Just because you can make a case for something doesn’t mean you ought to act on it. That’s a free life lesson that applies your daily decisions as well as soccer.
For instance, I can make compelling Landon Donovan MVP cases for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Josef Martinez (get well soon, hermano) – they’re having seasons that, in any other year, would be worthy of the award – but that doesn’t mean they should get my vote. And they won’t, not this year anyway.
Carlos Vela is the rightful 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP, and any other result is malpractice on the part of voters. I shouldn’t have to make my case here, and I won’t. You watched the games. You’ve had the stats beaten over your head. Even Zlatan, the “MVP of MVPs,” says winning the award isn’t important to him … perhaps because he knows it won’t happen.
So instead of arguing about something that doesn’t deserve any more oxygen than it’s currently getting, let’s spread the MVP love around Major League Soccer. Here are five players who I think deserve some MVP-level dap for what they’ve done a level down from the Big Three.
Maxi Moralez (New York City FC)
It’s hard to compare eras, but here are some past MVP campaigns, names and year removed to prevent bias from creeping into your brain.
- Season A: 15 G, 12 A
- Season B: 10 G, 10 A
- Season C: 7 G, 19 A
- Season D: 8 G, 13 A
- Season E: 12 G, 6 A
This season, Moralez has seven goals and 20 assists, just the third to ever hit that number, for MLS’s second-best team. It’s no fluke, either. He had eight and 16 last year. He’s both second forward and No. 10. He’s the guy who makes Heber, Taty Castellanos, Alexandru Mitrita tick.
In most other years, his numbers, influence and status as the best player on MLS’s second-best team would push him into MVP consideration. Hell, he might have won the thing.
In case you were wondering about the blind seasons above, the key is below. How many did you guess?
- Season A: 2011, Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls, D.C. United)
- Season B: 2004, Amado Guevara (MetroStars)
- Season C: 2008, Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus Crew)
- Season D: 2010, David Ferreira (FC Dallas)
- Season E: 2009, Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)
Ike Opara (Minnesota United)
Opara won’t win MVP, but he doesn’t need it. He’s almost certainly going to be the Defender of the Year.
The Loons defensive improvement has been that stark – 30 fewer goals allowed so far than in 2018! – and the individual (previously mighty Sporting KC have struggled mightily without him) and collective (MNUFC were bad before and now they’re good!) narratives are sure to suck in voters. I think he deserves the honor, but I’d also urge you to give NYCFC’s Maxime Chanot a closer look. One and two in my book.
For me, Opara has been MNUFC’s MVP this season, too. Bobby Warshaw’s Chad Marshall theorem explains why I think that. Boiled down, center back is a position that can lift everyone else on a team to heights they wouldn’t have approached otherwise. They’re the foundation. It’s tough to find good center backs in MLS right now – just ask Minnesota – so it’s an opportunity for competitive advantage.
I’m not a big believer in judging defenders on statistics alone. They can tell you something, but elite defenders force their opponents to change the way they play in order to avoid their strengths. I’m more concerned with the effect players have on their own team and how that relates to defensive performance and results. Opara’s given MNUFC a measurable competitive advantage in the most important statistic: the points to make the playoffs
Haris Medunjanin (Philadelphia Union)
The question before the season started was whether Medunjanin had the legs to excel as a defensive midfielder in MLS. Turns out that question was mostly a red herring. The 34-year-old hasn’t missed a minute for Jim Curtin.
More to the point, Medunjanin doesn’t need to run and tackle that much when he’s got Jamiro Monteiro, Alejandro Bedoya and Brenden Aaronson buzzing around him. Nobody’s completed more passes (2,052) than the 34-year-old this season. In fact, nobody is even close. LAFC’s Eduard Atuesta is 163 behind.
These aren’t just sideways and backwards, either. Medunjanin leads the league in successful passes in the opponent’s half (1147). He’s fourth in successful passes ending in the final third (585). The players around him in those categories are the best attacking midfielders in MLS: Carles Gil, Alejandro Pozuelo, Nicolas Lodeiro.
Philadelphia aren’t the best possession team in MLS, but Medunjanin might just be the most effective player in possession. He accounts for 16.1 percent of the team’s completed passes, one every six or so, by far the highest percentage among the elite orchestrators around the league. The game’s flows through his feet during the Union’s best-ever season.
Carles Gil (New England Revolution)
Revs fans on Twitter aren’t happy with me right now.
That’s because, as I said on Extratime, it’s my hope that both 7-seeds are eliminated in Round 1. I’m not anti-upset and I’m not anti-Revs. It’s just that, in order to validate the playoff format and render regular-season results/home-field advantage truly meaningful, it'd be better if the second-best team in both conferences win that game.
And if they don’t, then I’ll be ready to prostrate myself on the bonfires of Twitter schadenfreude while heaping praise on Bruce Arena and his squad for a job well done.
Anyway, they say I’m a hater. I say no matter what happens New England has a bright future in front of them. Gustavo Bou is one reason why, but the biggest reason is Gil, who is having a very quiet 10-goal, 14-assist season that’s making all the “Will he get on the scoresheet?” hand-wringing from preseason seem pretty silly.
The guy is 26-years-old. He’s in his prime. Arena is only going to make this team better with more time and more resources. Right now, Vela and Pozuelo are the only others with double-digit seasons of goals and assists. Decent company.
Florian Jungwirth/Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
San Jose were historically bad last year. Matias Almeyda arrived, made very few changes to the squad and has them within striking distance of a playoff berth.
How’d Almeyda do that?
Well, there’s too much to unpack there for this column, but to start he put Jungwirth (seek-and-destroy specialist with the feet of a defensive midfielder) and Yueill (ball-spraying savant) in roles that maximized their attributes. They’ve thrived, and the Earthquakes’ fortunes, with help from plenty of other faces, have followed.
I’ll let Doyle explain to combo effect.
“The way I see it, Yueill‘s passing raised the Quakes’ ceiling, while Jungwirth’s field coverage, reading of the game and distribution raised the Quakes’ floor. And they needed that floor to be raised before they could raise the ceiling.”