Prior to the final week of the season, MLSsoccer.com polled 10 of its editors in its weekly ranking of MVP candidates. The top candidates were Obafemi Martins, Robbie Keane, Lee Nguyen, Landon Donovan, Bobby Boswell, and Clint Dempsey. Since all but one of the top 6 are attacking players, I'm going to exclude Boswell from this comparison, but it's not out of a belief that a defender shouldn't be considered for MVP.
There are three main goal categories I would like to examine: goals from open play, set piece goals, and penalties. I don't want to completely dismiss the value of penalties or set pieces, but I personally value open-play goals over set piece goals and set piece goals over penalties. I realize a lot of people value set piece goals as highly as open play goals. Others may consider penalties just as important as other types of goals.
Despite that, I think there is value in looking at goals scored according to category, just as tackles in American football are tracked according to whether they are QB sacks, tackles for a loss, solo tackles, or assisted tackles.
With that being said, let's look at how the MVP candidates compare as goal scorers.
|Name||Open Play Goals||Set Piece Goals||Penalties||Unsuccessful Penalties||Total Goals Scored|
If Keane had managed to convert just 2 of his 3 failed penalty attempts, there might not even be much of a debate over who deserves to win the MVP award this year. The fact that he failed to convert that many penalties is probably viewed as a negative, albeit a minor one.
You may be wondering how that breaks down according to minutes played. Let's look at how many minutes each player played and look at their per 90 scoring rates.
|Name||Minutes Played||Open Play Goals per 90||Goals per 90|
As with goals, there are different categories of assists. There are open play assists and set piece assists. There are also first assists and second assists. Since 1996, MLS has tracked second assists. Prior to the 2003 season, the 2 passes immediately prior to a goal were credited with the assist. Since then, the criteria for second assists have become more subjective. For a pass to qualify, it has to "significantly and directly" lead to the scoring chance in the opinion of the record keeper for the match.
It can be useful to group assists in distinct categories in a similar way to the categories of goals listed above. Let's look at how the top MVP candidates contributed to their teammates' goals in 2014.
|Name||First Assists||Second Assists||Set Piece Assists||Total Assists|
Martins happens to be the only player in double digits in both open play goals and first assists.
Here are the minutes played and per 90 averages for each player:
|Name||Minutes||First Assists per 90||Total Assists per 90|
In terms of open play, Keane has a slight edge over Martins as far as scoring goals is concerned and Donovan has a slight edge over him in primary assists, but who has the most impressive numbers when looking at overall production of the top MVP candidates?
|Name||Open Play Goals + First Assists||OPG + FA per 90||Goals + Assists||G + A per 90|
If you value open play goals over set pieces and penalties and/or first assists over second assists, you probably favor Obafemi Martins. If you believe all goals and assists are basically of equal value, you likely think that Keane should be the MVP this year. If you think per 90 averages should be considered, you may believe Dempsey deserves to be considered, even though he missed a big chunk of the season for the World Cup.
Of course, this is all based on numbers alone. There may be an argument to be made that Dempsey and Martins deserve credit for helping the Sounders get two big results against LA at the end of the season to secure the Supporters Shield.