Tear up your spreadsheets. Throw your hand-written predictions in the wastebasket. Do other things nobody has said since the early 2000s. A little more than an hour into the 2020 season, all the math changed. Josef Martinez’s torn right ACL turned the league upside down.
In honor of Matt Doyle’s Tiers of MLS column, which is itself an ode to Zach Lowe’s NBA version of the very same thing, here are my Lowe/Doyle-inspired Tiers of the 2020 Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player award.
TIER I: BET IT ALL ON…
Defending Landon Donovan MLS MVP. Still on the best team. Still the best player. Still making magic look effortless. Vela's the favorite, and now prohibitively so.
TIER II: KNOWN MVP QUANTITIES ON TOP TEAMS
If the Spaniard has a healthy Jozy Altidore (more on that later) to play off of, the sky's the limit, both personally and for Toronto FC. Pozuelo went for 12 and 12 last year on zero rest from a full season in Belgium and without his best striker for months at a time. He’d be No. 2 on my list, if I had to set the odds.
Chicharito has the name value, but Pavon will have more “Oh #%@&, did you see that?” moments throughout the year for LA. Four goals and eight assists in 13 games last year, including the playoffs, says a lot. What can he do when he’s settled? We’re about to find out, and he’s already answered with a rocket against the Houston Dynamo.
In most MLS seasons before 2015, seven goals and 20 assists would be a runaway MVP season. The league is different, but Moralez could easily repeat 2019 this year for NYCFC. Very little has changed about the players around him. If anything, Heber looks poised for a dominant season inside the 18-yard box. I don’t think the diminutive Argentine will win, but he’ll be in the conversation.
I put Lodeiro here because it’d be disrespectful to put him in another tier. The lingering tendinitis concerns me, and there’s a real possibility he could miss a handful of games in the summer for Copa America and need some time to recover after the tournament. He may not have the minutes to get here. But if he does, Seattle will be a Supporters’ Shield contender and he’ll be their best player. Same old same old.
TIER III: BEST PLAYER ON ABOVE AVERAGE TEAMS
I’m going there. Narratives matter when it comes to award season.
Pity was just starting to show a dominant side when Josef Martinez went down. He was finally creating and scoring the sort of goals you expect from a South American Player of the Year. Pity was speaking in the third person, and it felt like he deserved to do it.
Problem is, most of those moments came playing off Josef. Can the league’s record signing handle the mantel that his teammate bore without complaint for three years? Atlanta’s season depends on it, and if Pity drags them to the top of the Eastern Conference, he’ll have an MVP case.
There’s a window for the Crew to make a massive jump in the Eastern Conference. Zelarayan dragged them through it in Week 1 via a piece of individual brilliance. More moments like that, more three-point days and perhaps he can join Crew all-time great (and current LA Galaxy coach) Guillermo Barros Schelotto at the individual pinnacle of the league.
Gustavo Bou/Carles Gil
I can’t pick. Gil is more influential overall. I think Bou will be more productive, perhaps even chase a Golden Boot presented by Audi. Flip a coin. No matter where it lands, the New England Revolution duo probably won’t get consideration. Can’t split the vote and hope to win MVP.
This is a reach. Pizarro is realistically more of a darkhorse, and Miami are not yet an above average team, though they could turn out to be. The case here is pretty simple: beautiful man with beautiful hair adds beautiful goals and assists to his game and pushes his way into the El Tri starting lineup.
TIER IV: GOALSCORERS ON GOOD TEAMS
What’s the case for these guys? Goals, more than anybody else in the league. If you win a Golden Boot, you’ve got a good chance to also win MVP. Don’t read into the order.
- Alan Pulido – They don’t need to be pretty. They just need to go in the back of the net.
- Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez – Service, he needs it.
- Luis Amarilla – One down, 24 more to go!
- Mauro Manotas
- Ola Kamara
- Raul Ruidiaz
TIER V: DARKHORSES
Darkhorse might not even be the right category for Morris. He might be the Sounders’ best player in 2020, depending on Lodeiro’s fitness and Ruidiaz’s national team commitments. He’s been a monster for club and country since returning from that ACL tear, a matchup nightmare anywhere on the field who finishes plays in the final third.
Credit goes to David Gass, who already had this take on Extratime driven by Continental.
This is me avoiding the ire of Red Bulls Twitter.
TIER VI: IF THEY PLAY 2,500 MINUTES…
I took Altidore’s Toronto FC goal and assist averages per 90 minutes (regular season and playoffs) then extrapolated that out to 29 starts, averaging 85 minutes per match and three 20-minute substitute appearances (2,525 minutes played). Here’s his 2020 line: 18 goals and six assists. Probably not enough, huh? What about 22 and 10? With a full season with Pozuelo, anything is possible … if he stays healthy.
Let’s say Pomykal takes a Tyler Adams-esque jump. He’s often the best player on the field, and you can’t forget it because the mustache marketing is a genius touch. Not only that, Pomykal adds 15 combined goals and assists as FC Dallas finish in the top three out West AND he helps the United States qualify and medal at the Olympics! OK, now I’m just dreaming.
TIER ?: WON’T WIN BECAUSE THEY’RE DEFENDERS
I leap out of the DeLorean, trembling from the journey and gasping for breath. We lock eyes. “Nashville SC made the playoffs and Zimmerman is their leading scorer,” I say, knowing you, like all the others, won’t believe me. You don’t, for obvious reasons. But it’s true! And in this wrinkle in time, Zimmerman gets votes, but still doesn’t win because he is a defender.
Is Figal a center back? Is he the 2020 MLS version of Franz Beckenbauer? The libero is back, and it’s sexy because it’s Miami! The Argentine looks like he might defend and attack in equal measure from central defense. But even if he became El Emperor, he’s still a defender, so he won’t win.
Last year, Carlos Vela rendered it impossible for anyone else to even consider mounting a viable MVP candidacy. This year, with one dominant attacking player off the board, a door could be opened for Minnesota’s MVP, but Opara wouldn’t get the votes to walk through it because he is a defender.