Chris Wondolowski points at the sky
USA Today Sports

Which Golden Boot winner had the most valuable impact on his team?

This is a companion piece to senior writer Jeff Bradley's long-form feature "Inside the Meticulous, Manic Mind of an MLS Goalscorer.


There’s no way to talk about the best goalscorers in Major League Soccer history without taking a closer look at the prize won by nearly every one of the best finishers in the game: the Golden Boot.

Given out every year since the league’s inception in 1996, the award has changed a bit over the years – it honored total goals and assists until 2005 – but the honor of the best finisher in the league has roots all the way back to the days of “Rocket” Roy Lassiter’s 27 goals during the debut 1996 season.

In fact, eight of the top 10 goalscorers in league history have won the award at some point in their career – only Ante Razov and Edson Buddle have missed out – and Chris Wondolowski, a player on pace to crack the league's all-time top 10 at some point in the next three seasons, has won a share of the Boot or won it outright each of the past three seasons.

But who had the best Golden Boot season in league history? In honor of Jeff Bradley’s latest installment of the long-form series “The Word” covering the psyche of the goalscorer, and the Elias Sports Bureau looked at the stats of each Golden Boot winner’s season since 2000 to try and make sense of the statistics in the table below.

Player (Team) Year Goals Games W/Goal Pct. W/Goal W/O Goal
Mamadou Diallo (TB) 2000 26 30 16 57.1 12-3-1 1-8-3
Alex Pineda Chacón (MIA)* 2001 19 25 13 52.0 9-3-1 6-2-4
Carlos Ruiz (LA)* 2002 24 26 16 61.5 11-2-3 3-7-0
Carlos Ruiz (LA) 2003 15 26 12 46.1 6-3-3 3-6-5
Taylor Twellman (NE) 2003 15 23 13 56.5 6-2-5 1-5-3
Brian Ching (SJ) 2004 12 25 10 40.0 5-1-4 3-7-5
Taylor Twellman (NE)* 2005 17 25 12 48.0 8-1-3 5-4-4
Jeff Cunningham (RSL) 2006 16 31 12 38.7 8-2-2 1-11-7
Luciano Emilio (DC)* 2007 20 29 15 51.7 10-3-2 5-4-5
Landon Donovan (LA) 2008 20 25 12 48.0 5-2-5 1-9-3
Jeff Cunningham (DAL) 2009 16 28 11 39.3 8-2-1 3-10-4
Chris Wondolowski (SJ) 2010 18 28 13 46.4 10-2-1 2-7-6
Dwayne De Rosario (TOR, NY, DC)* 2011 16 30 9 30.0 3-3-3 6-6-9
Chris Wondolowski (SJ) 2011 16 30 13 43.3 4-3-6 2-8-7
Chris Wondolowski (SJ)* 2012 27 32 19 59.4 13-2-4 5-3-5

Some notes on the table:

  • Some will determine a goalscorer’s worth by the number of different games in which he scored across a season. By that rationale, Carlos Ruiz’s 2002 season with the LA Galaxy is the best in the group, since he scored at least one goal in 16 of his 26 appearances (61.5 percent) that season.
  • Others might value a team’s wins over anything else. Looking at the table we can see how each team fared when its star player scored and (perhaps more importantly) when he didn’t. By this rationale, Landon Donovan’s role with the 2008 LA Galaxy was most crucial: The team averaged just .46 points per game in the 13 matches when Donovan played but did not score, fewer than Mamadou Diallo with Tampa Bay in 2000 (.50) and Jeff Cunningham with Real Salt Lake in 2006 (.52).
  • For this table, we avoided using the goals-per-90-minutes statistic, because it has the potential to over-reward a player for multiple-goal games. A player who scores three goals in one game but fails to score in the next two games still finishes with the game goals-per-90-minutes average as a player who scores one goal in three different games. The player who scores one goal in three consecutive games gives his team a better chance to win multiple games.
  • Dwayne De Rosario’s 2011 season spent with three teams – Toronto FC, New York and D.C. United – is the anomaly of the group. He scored in just nine of his 30 appearances that season and his teams fared exactly the same when he scored or didn’t, but don’t forget that he finished with 12 assists. That’s the most of any player on the list during a Golden Boot season.
  • Not all teams were completely dependent on their top scorer. The 2001 Miami Fusion lost just twice in 13 games when Alex Pineda Chacón either didn’t score or didn’t play at all, while the 2012 San Jose Earthquakes lost four times in 15 games when Chris Wondolowski didn’t score or didn’t play.
  • Ruiz and Twellman tied for the same amount of goals scored in 2003, while De Rosario and Wondolowski did the same in 2011. Players marked with asterisk won both the Golden Boot and the league MVP.