MLS Awards: Valeri makes strongest case for MVP

When MLS followed the lead of other major American pro sports and instituted a Most Valuable Player Award, as opposed to a Player of the Year honor or something similar, it presented a dilemma.

A Player of the Year, as is awarded in many countries, is a rather straightforward evaluation of which top player had the best season. For an MVP, it’s the player most essential to the team’s success, but when players like Dwayne De Rosario and Mike Magee can win the MVP when their teams, D.C. United and Chicago, respectively, don’t even make the playoffs, confusion sets in. So the MVP can be redefined as the player most indispensable to his team and whatever success it has, the player who leaves the biggest hole when he isn’t there and does the most when he is. Said definition simplifies not the nettlesome issues of evaluation and comparison, but fortunately a few rough guidelines have emerged in the 22-season history of MLS.

For attacking players, who tend to dominate the MVP ballots, those who can rack up big numbers in both goals and assists draw votes. So do out-and-out goalscorers, for no attribute is more valuable than an ability to put the ball into the net. Outrageously prolific playmakers who pile up assists like parking receipts on a dashboard are hard to ignore.

Maybe someday a defensive midfielder or defender can be so dominant as to rate serious consideration, but the league has already seen the likes of Shalrie Joseph in the first category and several majestic representatives of the latter with little effect. One non-scorer on the MVP list, goalkeeper Tony Meola of Kansas City in 2000, stands alone to this day.

Fortunately, the 2017 season produced an historic season for Timbers’ icon Diego Valeri, who with 21 goals and 11 assists joined Sebastian Giovinco as the only men in league history to score at least 20 goals and hit double-digits in assists. Giovinco did it in 2015 and was named MVP. Hint, hint.

Valeri played a direct role in 32 of his team’s 60 goals, which also led the Western Conference, as did the Timbers. And they needed those goals, because their 50 goals allowed were more than any playoff team except the porous Quakes (60 conceded). Valeri set a league record by scoring in eight consecutive games.

Yet Valeri’s confidence, determination, and devotion to the club are also of MVP quality. He’s been a top-class Designated Player in every respect.

In his first MLS season, Fire striker Nemanja Nikolic started off so hot the league goals record of 27 seemed in danger until he hit a cold streak in July and August. Yet he recovered to score 24, the same total as Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2016 and did so while playing all 34 games. Thus it’s impossible to evaluate how good the team might be without him but clearly, he’s been crucial to the Fire’s dramatic revival.

Nothing seems to bother David Villa, the 2016 MVP. He scores in good weather and bad, on the road or at home, even if it’s an alternative to Yankee Stadium. On the final day of the season he scored twice at Citi Field, where NYCFC was banished because of a conflict with baseball.

His haul of 22 goals, second only to Nikolic, ups his MLS take to 63 in 89 league matches.

But for 2017 our pick is the man from Lanus, who lifted the MLS Cup trophy two years ago and will lead the charge to snatch it back from Northwest rival Seattle.
Winner: Diego Valeri (Portland). Runner-up: David Villa (New York City FC).

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