Alecko Eskandarian has had a breakout season for D.C. United.
Rafael Suanes/MLS/

First XI: The debates

and most likely the performance that propelled the Crew to the Eastern Conference title. However, truth be told, it has not been a great year for Buddle all in all ... and an MVP needs to be great. Read on, Crew fans, before you start sending your hate mail. You guys need to get over the inferiority complex. You're good. Very good. And just because I thought Chicago would give you problems in the two-game series, it does not mean that I do not think you (and Edson Buddle) are very, very good.

10. Diego Gutierrez. The Wizards also need to throw some names into the ring. Gutierrez has scored three goals, all game-winners, and we all know that goals are not Diego's game. He's a ball-hawk. A competitor. A winner. Watching the Wizards scrap out a tie at The Home Depot Center last weekend, you could not help but notice Gutierrez making one last steal of the ball, and one last run upfield as the Wizards entertained thoughts of winning the game in injury time. Long ago, I pushed Gutierrez for the U.S. national team and he got a brief look. Guess he's going to have to be the defensive-midfield version of Jason Kreis. But let's not forget, Kreis has an MVP trophy on his mantle.

9. Robin Fraser. Always one of my favorite MLS players. A classy, hard-working leader who's been bounced around the league the last few years. He was traded out of L.A. before he could get a ring there. He fell out of favor in Colorado. Some suggested he should retire before making his way to Columbus. Well, guess what? Fraser's a fixture (26 games, all starts) on a backline that hasn't lost a game since June 26. Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon's going to get his props here in a while, but think about it. Fraser is the best defensive player on the team with the most points (on average) in the league.

8. Davy Arnaud/Josh Wolff. Go ahead, pick one or the other. They basically have the same numbers. Nine goals. They bring speed and tenacity to the Wizards attack, and both are also pretty fair finishers. Given the Wizards' counter-attacking style, these guys are the perfect tandem for a team that's got one title and is looking to make it two.

7. Carlos Ruiz. I find it funny when people say things like, "Where would Colorado be without Joe Cannon?" I mean, it's a valid point -- but apply it across the board with all of my MVP candidates. (Hey, where would the MetroStars be without John Wolyniec? Where would the Quakes be without Brian Ching? The Burn without Eddie Johnson? The Revs without Pat Noonan? The Fire without Damani Ralph? None of them, by the way, make this list) So, where would L.A. be this year without Ruiz? Even in an off year this guy gets 11 goals. And last time I checked, the Galaxy and Rapids were, basically, having the same season, give or take a point or two. Call this guy a perennial.

6. Jon Busch. His GAA is 1.11 to Cannon's 1.07. Certainly, Busch deserves a lot of credit for preserving 11 ties for Columbus. I know, Cannon's faced a lot more shots, made a lot more saves, but (again) in a league so tight, we need to give the nod to the players who've performed on the better teams. Busch, as we all know, is the classic overachiever, the former A-Leaguer, the guy who's supposedly too small for the position. Well, this year, he's also the 'keeper with the most positive results in the league.

5. Amado Guevara. The favorite has faded down the stretch. An untimely second yellow in the home tie with Columbus combined with call-ups to Honduras for World Cup qualifiers has derailed what looked to be a sure-fire MVP season for El Lobo. Guevara had a chance to stake his claim to the prize last weekend, when he stripped Ezra Hendrickson and walked in on Nick Rimando with John Wolyniec at his side. A goal or assist there and Guevara might have jumped back into the lead for the award. Instead, he shot too soon, Rimando made an easy save and the Metros would never sniff the goal again in a home loss to D.C. Unless Amado does something huge in the Metros final game of the season, at RFK in two weeks, he can kiss the award goodbye for this season.

4. Alecko Eskandarian. He has 10 goals, five game-winners, for a team that's making a run now at a second-place finish in the East. It's been a bust-out year for Esky, who has a wonderful sense of timing on D.C.'s swift counters. This Peter Nowak-coached United squad is really going to be a tough out in these playoffs. In their 1-0 win against the MetroStars on Saturday they effectively killed off 89 minutes of the game, managing to turn a free-kick scramble and deflected shot into the only offensive play that mattered. And they did it without Esky. With Eskandarian and MVP Candidate No. 2 back in the lineup for the postseason, DCU could win a lot more of those 1-0 affairs.

3. Joe Cannon. The Rapids have 40 points and have scored less than a goal per game. Look no further than Cannon, who's been miraculous. More shutouts and more saves than anyone in the league. He's also stopped two of the last three penalties he's faced. Still, runner-up is nothing to be ashamed of and, besides, they have an award for Goalkeeper of the Year already.

2. Jaime Moreno. The ultimate "where would they be without him?" player in MLS this year. His seven goals and league-best 13 assists have been huge for United. But, more than the numbers, Moreno (who looked ready to hang up his boots) is back to being the craftiest forward in MLS, a guy who wrong-foots more defenders than anyone, who makes passes on the run that no one else in the league can even imagine. If he can overcome this latest injury, Moreno could be just the man to lead D.C. back to the top.

1. Return visit to the Waffle House. So, who'd I pick last week? Kansas City over Chicago? Hmmm. The Fire, even without Chris Armas, put up three in C-bus. Still, if the totally depleted Fire cannot take at least a point from the Crew tomorrow night at Soldier Field, they may not even make the playoffs (they'll need a tie in the season finale at Foxboro if they lose Wednesday night's game). The Wizards have that fighting spirit you like to see in a champion. And I guess it's time to appease the C-bus fans. K.C.-Columbus is my pick for the MLS Cup. This week, anyway.

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