Fans of Major League Soccer have voiced their opinions and selected Carlos Ruiz's 2002 season as the all-time best MVP performance. Twenty-six percent of respondents to the 10th season celebratory poll on MLSnet.com cast votes for the Guatemalan international, whose 24 goals led the Los Angeles Galaxy to their first-ever MLS Cup championship that year.
The race was a tight one, as a spectacular season for Jason Kreis at the Dallas Burn in 1999 garnered enough votes to claim second prize. The all-time leader in MLS goals with 95, Kreis notched 18 in his fourth season at the Cotton Bowl, but Ruiz edged the Texas native by a slim margin of only four percentage points.
Ruiz was seemingly unstoppable in 2002 when he led the league in goals and game-winning goals with nine, setting a new MLS record. As good as he was in the regular season, Ruiz was even better in the MLS Cup playoffs, scoring eight goals in six games to send the Galaxy to glory. He scored the only goal of the game in both the Conference Championship and MLS Cup, the latter in front of over 61,000 fans who saw his overtime strike defeat the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Ruiz ran through defenses in his first MLS season, earning MLS Player of the Week honors on three occasions and snagging the monthly award in both April and July.
The second runner-up was D.C. United legend Marco Etcheverry. The Bolivian playmaker had his highest career offensive output in 1998 in his third season under coach Bruce Arena with 10 goals and 19 assists. 'El Diablo' earned 14 percent of the total vote for his efforts that year, which marked United's third consecutive MLS Cup appearance, though they lost the championship match to the expansion Chicago Fire, that club's only league title.
The leader of another team that has won a single MLS Cup - the Kansas City Wizards - earned fourth place in the poll. Tony Meola helped Bob Gansler's side become one of the best defensive units ever seen in MLS and 148 voters thought his 2000 season was tops. Rounding out the top five was another Wizards honoree, Preki. He won the MVP award at the age of 40 in 2003 by scoring 12 goals and adding 17 assists.
Other players receiving votes were Amado Guevara (2004 MetroStars), Carlos Valderrama (1996 Tampa Bay Mutiny) and Alex Pineda Chacon (2001 Miami Fusion). Preki's first MVP award in 1997 brought up the rear with two percent of the total vote.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.