With three weeks left in the regular season, the race for the MLS MVP award is tightening and players have limited opportunity to make their case. Here is a look at the top contenders for the honor. (All photos by USA Today Sports Images.)
Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Sebastian Giovinco has been bitten by the injury bug lately, sitting out the past four games for Toronto FC, and there was that goal-scoring drought over the summer where he hadn’t found the back of the net in eight straight starts. But it’s hard to argue against the impact he has had for TFC. He won the MVP award last year, thanks to 22 goals and 16 assists, and he’s not too far from that total now. With three games left in Toronto’s season, he has 16 goals and 13 assists, which makes it unlikely he will match last year’s heroics, but you can’t rule the Italian international out. Despite a roster with the likes of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, Giovinco has been Toronto’s most important player and a key reason they sit atop the Eastern Conference.
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David Villa, New York City FC
It’s not so much Villa’s conversion rate that makes him a great striker. His speed and high workrate make him a constant threat, and he always seems to get himself in a position to score. His chance creation is excellent. That’s why Villa has 19 goals and three assists, and he has been the clear focal point of NYCFC’s attack all year. Villa can’t necessarily carry NYCFC all by himself, as evidenced by his strong season last year when the team still missed playoffs, but he has been responsible for the bulk of the production on an improved team, which is why he has led them into a comfortable playoff position.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
The New York Red Bulls had an abysmal start to their season, losing six of their first seven games. But as soon as Bradley Wright-Phillips started finding the back of the net, the tide turned quickly. He and the Red Bulls have largely been on a roll since that eighth game of the season, and he has a stunning 20 goals and five assists this year with three games left to play. Lest anyone think his goal tally is padded by penalty kicks: He hasn’t scored a single penalty all year. As far as strikers are considered, Wright-Phillips’ finishing is top notch and he is the first to have two 20-plus goal seasons in MLS history. The Red Bulls sits comfortably into the playoffs at No. 2 in the Eastern Conference standings and they can thank Wright-Phillips for it.
Sacha Kljestan, New York Red Bulls
Scoring goals is one thing, but someone needs to set up those chances. For Bradley Wright-Phillips and the New York Red Bulls, often that person has been Sacha Kljestan, who is the maestro of the midfield. Kljestan has a league-high 16 assists, plus five goals. Just as New York’s fortune turned around with Wright-Phillips goals, so too did they with Kljestan’s assists. What makes the midfielder a strong MVP candidate is not just his stats, but the work he does off the ball at finding space and creating opportunities for the players around him. His vision is a big reason why the Red Bulls score goals and a big reason he’s on this list.
Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas
The beauty of the league-leading FC Dallas is that they aren’t built around a single player and they have quality depth from the Designated Players spots down to the Homegrown Players. But Mauro Diaz has often acted as a lynchpin that ensures everyone can contribute in the attack. His 11 assists puts him in the league’s top five, and his five goals don’t hurt. The Argentine may be a bit of a long shot to get the award, but he’s been perhaps the most impactful player on FC Dallas, a team that just so happens to be the best team in the league.
Giovani Dos Santos, LA Galaxy
With 14 goals and 12 assists in a season where the LA Galaxy have had some unexpected bumps along the way in the form of injuries and transfers, Dos Santos has often provided the spark the Galaxy have needed. It’s tough to stand out on the Galaxy when they have players like Robbie Keane (10 goals, 2 assists), Gyasi Zardes (6 goals, 5 assists) and Steven Gerrard (3 goals, 11 assists), but Dos Santos has been the most reliable player in helping generate chances, which has a gone a long way in keeping the Galaxy above the red line all season. He’s probably not a likely MVP winner, but if he finishes the season strong, he could push for it.
Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact
At 15 goals and six assists, Piatti has been Montreal’s best player and one of the league’s most thrilling playmakers. His ability to connect passes at full speed up the field and his penchant for using dribbling flair to shake off defenders make him an MLS standout, and he's single-handedly sparked the Impact attack when they’ve needed it. Nacho, as he is known, has the selfishness of a striker and the vision of a playmaker, which makes him a dynamic threat and a viable MVP candidate. He does look like a longshot for the top individual award in MLS, but he’s got three games left in the regular season to make an impact.
Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers
The Argentine maestro looks like a longshot as the Portland Timbers have had their struggles and could still miss playoffs. But it would be hard to argue there is a better, more important player on the Timbers than him, and there are few better playmakers in MLS than him, too. As the Timbers have morphed into more of a counterattacking team, Valeri has shown he is excellent on the break at finding gaps to push through. With 13 goals and seven assists, Valeri is the one who is usually leading the attack and pulling the strings for Portland and as Valeri goes, so too do the Timbers.