Latest line on MLS MVP race: Giovinco, Feilhaber, Keane 1-2-3

By Ridge Mahoney

A wave of new signings and other player moves during the summer transfer window has significantly altered the chase for playoff spots, and a few other developments have altered the landscape for the top individual awards subject to the voting process.

The return to health of Obafemi Martins, an MVP finalist last year, has brought him back into this year’s race along with Sebastian Giovinco and Robbie Keane. The Rookie of the Year battle, once dominated by Cyle Larin, isn’t quite so clear-cut as other players have strengthened their claims. And with several teams surging as the playoffs draw near, the Coach of Year race looks wide-open.

Here’s a rundown of candidates for the top awards.

MVP. Though Giovinco won his second consecutive Player of the Month award in August, Keane’s prowess -- plus the arrival of Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos -- sparked the Galaxy to a four-game winning streak and first place in the Western Conference.

In 25 games, Giovinco is close to passing the numbers registered by Keane last year (19 goals, 14 assists) when Keane won the MVP award. He’s so dynamic and dangerous it’s hard to imagine TFC succeeding without him.

Here are the stats of the top attacking candidates heading into Labor Day weekend (ranked by goals plus assists):

-- Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC) 17 goals, 13 assists.
-- Kei Kamara (Columbus) 18 goals, 7 assists.
-- Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy) 15 goals, 7 assists.
-- David Villa (New York City FC) 15 goals, 7 assists.
-- Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC) 8 goals, 13 assists.
-- Ethan Finlay (Columbus) 8 goals, 13 assists.
-- Bradley Wright-Phillips (NY Red Bulls) 13 goals, 7 assists.
-- Obafemi Martins (Seattle) 10 goals, 4 assists.

Keane has played only 18 games, and Martins just 14; the others have played more than 20, so the fact they are hanging tough amongst the leaders is testament to their impact. Kamara’s scoring has dropped off a bit but still the Crew is getting points, so a solid finish by him and his team will keep his name in the reckoning.

Feilhaber has lost the lead in assists to Cristian Maidana of Philadelphia and though his play certainly hasn’t deteriorated a three-game losing streak has plunged SKC into a funk. He and Finlay have the same numbers, though Feilhaber’s improved defensive abilities must also be factored into the equation.

Latest Line: 1. Giovinco. 2. Feilhaber. 3. Keane.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR. After bagging five goals in two games against Columbus and New York City FC in matches played around the All-Star Game, Larin has been blanked in the last five matches, none of which Orlando City has won. He needs just one more goal to break he record he shares with Damani Ralph’s MLS rookie record of 11, and though that mark isn’t as revered as the seasonal record of 27 tied by Wright-Phillips last year, setting a new record would earn a lot of votes. However, if he reaches 12 and doesn’t score any more voters might look in other directions.

Midfielders Fatai Alashe and Matt Polster have been playing regularly for San Jose and Chicago, respectively, and while earning a starting slot is an accomplishment in itself for most rookies they don’t spin the eyeballs like a goalscorer does. The same is true for outside back Amadou Dia of SKC, who did a solid job at left back (20 games, 11 starts) before Seth Sinovic returned to action. Tim Parker has looked good in limited duty (nine games) for the resilient Whitecaps defense.

Latest Line: 1. Larin. 2. Alashe. 3. Polster.

GOALKEEPER OF THE YEAR.  First off, what does Clint Irwin have to do to get into the debate at this position? Granted, the Rapids don’t bomb forward often and leave the back line stranded, but his stats are virtually identical to those of Vancouver guardian David Ousted, who is certainly getting a lot of mention.

-- Ousted 27 games played, 103 shots, 75 saves, 1.04 goals-allowed average, 10 shutouts.
-- Irwin 26 GP, 104 shots, 77 saves, 1.04 GAA, 8 shutouts.

Irwin excelled in 2013, his first MLS season after playing one year in the USL for Charlotte, and has regained that sharp form. The 2014 winner, Bill Hamid, has played just 19 games but he’s been just as stellar as he was last year. His 0.95 GAA is tops in the league as is his average of four saves per game. David Bingham (San Jose), Adam Kwarasey (Portland), Luis Robles (NY Red Bulls), and Stefan Frei (Seattle) are all doing their jobs very, very well.

Latest Line: 1. Ousted. 2. Hamid. 3. Irwin.

DEFENDER OF THE YEAR. Down the stretch, the performances of former winners Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy) and Matt Besler (SKC) will be closely monitored, and without drawing much notice Besler has been very solid in most of his games this season. Kendall Waston (Vancouver) is among the leaders in clearances per game (7.2) but is also tied for the league lead in cautions (10). 

Midway through the season, newcomer Laurent Ciman had the inside track on this award, but upheaval in Montreal that swept head coach Frank Klopas out the door has unsettled him and his team. Ciman has received two red cards and before Klopas was fired questioned where the team was going with him in charge. 

Latest Line: 1. Besler. 2. Waston. 3. Gonzalez.

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR. Giovinco is running away with this award but it must be said a lot of teams did their homework very well in planning acquisitions for 2015. Kaka and Orlando City have struggled since the All-Star Game, but he’s been one of the season’s standouts, and Villa’s play has brightened a gloomy expansion season for NYCFC.

Benoit Cheyrou is a key contributor for Toronto FC, as are Soni Mustivar and Krisztian Nemeth for SKC. Sebastian Lletget needed just a game or two to establish his place in the Galaxy starting lineup. Octavio Rivero has been mired in a scoring slump yet his first season for the Whitecaps is one reason they are a factor in the Western Conference.

Latest Line: 1.Giovinco. 2. Villa. 3. Kaka.

COACH OF THE YEAR. The transformation of the Red Bulls under Jesse Marsch in his first season is far from complete, yet he’s performed the difficult task of taking over from a team icon, Mike Petke, and making a good team better under excruciating pressure from fans and the press.

The Whitecaps are also improved and unless they completely collapse down the stretch Carl Robinson will be among the Coach of the Year finalists. A three-game losing streak took some steam out of FC Dallas, and how it handles the stretch run will be reflected in the votes garnered by Oscar Pareja.

Under Dominic Kinnear, the Earthquakes have already surpassed their point total of last year and posting five shutouts in six games is a notable feat. Maybe the Crew concedes too many goals (44), but the attack built by Gregg Berhalter has scored more goals (45) than any team except the Galaxy.

Latest Line:  1. Marsch. 2. Robinson. 3. Pareja.

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