Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
This year's race for the MLS Golden Boot is congested, unclear and littered with a few surprise candidates. With about a month remaining in the 2011 MLS season, there's no better time to break down the prime contenders and see who will emerge from the pack with the most goals.
Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan currently lead the race, with each scoring 12 goals for their respective teams. They haven't been able to pull away from the pack, though, and they're followed by an eager and capable group of players.
D.C.'s Charlie Davies, Columbus' Andres Mendoza, Vancouver's Eric Hassli, San Jose's Chris Wondolowski, FC Dallas' Brek Shea, Chicago's Dominic Oduro, D.C.'s Dwayne De Rosario and Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio all are within striking range, which should make for an intriguing battle over the final weeks of the season.
Here's a closer look at the contenders for the MLS Golden Boot and their odds (completely arbitrary and meant for conversational purposes only) at securing the award:
MLS GOLDEN BOOT CONTENDERS
Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls (12 goals)
Henry has carried the Red Bulls offensively, doing all of his damage from the run of play. Injuries have limited his effectiveness at times and have kept him out of matches, but with the Red Bulls desperately in need of making the postseason to save face, they'll look to their leader to make it happen. Luke Rodgers' return to the lineup only helps Henry as well, as the two have developed a great rapport atop the formation.
Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy (12 goals)
The Galaxy captain is enjoying a fine season, and his 12 goals already tie the second-most he's ever scored in a season (something he had done four other times). He's been getting it done in the run of play and from the penalty spot, and while the Galaxy may look to rest Donovan down the stretch once (and if) the Supporters' Shield has been clinched, he remains as dangerous a threat as there is in the league to find the back of the net.
Charlie Davies, D.C. United (11 goals)
Davies is playing with a rediscovered bounce in his step, and he busted out of an extended slump with his recent hat trick against Chivas USA. It's hard to know what to expect from Davies, who got off to an incredibly hot start before seemingly hitting a wall during the summer. D.C. has the most games remaining out of any team in the league (eight), including a rematch with Chivas on Wednesday. Penalty kicks, of which Davies has converted four this season, also remain a factor.
Eric Hassli, Vancouver Whitecaps (10 goals)
Vancouver's French DP has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal expansion year for the Whitecaps. A deeper look into Hassli's goal total shows that he's tallied all of his scores over the course of six games, including four two-goal efforts. That tells us a couple of things: It's tough to count on Vancouver's attack to be consistent, but he's as much of a wild card in this race as anybody else.
Brek Shea, FC Dallas (10 goals)
Shea is expected to return to the FCD lineup after a minor groin injury, and his return couldn't come at a better time, with Dallas struggling to find its way. Shea's emergence as an MVP candidate has been one of the stories of the season, but if he gets called in for the U.S. national team's friendlies against Honduras and Ecuador, he would have to miss FCD's game on Oct. 12, leaving him with just four league matches to up his goal tally.
Andres Mendoza, Columbus Crew (11 goals)
Mendoza has made the most of his opportunities from the penalty spot, which have accounted for five of his 11 goals, and he's also in solid form, scoring four times in the last five games. The problem is that Crew have scored the fewest goals among all playoff contenders and are hardly an offensive juggernaut, meaning that unless the 33-year-old Peruvian can find his way to the spot a few more times, he'll end up as an also-ran. At the very least, he's earning his DP tag this year.
Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes (10 goals)
Wondo can't do it again, can he? After going through a summer swoon (which coincided with the Earthquakes falling out of the playoff picture), the 2010 Golden Boot winner is still looming as a threat and has scored twice in his last three matches. The problem is, San Jose's schedule the rest of the way is hardly a piece of cake, with matches at Portland, Colorado and Seattle and games at home against Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas among the last six fixtures of the season.
Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United (9 goals)
De Rosario put D.C. on his back this summer, at one point scoring six straight goals for the club. A player who has a penchant for showing up in big games, De Rosario will be looked at to carry the load again for D.C., especially with Chris Pontius out for the year with a fractured leg. Like Davies, De Rosario has a league-high eight more games to pad his stats.
Dominic Oduro, Chicago Fire (10 goals)
While Wondolowski was an unlikely winner last year, Oduro would probably be just as unlikely. Granted he's played in a starting role before, but Oduro's trademark was his inability to finish despite his tremendous pace and ability to get by defenders. He evidently recalibrated his aimer since arriving in Chicago and has been a consistent threat, already doubling his previous high for goals in a season. With five goals in his last seven games, the speedy Ghanaian has proven he is for real but is still a bit of an underdog in the race for the Boot.
Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake (8 goals)
Saborio is tied with seven other players with his eight goals, but considering that RSL has played the second-fewest games in the league as of now, he has more chances to add to his tally than most of his competition. Although he trails in the race by four goals and is somewhat of a longshot to win, don't count out the RSL striker, who has seven matches to go and has proven he can score in bunches when in a groove.
Who do you see winning the Golden Boot? Which contender has surprised you the most with his goal tally so far this season? Who did you think would win the award at the beginning of the year?
Share your thoughts below.