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Why the MLS MVP Award is already Wondolowski’s (and a closer look at the leading candidates for the honor)

ChrisWondolowski (Getty)


With three weeks left in the MLS regular season you might think it's too early to be calling any award winners, but the reality is one award has already been locked up and the league can start chiseling the trophy.

The MLS MVP award belongs to Chris Wondolowski, and as much as that isn't really a surprise to anybody at this point, a closer look at the numbers show that nobody comes close to him.

A closer look at the numbers also show us that  some well-known MVP candidates have weaker cases than you might think, while some others deserve more credit than they seem to be getting.

Here is a closer look at five leading candidates for the MVP award:


(As you know, stats are always a tricky proposition because they never give a full account of a player's contributions and going strictly off of goals and assists isn't always a perfect way to measure value.

That being said, there are some statistics that I like looking at with regard to judging player value. The statistical split between performance against good teams (in this instance we'll say playoff teams) and bad teams (non-playoff teams). A team's won-loss record when a player contributes a goal or assist is another stat that can offer some insight into whether a player is directly contributing to his team's success.

Let's look at the leading MVP candidates right now and see how they did in these categories:)


He's the league's leading goal scorer by a good margin, and he's leading the best team in the league. That's pretty much all you need to say, but a closer look reveals that he's even better than you realize. Consider that he has registered either a goal or assist in 20 of San Jose's games, and the Earthquakes have won 14-2-4 in those games.

The really impressive stats are the breakdown of how Wondolowski does against better competition. in 15 games against teams currently out of the playoffs, Wondolowski has compiled eight goals and four assists. And the nine other teams currently in the playoffs? Wondolowski has produced 14 goals and three assists.

Think about that one for a second. He has as many goals against playoff teams as most of the league's top goal scorers have against all competition.

Like I said. The award is his and it's not even close.


There are some forwards not named Wondolowski who have pretty gawdy goal totals, but right now Zusi is the No. 2 pick for MVP because he has been the consistent driving force of the Sporting KC attack, and because he gets the job done against good teams and bad teams.

In 14 games against playoff teams, Zusi has registered three goals and seven assists, slightly better than the two goals and seven assists he has recorded against non-playoff teams. And Sporting KC's record when Zusi registers a goal or assists? 12-1-2. That is a seriously impressive stat when you consider that Sporting KC isn't a team that has scored in droves this year.


He doesn't seem to be earning much attention for the MVP race, but his case is better than you might think. he has compiled 14 goals and eight assists and been the driving force in the attack during LA's turnaround.  

Keane does have better stats against weaker teams (nine goals, seven assists v. non-playoff teams), but he has also contributed a goal or assist in a whopping 16 matches (the second-highest total in the league, second only to Wondolowski). When Keane is in the starting lineup, the Galaxy are 13-7-5. Without him starting, the Galaxy are 2-4.


There is no denying Henry's brilliance, and he has put together some of the most outstanding games of the year, but the simple fact is Henry has absolutely feasted on bad teams and been relatively weak against good teams.

The disparity is staggering. Henry has registered 12 goals and 9 assists in 12 matches against non-playoff teams. His totals against playoff teams? Try two goals and three assists. You should also consider that he has played in just 22 matches this year. Some might see that as a reason to praise his numbers, but the fact is he has missed a lot of key games, be it through injury, suspension or wanting to avoid playing on turf.

And New York's record when Henry registers a goal or assist? It's 9-3-2. Not bad, but not really MVP caliber. In fact, the Red Bulls' record with Henry and without Henry makes for interesting reading. New York is 10-6-5 when Henry has been in the starting lineup this year, and 5-2-3 when hasn't been.


Saborio's hat-trick last week propelled him into the fringes of the MVP discussion, but much like Henry, Saborio has padded his stats considerably against weaker teams. Only three of his 17 league goals this year have come against teams currently in the playoffs, and he has registered a goal or assist in 11 maches this year (RSL is 9-2) in those matches.

It's been a good season for Saborio, and you can also factor in his contributions in CONCACAF Champions League play, but if we're talking MLS play, which is what the award is based on, Saborio falls short.


There are other names on the fringes of the conversation, like Eddie Johnson and Freddy Montero (and Osvaldo Alonso) with Seattle, and even Landon Donovan (who has quietly put together another solid season), but the five players mentioned above are going to be the players who receive the majority of MVP votes when ballots are cast.

As you can see here, not all candidacies are created equally. You can question the stats, but if you follow the pretty simple premise that the player who not only contributes to more wins than anybody else, but actually steps up his game against better competition, Wondolowski is the easy pick for MVP. And using that same logic, the rest of the field doesn't stack up quite like most would expect it to.

What do you think of the MVP race? Consider Wondolowski the clear pick, or is there another player you think is more deserving?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Remember that most of the so called stars that Dynamo got came from San Jose and were cast offs from LA LA Land. That YALLOP made top players……

  2. don’t disagree with the conclusions but do disagree with some of the theory behind them. don’t see why playing a playoff team from the other conference is more important than playing, say, the 6th team from your conference when you’re in a playoff race. and 2 of grahm zuzi’s 3 goals against playoff teams came in the last game against the Fire when KC already had a playoff spot basically wrapped up and almost the #1 seed wrapped up. Kinda seems like he got picked just cuz he’s the top player on the best team in the East. interesting article regardless.

  3. I not only am a fan of Wondow, but spoke to him on several occasions while he was here in Houston, and I got a chance to take photos and speak with him at length when I attended the MLS Cup 2011 in Los Angeles. Basically, he loved playing for Houston and Kinnear but an opportunity came up and he wanted to go back to California so Kinnear helped him get there.

