year, he might have to wait until 2012 for major MVP consideration. He’s found a spot and a role on a good team and made it a lot better, and in this league, that’s no sitter.
So with a month to go, here’s my top five in the MVP race:
1. Jack Jewsbury (Portland);
2. Brek Shea (FC Dallas);
3. Mauro Rosales (Seattle);
4. Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake);
5. Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United).