OPTA Spotlight: Who's midseason favorite for MLS MVP?

Last week, we asked the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff to cast their midseason votes for MLS’ Most Valuable Player award. Two players were consistent presences at No. 1 and No. 2: San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski and D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario.

Plenty of others found a place on the ballot, but the message was overwhelming: Wondo and DeRo are, thus far, the frontrunners for MLS' biggest individual honor, with the San Jose man the heavy favorite as of mid July. In order to attempt to separate the league’s leading goalscorer and assist man, Opta gathered stats to make their respective cases, which you can examine below.

Who would you vote for as MLS’ midseason MVP? Make your opinion know in the poll to the right and let us know why in the comment section below.

*All stats as of Wednesday, July 11.

The case for Wondo...

He has Roy Lassiter’s scoring record in his sights. He’s the face of the league’s top team through the first half of 2012. He’s simply the most prolific scorer in MLS.

Game-winning goals in 2012
Player Team Game-winning Goals
Chris Wondolowski SJ 7
Chris Pontius DC 5
Kenny Cooper NY 4
C.J. Sapong SKC 3
Eddie Johnson SEA 3

And if things hold up, Wondolowski is also the prohibitive favorite to win his first MLS Most Valuable Player award come November.

From a statistical perspective, he has as compelling a case as any player in MLS. It boils down to this: Wondo's prolific form in front of net has a direct correlation to the Earthquakes' place in the standings.

Consider this, San Jose are currently tied for the league lead with 11 wins; Wondolowski scored the game-winning goal in seven of those matches and the game-tying goal in another. In fact, he almost exclusively scores when the game’s outcome is still up in the air.

MLS' most efficient scorers in 2012
Player Goals Goals/Shot % % of Team Goals Minute/Goal
Chris Wondolowski 14 28.6 38.9 109.3
Kenny Cooper 11 26.8 34.5 137.2
Danny Koevermans 9 26.5 50 117.2
Thierry Henry 9 25 28.1 95.1
Alvaro Saborio 10 23.3 32.3 150.7

Just one of his 14 goals was scored with the Quakes up by more than one goal, eight were go-ahead goals and two pulled San Jose into position to earn a point. Even more impressive, he’s no one-trick pony, with three coming left-footed, six with the right boot and five with his head, while just two are from the penalty spot.

Wondolowski is an efficient as well as well-rounded assassin, too. Among those with at least 30 shots this season, he is tops in goals-to-shots ratio, converting 28.57 percent of attempts, and is third in the percentage of team goals scored by an individual (38.89 percent) behind only Danny Koevermans and Will Bruin. Only Thierry Henry (95.11 minutes per goal) scores at a more rapid rate than Wondolowski (109.29 min./goal).

Boiled down to basics, he’s MLS’ best in front of net, translating potency to points on an almost weekly basis. For now, at least, the smart money is on Wondolowski for MVP.

What he has to do to wrap it up…

Finish the bevy of big chances coming his way.

It sounds illogical considering Wondolowski is comfortably at the top of the scoring charts, but he’s been surprisingly inefficient in big-chance situations in 2012.

Despite being on the end of 18 big chances, most in MLS, he’s converted just seven into goals, a rate (38.9 percent) below the league average (42.8 percent), which is certainly a surprise for a player known for his finishing. In a lineup built to put him in positions to score, Wondolowski could further pad his case by taking advantage of the clear-cut chances that present themselves.

The case for DeRo...

In 2011, De Rosario bucked conventional wisdom and collected his first MVP award while playing for a D.C. United side that failed to make the playoffs. It was just too hard to overlook the 16 goals and 12 assists he racked up, even they were with three different teams and came without a postseason appearance.

Individual contribution to team scoring
Player Goals Assists Goal+ Assists Team Total Goals % Team Goals
Danny Koevermans 9 1 10 18 55.6
Chris Wondolowski 14 3 17 36 47.2
Will Bruin 9 1 10 22 45.5
Dwayne De Rosario 5 10 15 34 44.1
Thierry Henry 9 5 14 32 43.8

In 2012, DeRo still has the stats – he leads MLS is assists with 10, complemented by five goals – and he’s on a winner, one of the league’s most consistently entertaining attacking sides to boot. That alone puts him in the thick of the MVP conversation.

The fact that he’s factored in 44.1 percent of his team’s goals is also compelling, especially since he is the only midfielder in the top five, while creating the fourth-most open-play chances in MLS (24).

But perhaps where he’s brought the most measurable value is as Maicon Santos' personal assistant. Four of the Brazilian’s seven strikes have come via De Rosario, and Santos has a 44.4 percent conversion rate when DeRo feeds him as opposed to 7.3 percent in all other scenarios. For perspective, he’s assisted on just one of Chris Pontius’ goals.

Dwayne De Rosario's Creative Influence
Total Chances Created Chances Created (Open Play) Chance Created (Inside Box) Assist/Chance Created
27 24 18 25.9%

In fact, players on the end of De Rosario’s passed posted the third-best rate of scoring among all players (25.9 percent conversion). Only Thierry Henry and Ramiro Corrales can boast better numbers, and neither has the same volume of chances created. That’s likely down to the fact that 75 percent of the chances De Rosario creates are inside the penalty box.

So while he isn’t quite the swashbuckling attacker he was during the second half of 2012, De Rosario is still one of the most productive players on one of the best teams in the league, which should be more than enough to keep him within sniffing distance of Wondolowski as the season winds on.

What he has to do to wrap it up…

Keep D.C. United atop the East while sprinkling in some memorable moments.

Unlike last season, De Rosario’s most potent argument comes as a result of his team’s productivity. MVP voters like winners, and D.C. United certainly qualify, topping the Eastern Conference table in a two-way tie with Sporting Kansas City on 33 points through 18 games.

A few highlight-reel plays and a flair for the dramatic to jog voters' memories couldn’t hurt either – two things in which DeRo tends to specialize. If he can provide a couple moments of brilliance and D.C. keep winning, be prepared for last year’s winner to make it two straight.


A strong second half away from being in the conversation: Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, Chris Pontius, Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Will Bruin

Dark horses: Dax McCarty*, Danny Koevermans, Patrice Bernier, Andy Gruenebaum

* Check out The Sideline on Thursday for a breakdown of McCarty’s magnificent season for New York thus far.