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MLS assist leader Sacha Kljestan stumps for Bradley Wright-Phillips as MVP

HANOVER, N.J. – Bradley Wright-Phillips has the full backing of teammate Sacha Kljestan for 2016 MLS MVP, even as Kljestan is himself a candidate for the award after his own spectacular season.

At the midpoint of the season Kljestan began to generate some MVP talk of his own. In turn his sterling performances in MLS saw him return to the US national team this fall, where he turned in several solid performances. There is still plenty of chatter around the league about Kljestan’s MVP candidacy -- he recorded a league-high 20 assists this season -- but his own pick for the league’s top individual honor has changed.

This election season the player nicknamed "The Stache" for his distinctive facial hair has now endorsed Wright-Phillips, who finished the regular season with 24 goals, most in MLS. It is the second time in three seasons that Wright-Phillips has won the MLS Golden Boot.

“Halfway through the season I said [Toronto FC's Sebastian] Giovinco was the guy who was running away with it. I think he’s slowed down a bit, obviously he had a little bit of a drought towards the summer and then he had some injuries which were unfortunate for him. Obviously, he still puts up some amazing statistical numbers. [NYCFC's] David Villa the same,” Kljestan said on Wednesday.

“But for me, personally, if I had to choose, I’d vote for Bradley Wright-Phillips. He led the league in scoring, he was hugely important for us in more ways than just getting goals. And the work he’s done every day, I think he’s the MVP.”

Now with CONCACAF World Cup qualifying next month, Kljestan appears to have a good shot to be selected for two crucial matches against Mexico and at Costa Rica to open the Hexagonal round. The 31-year old, who joined the Red Bulls from Belgian giants Anderlecht before the start of the 2015 season, is arguably playing the best soccer of his life.

“I don’t really think about that. I’m just trying to do my best every day. I know that I am one of the better No. 10s in the league. I watch a lot of the games, I don’t want to talk myself up too much,” Kljestan said. “But if you look from a pure statistical [perspective] and how many games we’ve won over the last two years, I know I am one of the best and I know I’ve been playing at a very high level.”

Kljestan finished the regular season with the league lead in assists, with 20, following a 2-0 win at the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.

It is just the second time in league history that a player has broken the 20-assist barrier, dating back to 2000 when Colombian superstar Carlos Valderrama had 26 assists.

“It’s special to get the 20 because no one else has gotten to 20 since Valderrama some years ago,” Kljestan said. “I like historical things like that; I’ve always watched the league since I was a kid, Valderrama was a guy I looked up to.”