Three for Thursday: Who is the next 20-goal scorer in MLS?

Vancouver Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks made a few ripples this week when he claimed that he could score 20 goals in the 2013 campaign. It’s a bold claim for the second-year striker – one who netted seven goals during a stop-start rookie year – but it does raise the question: Just how hard is it to score 20 goals in an MLS season?

Pretty difficult. The feat that has only been accomplished three times in the last 10 seasons – Luciano Emilio hit 20 in 2007, as did Landon Donovan in 2008, and of course there’s Chris Wondolowski's 27 in 2012. Before that, there were six 20-goal scorers between 1996 and 2002, meaning that the next player to do it will be just the 10th player in history to reach that impressive threshold.

Here are three more players that could follow the likes of Wondolowski, Donovan, Taylor Twellman and a select few others into 20-goal club in the 2013 regular season:

Will Bruin: He enjoyed a hugely successful sophomore season 2012, netting 12 league goals and another three in the playoffs as the Houston Dynamo made an MLS Cup final for the second straight year. The young forward’s improvement from a wildly inconsistent 2011 was there for all to see, and in 2013 he could be even better.

Not only will he be linking up with Brad Davis once more, he will also enjoy his first full season of play with Boniek García and Giles Barnes, midseason arrivals in 2012. The addition of Omar Cummings may deprive him of some opportunities, but it also gives the Dynamo the pace to stretch defenses, which Bruin can certainly benefit from.

After a strong national team camp, it is not a stretch to imagine a 20-goal season from Bruin and the increased USMNT chances that would follow. Plus, it would be a boon to my colleague the Armchair Analyst’s claim that the 23-year-old will net 200 career goals.

Robbie KeaneOK, so this pick isn’t all that much of a reach. Keane was quite possibly the best forward in MLS upon his return from Euro 2012 and ended the regular season with 16 goals. In fact, he passed the 20-goal threshold by adding six tallies in the Galaxy’s triumphant playoff run.

Now, there is little reason to think there’s anything to keep the Irishman from netting at least 20 goals if he can play a full season similar to the run he produced in the second half of 2012.

Apart from the perennial obstacles of injury, international duty or simply poor form, there is one question mark in a possible chase for 20 goals – Donovan’s return and subsequent form. Keane was especially lethal playing along Donovan, who assisted on eight of Keane’s 16 goals during 2012, including seven in that torrid second-half run, and added two more helpers in the playoffs. When Donovan returns in 2013, and how he plays afterwards, could have a significant impact on Keane's chase for 20 goals.

Álvaro SaboríoSabo’s fourth year with Real Salt Lake may just have been his best yet. He’s posted double-digit goals each year ever since joining ahead of the 2010 season, and netted an impressive 17 goals in 2012 despite an inconsistent RSL attack.

And despite some big changes for RSL – most notably for Saborío, the departure of Fabián Espíndola –  Jason Kreis’ side looks to have done a sound job so far bringing in players who can partner effectively with Saborío. Robbie Findley and Joao Plata just to start.

Throw in another possible addition in the attack, the return of Javier Morales and the maturation of Luis Gil, and the veteran striker could have all the tools he needs at his disposal to hit the big 2-0.