LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring a PK vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — Sept. 29, 2018
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Wiebe: Zlatan couldn't really beat Josef to MLS MVP, could he? Could he?

It’s campaign season in Major League Soccer. Somebody’s gotta win individual awards, and it might as well be your guy. Or so I’ve learned from AT&T Goal of the Week voting.

There’s nobody I’d rather have in my corner this time of year than Brendan Hannan, the LA Galaxy’s VP of marketing, communications and digital or, as he might put it, guy in charge of slinging soccer and domestic tallboys.

This ain’t his first rodeo. Watch him plant the seed.

“Yeah, but nahhhhhhhhh,” went the replies. That’s Josef Martinez’s hardware. Been that way since Atlanta United's marksman set a new single-season goal record all the way back in August, an accomplishment so absurd nobody even talks about it anymore. Best stats + team in the league = MVP. Besides, “Zlatan for MVP!” is what Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hype man is supposed to say.

Full disclosure: My top three is currently 1) Josef Martinez 2) Bradley Wright-Phillips and 3) a battle royale between Ibrahimovic, Lucho Acosta and Ignacio Piatti, depending on production and playoff status.

And yet here we are talking about it – damn your mind games, Brendan – because there’s a not-that-far-fetched scenario in which Zlatan could win this thing. Hear me out.

Zlatan’s got 20 goals to date; that’s good for second in MLS to you-know-who. He’s got nine assists, and with 29 total goals created (assists + goals) trails, once again, only Martinez (35). Meanwhile, Wright-Phillips’ only chance at the award comes via the Supporters’ Shield. If the New York Red Bulls win it with BWP leading the way, voters might be swayed, but alas, it’s probably Dos Nueves’ destiny to remain chronically underappreciated.

Voters tend to be swayed by three things: stats, publicity and reputation. What I’m saying is only one man stands a chance of knocking Martinez off his perch, and that’s Zlatan.

Now the obvious caveat, which is that the Galaxy must make the playoffs for the big Swede to have any chance of winning the Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award. There will be no repeat of 2011, when Dwayne De Rosario played for three teams and won it on a D.C. United team that failed to make the postseason.

So LA have to make the playoffs, and in order to do so, they’ll almost certainly need to win their final three games. And if they win out, it’s a near certainty that Zlatan will play a starring role (circle the Oct. 21 game in Minnesota on turf). And if Zlatan plays a starring role, why can’t he finish with, let’s say for the sake of argument, 24 goals and 12 assists?

Let’s also say, again for the sake of argument, that the Red Bulls win the Supporters’ Shield and Martinez’s relative cold streak continues (2 goals in his last five games) and the Venezuelan finishes with 31 goals and five assists. All of a sudden, their stats wouldn’t be quite so disparate, and Zlatan would be riding the sort of ever-growing wave of headlines and public appearances that only he can muster.

He’d have the raw numbers, the publicity and the reputation to do something audacious. You could make arguments like these, which come straight from the mouth of MLS take machine/MLS Digital studios do-it-all Anders Aarhus and aren’t without merit, depending on the eye of the beholder, maybe more specifically voter:

  • Zlatan is more valuable to his team than Josef. If you took Martinez off Atlanta United and replaced him with someone like Cory Burke, Atlanta still finishes top-three in the East and Burke probably bangs in 15-20 goals.
  • Josef has scored 30 goals, but his xG totals tell us that’s right about where he should be. Atlanta is a very, very good team already and Josef is able to thrive within that, which is not trying to take away from how good he is. He’s very, very good.
  • We’ve seen what the Galaxy are if you take Zlatan away: the borderline worst team in the league. The only reason they’re anywhere near the playoffs is because he’s dragging them there.
  • Think about games like the first El Trafico and the 4-3 win over Orlando City on July 29. Those were situations where Zlatan was literally winning the game by himself. He’s also scoring at basically the same goals-per-90 clip as Josef and has more assists.
  • We vote MVP on who had the best combination of statistical and narrative season, so Josef is going to win, and that’s fine. He deserves it based on the way the award has always been voted. But if we’re trying to pick who’s “most valuable” to their team? It’s Zlatan, hands down.

You’re telling me voters couldn’t find a way to look past Martinez for Zlatan in the little universe I’ve concocted? You’ve got another thing coming, especially because the Galaxy will be filling up Twitter timelines and other assorted digital media platforms with content like this…

Here’s Zlatan getting asked about his MVP chances in a media scrum following a pair of 3-0 wins that revived the Galaxy’s once-dormant postseason hopes. You can read his answer – scroll down for the quote – or you could watch it. I’d recommend throwing on headphones. Per usual with Zlatan, the delivery makes it.

“That for me is just extra bonus. I think I am bigger than all MLS,” he said. “It is not my main focus. I don’t want it if we don’t win the whole thing. I prefer my team to come in the playoffs, win the big trophy and whatever after that is just a bonus.”

MLS Cup and the MVP award, just a bonus in Zlatan’s world. He’ll probably get neither, but who’s to say he won’t get both?