By Ridge Mahoney
Two years after he won the Most Valuable Player Award, the Dwayne De Rosario Dilemma surfaces once again.
De Ro earned MVP honors in 2011 by scoring 16 goals and 12 assists for a D.C. United team that didn’t make the playoffs, scotching the stigma that an MVP had to get his team into the postseason to be valuable enough for considering. This year that dilemma is doubly troubling.
Not one but two of the top candidates, Camilo of Vancouver and Mike Magee of Chicago, netted 22 and 21 goals, respectively, for teams that will start scouting and planning for 2014 during the postseason. They were also the top two scorers, followed closely by another candidate, Marco Di Vaio of Montreal (20 goals), and not so closely by the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane, who strengthened his case by notching 11 assists in addition to his 16 goals.
Tim Cahill of New York, Diego Valeri of Portland, and a few others can be considered in this department. Rapid expansion has its risks, but it does add ownership groups who are ambitious enough and affluent enough to chase truly talented players, and thus, more candidates vital to their teams for production as well as leadership.
In a tight decision, the vote goes to Magee. Six goals for the Galaxy preceded the controversial trade to Chicago, for which he scored 15 goals and should bear no blame for Chicago’s failure to make the playoffs: only two teams conceded more goals than the Fire’s 52. The Fire’s 49 points tied New England, which did make the playoffs. Good enough for me when a good, solid player blossoms into a star for a team going nowhere. That's real value. The other players arrived in MLS as top guns. He made himself into one.
(And he was only traded once, as opposed to De Ro, who went from Toronto to New York and then to D.C.)
Camilo duplicated De Rosario’s season in that many of his goals were jaw-dropping beauties worth multiple views, such as the flying scissor volley against Portland Oct. 7 that is a favorite to be Goal of the Year. If there was an award for Most Spectacular Player, he’d win it. But there isn’t.
The Impact is desperately dependent on Di Vaio; he scored 20 of its 50 regular-season goals. It lost four of its last five when Di Vaio didn’t score. Did his team let him down during crunch time, or vice versa? He may be the league’s best finisher but that doesn’t mean he’s an MVP compared to players who do more.
Keane’s case has been bolstered in part by a stat that the Galaxy is 3-8-2 without him. That’s a Wow! nugget until one considers that in many games L.A. was also missing Landon Donovan and/or Omar Gonzalez. Keane’s greatest asset is his fiery, demanding personality; players, and referees, who don’t measure up to his standards are targets of blistering criticism, and sometimes outright abuse. He certainly inspires his teammates, and he probably should be cautioned in every close game, so vituperative are his antics. Such utter disdain of the rules against ungentlemanly conduct is a bit much for an MVP.
Cahill has been the rugged, productive pro he was supposed to be when the Red Bulls signed him last year. He will draw votes because of the Red Bulls’s success but ironically, because of consistent efforts by many teammates he’s not as irreplaceable as a few other candidates. But he's very deserving of Best XI honors.
Valeri’s first MLS season has been a revelation and with his skills and spirit he could be Newcomer of the Year this year, and MVP in 2014.
Here are the top five in the chase for the Volkswagen MLS MVP Award:
1. Mike Magee (Chicago).
2. Marco Di Vaio (Montreal).
3. Robbie Keane (Los Angeles).
4. Camilo (Vancouver).
5. Tim Cahill (New York).
Who's your pick for MLS MVP? Begin the debate on Twitter or Facebook.