Statistics can speak truth and at the same time misguide the masses. They can provide understanding to the greater story and support impressive claims. However, in soccer simply reviewing the leader board at the end of the season does not convey the whole story. And in the case of the 2013 MLS MVP race the goal tally alone fails to give life to one of the most fascinating narratives in years.
In the 18-year history of Major League Soccer, seven Golden Boot winners have parlayed their goal prize into an MVP. Playmakers have a slightly better recognition as those in the top three in assists earned the MVP award eight times. Aside from Landon Donovan in 2009, every MVP won either the Golden Boot, finished top three in assist, and/or won the Supporters’ Shield. Depending on this final week, we might be revisiting 2009.
Regardless of where Mike Magee will end in the final goal tally, his transformation to All-Star and the Chicago Fire savior is a season long arc. His story started in a Galaxy kit playing his current and hometown club, Chicago. Not yet “Magic”, Mike’s role was to fill the void at forward, left by Landon Donovan, who was doing anything but playing soccer while on sabbatical many oceans away. There is nothing like a hat trick in the season opener to ping the league’s collective radar.
Around the time of Donovan’s return and Magee’s new role as winger, the Montreal Impact, with a coach imported from Switzerland and a veteran core from Serie A, unexpectedly shot to the top of table. The weekend Magee officially became a Fire, Marco Di Vaio became the sole owner of the goal lead with a hat trick against Philly. It capped a nine goal in nine game run. With the best record in the league and individually with the most goals, clearly it’s was Di Vaio’s season. Did anyone believe the then 36-year old Di Vaio could run away with the Supporters’ Shield, Golden Boot and the single season offside record? Of course not, few probably notice what happens in the strange land east of the Cascadia and north of Chicago.
Instead, the forward on the opposing side of the Montreal – Philadelphia match received all the press. The Generation Adidas alumni, Jack McInerney won the April and May Player of the Month awards with seven goals over the span. He even got a call up to the US Men National Team Gold Cup squad. The call up was the peak of Jack Mc’s season, he did not see a minute of playing time in the Gold Cup, and followed it up by a four-month-long goalless streak. In hindsight, seven-goals against Columbus, Toronto, DC, Chicago (pre-Magee), and Montreal is less impressive and more expected.
Over the summer the momentum for Magee as MVP built up on the back of the Chicago turnaround. In his first five games, he scored four goals, leading to four wins and one draw, earning “Magic” Mike the June Player of the Month. The comparisons to the Dwayne De Rosario 2011 MVP season began. It is a point of reference that drove his MVP campaign through the summer, however, always with the caveat “if the Fire make the playoffs.” Perhaps, there should be another option, this time of the playmaking variety.
It is unclear when exactly the league wide love affair with Porter-ball started: possession driven, triangular passing, high pressing. All phases associated with the beautiful game. By the end of the summer Porter-ball had proven successful enough and the main maestro deserved acclaim, Diego Valeri. From the end of July through September, he has impressed with twelve points (4 goals & 8 assists) in eleven games. Best playmaker on one of the most exciting teams is a natural candidate. However, it was a match in which Valeri did not start, in early October that launched another candidate in the conversation.
Hovering near the top of the Golden Boot race since the summer Camilo and Vancouver were larking but never a serious contender. He did not have the story of Mike Magee or the history of Di Vaio, and the Caps are the other Cascadian and the other Canadian team. At home against Portland on Sunday night Camilo had his moment. On his second goal of the game and eighteenth of the season, he produced a scissor kick goal that’s the likely goal of the year. Anyone watching that match made Vancouver the must stream team during the final month of the season. Unfortunately, the wizardry from Camilo and Kekuta Manneh during the month of October was not enough for club to earn a playoff spot.
With a single week remaining in the season is there are some surprise candidates in the mix. Donovan Ricketts has goalkeeper of the year locked up with 13 shutouts, 1.00 GAA, saves 72% of shots, and only has five losses with a team starting their backup center backs for most of the season. If the Red Bulls win the Supporters’ Shield, does the best player, on the best team, deserve honorable mention? Tim Cahill is the scoring and emotional leader of New York, but he missed seven games and lacks gaudy numbers. Similar points could be made about Robbie Keane’s season, fifteen goals, eleven assist but he missed nine games…
Wait 15G, 11A in 22 games.
Is the final chapter of this story written or will the final match of the season decide the winner? What if Chicago misses the playoffs and Portland fails to win the Shield? In front of a national attendance and 60,000 road fans, if Keane can add to his goal and assist total is that enough to change some voters long handle beliefs? Is twenty-six goals and assists in twenty-two games stronger than the story of the journeyman turned All-Star, savior and potential Golden Boot winner? Which story will the trophy tell years from now?
This week’s Throw Ins:
- What a weird and exciting week. The new MLS playoff tiebreakers forced almost every team to go for the win. Of the twenty goals scored this weekend, fourteen came in the second half. Unfortunately, of the four best games only one got a national audience (SJ@LA). If you don’t have MLS live stream or a non-infectious internet feed, you had to get your Saturday afternoon soccer fix with Dallas – Seattle rather than the more meaningful and entertaining six-pointer between Montreal – Philly… oh burn.
- It’s all but certain that Orlando City SC will be the 21st MLS franchise. I was hoping to see them in the league before a less proved market. For a quick breakdown head to Washington Post Soccer Insider blog, a more detailed analysis check out the Sporting News, and if you want to skip sport-centric coverage and get the fiscal impact visit Field of Schemes.
- The Socceryanks Podcast was suppose to be MLS focused (and guest starting me!) but things happen. People got married (congratulations Dave) and lives gots in the way (fingers pointed at Dan and me). I hope that we can get around to a playoff pod, so I can mail it in that week…
About the author:
Jay’s first memory of professional soccer was watching a flaming haired pirate in a blue shirt with white stars menace a golden shirt lion on the field of roses. Since then, he has followed the game from the cradle of US soccer, Northern Jersey. Tracking the progress of the sport in the states through the international team and Major League Soccer he has become a student of tactical football, the business of sports and the cultural impact of the game. Jay enjoys the view from the ivory tower but is not afraid to be in arm’s length of the ultras in the South Ward. You can follow Jay on Twitter@rescindedred.