If the playoff picture gets tightened any further, the frame is going to crack.
In the East, there are only three points separating first place from fifth place, and West leaders Real Salt Lake are just five clear of fifth-place Vancouver. With nine rounds to play, 16 of the league’s 19 teams still have realistic playoff hopes.
These are the days, as we said last week, that team leaders need to make a difference. And for the second week in a row, they did just that.
Marco Di Vaio and Federico Higuaín both produced two-goal games to lead their sides to important wins. Diego Valeri set up both of Portland’s goals in a big 2-1 victory over FC Dallas, and Chris Wondolowski nabbed the game-winner in a 1-0 decision against Sporting Kansas City that kept San Jose within striking distance of the red line.
In Houston, Brad Davis assisted on two goals as Giles Barnes scored two in a 3-1 win over Seattle.
But the week belonged to LA’s Robbie Keane, who followed Landon Donovan’s hat trick of a week ago with his own three-goal game, sparking the Galaxy to a 4-2 win over Supporters’ Shield leaders Real Salt Lake, and prompting the following postgame assessment from RSL coach Jason Kreis:
“He’s a fantastic player that I would say has to go down as one of the best players this league has ever seen. It’s pretty incredible. ... He creates goals: He creates goals for himself; he creates goals for others. His movement is excellent and he’s always on the move.”
When you consider what Keane has accomplished (and is still accomplishing) in his relatively brief spell in the league, it’s hard to argue with Kreis that Keane is at least in the Top 10 of the best MLS players of all time, possibly in the Top 5.
What would a Top 10 list of the best players in league history look like? Here’s one version, culling players from all positions and using the criteria of longevity, consistency, production, titles won and “wow factor”:
10. Nick Rimando (Miami, D.C. United, Real Salt Lake, 2000–)
He’s nudging closer to Kevin Hartman, the granddaddy of MLS keepers, in appearances, and will likely take over the lead in shutouts (he’s six behind Hartman as of Monday) before he’s done. He’s a top-notch shot stopper who has won two MLS Cups, an MLS Cup MVP award and three All-Star nods.
9. Chris Armas (Los Angeles, Chicago, 1996–2007)
Armas broke into the US national team right after the 1998 World Cup, and tore his ACL on the eve of the 2002 World Cup. But hard-luck international career aside, he was the premier holding midfielder of his time in MLS, earning five Best XI selections, a Comeback Player of the Year award and reaching four MLS Cup finals, winning one.
8. Dwayne De Rosario (San Jose, Houston, Toronto, New York, D.C. United, 2001–)
DeRo has won four MLS Cups, two MLS Cup MVP awards, a Golden Boot, an MVP award and he’s been named to the MLS Best XI side six times in his storied career. Case closed.
7. Preki (Kansas City, Miami, 1996–2005)
The man born Predrag Radosavljevic is Major League Soccer’s all-time leader in points. He’s the only player in league history to have won the MVP award and the Golden Boot twice each, and he won a championship with Kansas City in 2000. Even though he was predominantly left-footed (to put it mildly) and every defender in the league knew it, Preki still routinely skinned opponents with his favored peg.
6. Eddie Pope (D.C. United, MetroStars, Real Salt Lake, 1996–2007)
Along with Jeff Agoos, Pope anchored the backline of D.C.’s early-MLS dynasty. A tremendous athlete and an unflappable presence, Pope helped United win three MLS Cup titles (scoring the winning goal in the first), as well as a CONCACAF Champions' Cup and the 1998 Interamerican Cup, in which he scored the winning goal in D.C.’s 2-1 win against Vasco da Gama.
5. Carlos Valderrama (Tampa Bay, Miami, Colorado, 1996–2002)
The league has never seen a better passer than Valderrama, whose 114 career assists are third-most in MLS history, and were compiled in only 175 games. His .66 assists per 90 minutes is tops all time, by a good margin. El Pibe never won a championship in MLS, but he did lead Tampa Bay to the inaugural Supporters’ Shield in 1996, the year he was named MVP of the league.
4. Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy, 2011–)
The only reason Keane is not higher on this list is because he’s only played parts of three seasons in the league. He’s wasted no time becoming one of the all-time greats, though, with 28 goals and 19 assists in 45 regular-season starts. He also has seven goals and two assists in 10 playoff games, and not coincidentally, two MLS Cup titles ... and counting?
3. Marco Etcheverry (D.C. United, 1996–2003)
With 101 assists and 34 goals in 191 appearances, Etcheverry led the Black-and-Red to four MLS Cup finals, three league championships, a US Open Cup and the aforementioned international crowns. He was the league MVP in 1998 and a four-time Best XI pick. Etcheverry was the creative force behind arguably the best team in league history.
2. Jaime Moreno (D.C. United, New York, 1996–2010)
He was the league’s all-time leading scorer until Jeff Cunningham surpassed him in 2011, and he was the first player in league history to top 100 in both goals and assists. He retired in 2010 with 133 goals and 102 assists. Also: four MLS Cup titles, two US Open Cup championship, four Supporters’ Shields, five Best XI selections and the CONCACAF Champions' and Interamerican Cups of 1998.
1. Landon Donovan (San Jose, Los Angeles, 2001–)
He’s four goals shy of becoming the league’s all-time leader in goals, and he’s also second all-time in assists. He’s the all-time leading scorer in the playoffs and has five MLS Cup titles, three Supporters’ Shields and six Best XI selections. LD’s hardware case also contains two MLS Cup MVP awards, a regular-season MVP trophy and a Golden Boot. And he’s not done yet…
Honorable Mention: Jeff Agoos, Osvaldo Alonso, Juan Pablo Ángel, Kyle Beckerman, David Beckham, Brian Ching, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Jimmy Conrad, Jeff Cunningham, Raúl Díaz Arce, Robin Fraser, Kevin Hartman, Frankie Hejduk, Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Clint Mathis, Brian McBride, Piotr Nowak, Jámison Olave, Steve Ralston, Donovan Ricketts, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Taylor Twellman, Chris Wondolowski.