Countdown to First Kick: 16 2011's MVP conundrum

As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign.

16 –  Goals and assists (both league-leading totals) in 2011 by Dwayne De Rosario and Brad Davis

The 2011 MLS award season ended with one of the most hotly contested debates in recent memory, with two entirely deserving options for league MVP.

In one corner was the do-it-all Dwayne De Rosario, who despite being shipwrecked twice during the regular season somehow managed a year for the personal record books: 16 goals, 12 assists and, finally, happiness with a new locker in the D.C. United clubhouse.

In the other corner was one of the league’s steadiest hands in Brad Davis, who had a career year in his own right: 16 assists, six of them game-winners for a Houston Dynamo team that surged all the way to an Eastern Conference crown.
In the end, the hardware belonged to DeRo, giving him the first MVP award on an MLS trophy shelf to rival all others. But while De Rosario lamented DC’s missed playoff chance, Davis was one of the most prominent faces during the postseason, lifting Houston past the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before suffering a knee injury in the conference championship.

WATCH: Dynamo feel Davis was MVP

Are there two more determined players to make it right in 2012? De Rosario’s offseason was his steadiest and most lucrative in years, thanks to a booming new contract that makes him the club’s highest-paid player and seemingly more stability than he ever had in Toronto or during his New-York-minute stint with the Red Bulls.

Add in the return of a healthy Chris Pontius, another year under the belt for Andy Najar and the addition of Designated Player Hamdi Salihi and there’s no reason De Rosario shouldn’t be a Best XI and MVP candidate again this year. But can he get back to the postseason, something he hasn’t done since his last season with Davis and the Dynamo way back in 2008?

Davis, meanwhile, will likely face just as much pressure or more after last season, when fans in Houston and beyond started calling him “the left-footed David Beckham.” That’s a heavy comparison, but can you argue with a guy who actually set up more goals than Becks did and puts the ball on a platter as well as anyone in the league?

If he wasn’t a bona fide star last season, he’s poised to become just that this time around if he can match the numbers he put up last time out. And if the Dynamo make the next step to a third title in franchise history, bet that Davis was the man who got them there.

Two players, one goal, one brand new season. Let the debate begin.

D.C. United and Houston's first matches of the 2012 season will take place on March 10 and March 11 against Sporting KC and Chivas USA.  GET TICKETS!

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WATCH: De Rosario's MVP credentials