There's a good crop of candidates for MVP this year yet even though there's another month of the season to go I'm going to have to vote for a player whose team might not even make the playoffs.
Defending MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto could win again though the Crew has been able to win without him in the lineup. Keepers Zach Thornton (Chivas USA), Kasey Keller (Seattle) and Pat Onstad (Houston) have been solid and sharp but since keepers have their own award, only a 15-shutout season like that of Tony Meola in 2000 is going to nail down the MVP.
Seattle's Fredy Montero has lit up the league with his feistiness and finishing. The Rapids wouldn't be hanging in the playoff picture without their forward tandem of Conor Casey, the league's leading scorer, and Omar Cummings, who along with another candidate, Toronto FC's Dwayne De Rosario, might be the only players to hit double-digits in goals and assists.
Landon Donovan is the league's best player, by reputation, though
sleepwalking through vital games as he did in a 2-0 loss to Columbus last weekend is part of the reason he's never won the award and has only once been a finalist.
There is one other player who might do the double as well, but that's not why he gets my pick. He gets it because he's the league's best two-way player - a rugged tackler, good passer, relentless marker, tireless worker, able goalscorer -- who has played all over the park this season to patch holes in a lineup decimated by injuries.
Last weekend he converted a penalty kick - after the regular PK-taker
went down with an ACL injury that has sidelined him for the season - then scored the winning goal on a header to rally his team from a 1-0 deficit and post a vital 2-1 victory to move into the eighth
and final playoff spot.
Revs midfielder Shalrie Joseph has never been a finalist for the MVP award for which voters usually favor attackers. Sometimes a goalscorer gets enough goals, as teammate Taylor Twellman (17) did in 2005, or did Luciano Emilio (20) in 2007, or Carlos Ruiz (24) in 2002, to tip the scales in his favor, though players who can rack up goals and assists - Preki (twice), Amado Guevara, Christian Gomez, Alex Pineda Chacon, Jason Kreis - are the prime candidates.
(If that's the case, why has Jaime Moreno been a finalist three times but never won the prize?) Meola is the only goalie to have won it, though Joe Cannon finished in the final three in 2003.
No less an authority than Bruce Arena anointed Joseph the league's best player years ago but somehow the prowess and spirit and energy he brings to just about every game are taken for granted. Wouldn't it be ironic that in 2009 -- in a season he's played up front to compensate for the loss of Twellman, or as a playmaker to replace his longtime teammate and friend Steve Ralston, or in multiple positions in the same game - that Joseph finally gets the league's highest individual honor?
With Ralston out for the season, Joseph must anchor the middle, help screen a back line on which three newcomers start, and contribute offensively. He has other longtime MLS veterans to shoulder some of the load - keeper Matt Reis, midfield partner Jeff Larentowicz, defender Jay Heaps - but there's youth or players not all that familiar with the league just about everywhere else.
The Revs have more games remaining, five, than most teams they're battling with for a playoff spot, but that "edge" requires a Wednesday game in Dallas against a surging team that refuses to be eliminated, and then it's on to Colorado and a mile-high Saturday date with the Rapids, who as of today are two points ahead of New England. Ralston joins an injured list that has included Twellman (two games) and Chris Albright (one) for most of the season.
Joseph was perhaps a half-yard offside when he nailed the header that beat Seattle, but otherwise he was right where he should have been: ball-side of his marker, and at a good angle to the goal. Joseph has contributed significantly to more than half New England's 31 goals, and he's top scorer with eight goals and eight assists, yet numbers aren't his primary contributions to a 10-8-7 record.
What can't be quantified is his presence, his range, his stamina, his heart, and his willingness to play, and play well, wherever he's needed. He probably won't win the MVP award even if New England does make the playoffs -- contributions for a successful season are what the award is all about -- but if there's a year for him to at least be rewarded as a finalist, this is it.