With the season winding down, a few players have been integral their teams and set themselves apart from the rest.
Here’s who they are and why they are Most Valuable Player candidates.
David Villa, New York City FC
The Spanish forward won the award last season and has made a strong case to win this season’s top individual honor. Villa leads the league in goals with 19 goals in 26 games and is a big reason New York City FC sits comfortably in playoff position.
In addition to being a vital goalscorer for the team, the NYC FC Captain leads the team in assist with nine. Villa’s form has been noticed not only around the league but also abroad.
The forward’s great run of form saw him earn his first call up to the Spanish national team in three years. The former Valencia and FC Barcelona player is surely a favorite to win his second straight MVP award.
Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers
Ever since his first season in the league in 2013, the Argentine midfielder has been a top contributor for the Timbers.
Currently Valeri is having the best individual season of his MLS career with 18 goals and nine assists, and recently broke the league record for most consecutive games with a goal. The former Lanus player is on a eight game goalscoring streak.
As a further indicator of the stellar season he is having, in August Valeri became just the 18th player in league history to reach 50 goals and 50 assist. Valeri’s superb form has seen the Timbers rise to one of the top spots in the western conference standings.
The Argentine has a solid chance of earning MVP honors.
Nemanja Nikolic, Chicago Fire
The Chicago Fire finished the 2016 season as the worst team in the league and only managed 31 points the whole season.
Before this season the team added Polish striker Nemanja Nikolic, who had been a huge part of the team’s turnaround this season. Nikolic came into the league with a bang by scoring 10 goals in his first 11 games.
The MLS newcomer’s immediate impact on the league saw him lead the scoring charts for much of the season. Additionally, the former Legia Warsaw forwards form earned him the player of the month award for May.
Nikolic has cooled off in the second half of the season, but still has managed to score eight goals since his initial hot start and is tied for second with Valeri in the race for the Golden Ball. The Polish forward’s impact on the Fire’s form is undeniable.
In his first season with the team, he has greatly helped the team already surpass their points tally of last season. After three seasons with finishes at the bottom or near the bottom of the eastern conference, the Fire currently are in third place in the eastern conference table and are likely to make postseason play for the first time since the 2012 season.
Nikolic has earned a place in the MVP discussion and is in strong position to win the newcomer of the year award.
Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
The Italian forward was a clear MVP candidate in his first two season’s in the league and this season he is once again a strong contender for the award.
In 23 games played the 2015 MVP award winner has found the back of the net 15 times for Toronto FC, and leads the team in goals scored. The Italian is in peak form with six goals and two assist in his last seven appearances.
Very much like in seasons before Giovinco has been a huge factor in Toronto’s success. The Canadian side is comfortably ahead of everyone else in the eastern conference and leads the league in points earned this season.
At their current rate, Toronto is set to break the record for most points earned in a single season. Giovinco’s contribution to a possibly historic side is noteworthy and further proof that he is one of the best players to ever play in the league.
The former Juventus player is certainly a finalist if not favorite to win the MVP award.
Dark horse candidates/ Honorable mentions
Victor Vazquez. Toronto FC
The FC Barcelona academy product has had a very productive debut MLS season. Vazquez leads the league in assists with 16 and has scored seven times for Toronto this season.
The Spanish midfielder has played an important role in getting Toronto to the top of the league and on pace to break records.
Vazquez may very well garner newcomer of the year honors.
Josef Martinez, Atlanta United FC
The Venezuelan forward has been critical to making Atlanta United playoff contenders in their first season in the league.
In just 15 games played he has 17 goals and is showing no signs of slowing down now that he is injury free. Recently, Martinez has recorded back-to-back hat tricks.
Expansion teams usually struggle greatly in their debut seasons but that has not been the case for Atlanta United, due in part to Martinez’s goalscoring prowess. Like Nikolic and Vazquez, Martinez has a compelling case to earn newcomer of the year honors.
At his current rate, Giovinco may have his best individual season of his MLS career.
Factored in with the fact that Toronto FC is having perhaps the best season any team has had in league history, the choice will be clear by seasons end.
If Giovinco’s phenomenal form continues and Toronto breaks the record for most points in a season, the MVP award will be his.
Written by Frank Lara-Risco
Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLaraRisco
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