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Opta Spotlight: Which striker owns the most-impactful goalscoring season in MLS history?

A couple weeks ago, we took a look at the best goalscoring teams in MLS history. What was found was that even though the 1998 LA Galaxy scored the most goals in a single season, the 2012 San Jose Earthquakes were actually better.

The message was clearly that not all goals are equal. In short, context is key. The obvious next step was to apply the same kind of analysis to individual players.

Below are the five best goalscoring seasons in MLS history, each viewed in a slightly different light, beginning with the record-setting seasons of Chris Wondolowski and Roy Lassiter.

RANK YEAR PLAYER GOALS
T-1 2012 Chris Wondolowski 27
T-1 1996 Roy Lassiter 27
T-3 2000 Mamadou Diallo 26
T-3 1998 Stern John 26
5 2002 Carlos Ruiz 24

Impressive tallies? No doubt, but are they really the five best seasons in terms of goalscoring impact? Scoring 27 goals over the course of a season during which teams only averaged 1.32 goals per game is far more impressive than hitting the same mark in a season that averaged 1.68. Dividing a player's goals per game average by the average goals per game per team for the season in question provides a more accurate look at the real impact of those goals.

RANK YEAR PLAYER ADJUSTED GOALSCORING RATE (MIN. 10 GOALS)
1 2012 Chris Wondolowski .64
2 2002 Carlos Ruiz .62
3 2007 Juan Pablo Ángel .60
4 2000 Mamadou Diallo .58
5 2013 Álvaro Saborío .57

Wondolowski’s 2012 season and Ruiz’s 2002 season are clearly ahead of the pack in terms of adjusted goalscoring rate. Alvaro Saborio’s 2013 season also sneaks into the top five because of his high goal per game output. However, playing in so few games did not allow him to have the same impact as some of the other players fighting to make this list. That issue can be resolved by examining the percentage of a team’s goals an individual player scored in a particular season.

RANK YEAR PLAYER PERCENTAGE OF TEAM GOALS
1 2002 Carlos Ruiz 55%
2 2010 Chris Wondolowski 53%
3 2002 Taylor Twellman 47%
4 1998 Stern John 46%
5 2010 Dwayne De Rosario 45%

Ruiz again tops the list with his 2002 season, while a Wondolowski season other than his epic 27-goal season pulls into second -- the 2012 Earthquakes scored too many goals to put that season in contention. Another way to measure a forward’s production is to count how many games he scored a goal over the course of a season.

RANK YEAR PLAYER GAMES WITH AT LEAST 1 GOAL
1 1996 Roy Lassiter 21
2 2012 Chris Wondolowski 19
3 2013 Mike Magee 18
4 2002 Taylor Twellman 17
T-5   3 Players 16

Lassiter’s 1996 season finally shows up in one of our categories and Ruiz (2002) is included as one of three seasons tied for fifth. Scoring a bundle of goals is the simplest way to win a lot of games, but making those goals the ultimate difference makers helps measure the player’s impact on a team’s success in the table.

RANK YEAR PLAYER GAME-WINNING GOALS
1 2012 Chris Wondolowski 11
T-2 2002 Carlos Ruiz 9
T-2 2010 Chris Wondolowski 9
T-4   6 Players 7

Not only does the ever-present Wondolowski have the most game winners in a particular season, he's got two in the top three. Unsurprisingly, Ruiz’s 2002 season is in the top five of all of our tables. We'll take a closer look at a player’s entire career rather than one season on Thursday.

All things considered, the most-impactful season by a striker in MLS history has to be Ruiz's season in 2002, with Wondolowski's 2012 campaign a close runner-up. In the end, the Galaxy's reliance on "El Pescadito" helps tip the scales in his favor.

Agree or disagree? Let us what you think in the comments below.