  4. This. San Jose is a complete team this year. So Wondo may still merit the MVP award, but this year (unlike the previous two) he hasn’t had to drag the rest of the team through the season.

  5. The man might deserve more, but he’s on a contract for several more years at his current salary. The club could offer him an extension with improved salary, but it isn’t his decision to go or stay without the club’s say so.

  6. But alas, you are not. He certainly deserves $500,000 a year but it ain’t our decision to make. There is more to life than money. And in San Jose his a God.

  7. Baca yes, and early season Bernardez, sure… but not Bernardez at this point. He needs to remember he’s a CB, not a CM.

  8. There was a rumor that Ajax made a bid for him last year, but he wanted to stay with the quakes. A team like that, I would imagine, would have provided him with plenty of service in an attacking league. Just saying there are some situations in Europe where he could be very successful.

  9. great call. he’s been a revelation for a Columbus team that was totally revitalized by his inclusion. Wondo is great, but I agree that San jose has been a real team effort.

  10. I think Higuain has been the most impactful player this year on team fortunes, followed by Keane. SJ to me is more of a team effort bolstered by players like Chavez.

  11. His meteoric rise actually tends to reflect poorly on the Houston connection, because it suggests either the 442 or Kinnear didn’t quite “take.” He even produced on our reserves for Spencer but not the senior team for Dom. King of the Reserve League we used to call him.

    People nonetheless seem to include him and a list of other people traded away for peanuts (itself a demerit) as Dynamo alumni proving the value of the organization.

    I tend to believe that list begins and ends with Cameron, in terms of formers who truly reflect development here. Otherwise it’s like the college that lists among its esteemed former students the rockband that dropped out as second semester freshmen. Kei was run out of town for getting crossways with Kinnear, Oduro was scapegoated for missing one of our few shots in an opener then scored 15 after the trade, DeRo has won a MVP since he was traded for Julius James, etc.

  12. I agree that SJ is more of a team effort, really more of a Yallop cap-feather. I mean, if you started rattling off the names of their goal scorers and their totals, people from a few years ago would never believe it. Wondo, the guy who barely plays at Houston? Gordon? The Greatest American Hero?

    They’ve found a groove….my question is when you hit the playoffs with a team this under-staffed, does it keep playing well? I’m just more inclined to believe that a Keane or Henry can create for themselves in a tougher postseason environment.

  13. I think he could play in Scandinavia for more than $300K. Would he perform? I don’t know. I think he’s hit a Lassiter/ Twellman sweet spot in San Jose. If he went to England I think he’d regress to his Dynamo form, teams that play that whole English longball thing, Wondo would disappear unproductively into that mix for weeks.

  14. Add Kei Kamara and Dominic Oduro to that list and you have a pretty effective front line that Houston has traded away in the last few years.

  15. Wondo is on 22 goals and has 3 games to break the record. I personally don’t think he can do it. 25 goals is what I’m thinking he’ll get.

  16. MVP always seems to go to a goal-scorer or an assist-maker, but if you did have an objective comparison of performance across all players, Wondo would still be a good pick for MVP, but even on his own club roster Rafa Baca and Victor Bernardez are close competition.

  17. The US can’t use him because Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore and most of the rest of the midfielders/forwards are awful at creating for other players.

  18. You need to factor in what Henry does for the other players on the team. Cooper scores in buckets when Henry is on the field. He doesn’t touch the ball when Henry is missing.

  19. Haha. Like he is good enough for Europe.
    His stats don’t lie but neither do your eyes. Nice player, but exactly the opposite we need to be promoting for the NT. No ball skills, no technical ability, average athletically. Smart, sure.
    He can sit in holes and tap them home with the best of them though.

  20. 4 has definitely never happened, i’ve been trying to look it up because i think 3 guys got 10 one time, but haven’t found it yet.

    (SBI-In 2000, Adolfo Valencia (16 goals), Clint Mathis (13) and Alex Comas (13) all had more than 10. Also, in ’98, the Galaxy had Cobi Jones (19), Welton (17) and Cienfuegos (13). D.C. also had three in ’98, Lassiter (18), Moreno (16) and Echeverry (10).)

  21. Wondo is obviously proud of his performances the last three year, but as Captain he leads by example. No divas on the Quakes this year.

  22. There’s a slim chance Simon Dawkins could bag 2 in the last three games to bring his goals total to 10; has a team anywhere ever had 4 double-digit goal scorers?

  23. Just curious how many times an MLS team has had 3 or more players with 10 or more goals in a season like SJ has with Wondo/Gordon/Lenhart?

    And not to knock Wondo, but when he went that long stretch without scoring SJ was still getting results. I think you could make the case that SJ is just the deepest team in the league, and thus consistently get results.

    Having said that I can’t think of who else should get the award instead. Not Henry because he was invisible for most of the season. Same with Saborio. Unless of course we want to give DeRo another life time achievement award.

    (SBI- San Jose is 4-4-3 when Wondolowski doesn’t record a goal or assist, 14-2-4 when he does. Not sure when he had those droughts were San Jose still got results. His longest runs without a goal were two four-game streaks. They were 1-1-2 during the first of those, 2-1-1 during the second.

    The team has done well down the stretch without him scoring as many, but they also hit a very soft part of their schedule.

    I do agree that this San Jose team is stacked, but he’s clearly been the focal point of the attack for most of the season.)


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