You know the usual suspects. Until someone knocks Bradley Wright-Phillips, David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco off their perch atop the MLS goalscoring charts, the 2017 MLS Golden Boot goes through three guys who've combined for 121 goals over the past two years.
Logic tells us that. Logic is no fun. Maybe I've been watching too many MLS Preseason games – goals in February are definitely a predictor for the regular season, right?! – but the emotional side of my MLS brain tells me 2017 is going to usher in a new goal king.
Since no Golden Boot winner has scored fewer than 22 goals since 2011, when Dwayne De Rosario took the honors with 16 split between Toronto FC, the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United, the potential to score 20-plus is the bare minimum for consideration. That means only a select group of MLS strikers need apply.
Outside of the big three, players like Ignacio Piatti ("Fullback's worst nightmare"), Gyasi Zardes ("Finally back up top and ready to feast"), Dom Dwyer ("Wing help has arrived in Kansas City"), Cyle Larin ("The Great Canadian Hope") and maybe even Patrick Mullins ("The Armchair Analyst's latest domestic No. 9 crush") all come to mind.
That group could do it, but they won't, if you ask me. Since we're squarely in MLS predictions (guessing) season, I'm putting this down on paper so I can gloat come the end of October. MLS's new goal king will come from this list of names, from least to most likely:
Josef Martinez – Atlanta United
Unless you've been plugged in to the Venezuelan national team or Serie A, this one may come as a surprise. Josef Martinez isn't a household name on these shores, though he had a solid Copa America Centenario last summer. But the 23-year-old Designated Player (on loan from Torino) appears primed for the sort of breakout season that could launch his career to new heights.
He's got five goals in 2018 World Cup qualifying for La Vinotinto – yes, three came against last-place Bolivia, but he also found the net against Argentina and Ecuador – and four in three preseason games for a potentially explosive Atlanta United side. I know it's not the most convincing case, especially since Martinez's club goalscoring record is spotty, but I'm betting he'll finally get a run as a full-time starter under Tata Martino.
It doesn't hurt that he makes finishing look so damn casual.
Disagree? Send your complaints to my good friend in Dallas.
Jozy Altidore – Toronto FC
Jozy Altidore would be higher on this list if his health – the body part shall not be named – wasn't still somewhat of a question mark. Toronto believe they've solved the US international's biomechanics, but it's still a wait-and-see situation until Altidore proves he can stay on the field for a full MLS season, one that will include breaks for World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup in 2017. It goes without saying that that isn't guaranteed.
It may not matter. In Toronto's final 20 games, including a run to MLS Cup, Altidore scored 15 goals. He made it look easy. In fact, he was damn-near unstoppable and would have scored the goal that delivered a Cup to Toronto if not for some Stefan Frei acrobatics. And that was with Giovinco mostly beat up and without Victor Vazquez, the TAM midfielder brought in this week to help create chances in front of Michael Bradley.
The case is this: Altidore is in his prime at 27 years old, is a proven MLS goalscorer (when healthy), may be the most physically dominant striker in MLS and plays for arguably the best team in the league, one which will field even more attacking talent this year. If healthy, it's not inconceivable to think he could hit the 25-goal mark.
Fanendo Adi – Portland Timbers
The Nigerian has scored 16 goals in back-to-back campaigns, and I expect him to take that number over 20 in 2017 with Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Darlington Nabge behind him occupying defenses, running off his knock downs and providing the sort of service that fuels Golden Boot seasons.
Unlike Martinez, Adi is a proven MLS goalscorer. Unlike Altidore, we know his body can stand up to the rigors of a full MLS season – it helps he doesn't have international duty adding extra miles to his load. Unlike last year, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter appears committed to playing on the front foot, in large part thanks to a few offseason additions.
The only thing liable to hold Adi back is the fact that Valeri will, in all likelihood, take the penalty kicks. Of course, that didn't seem to hold BWP back last season.
Ola Kamara – Columbus Crew SC
Newcomer of the Year runner-up Ola Kamara is a pure finisher, and the 16 goals he scored in 1,859 minutes last year for a mediocre Columbus Crew SC side tell me he's just getting started in MLS. Raise your hand (or claim credit in the comment section) if you thought Wright-Phillips was a Golden Boot threat three years ago. Three years later, the Red Bulls man has two Boots and an MLS-record 68 goals in that span.
I'm not saying Kamara is going to go out and bag 27 this year. But he definitely has 20-plus goal potential, especially if he holds on to the penalty duties that helped run Kei Kamara out of town and opened up a place for him in the starting lineup. Columbus went out and beefed up the roster, but I think Kamara's Golden Boot chances rest on incumbents Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain.
If Finlay and Higuain can return to their 2015 form, Meram's 2016 assist rate (13, tied for third) holds and Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful get back to pumping in service from wide areas, I see no reason why Ola can't do what Kei did before him and make a real run at the Golden Boot.
In fact, why not double down? You heard it here first: Ola Kamara will be your 2017 winner.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know who you think will win the MLS Golden Boot in 2017.