Two clear candidates rose above the rest in the battle for best player this week in Major League Soccer, and their statistics were uncannily similar. Thierry Henry and Obafemi Martins both finished their weekend matches with two goals and an assist, and Martins also had an assist in midweek.
As a result of their numbers and presence, both Martins and Henry have played vital roles for their teams this season.
Henry has long been the New York Red Bulls’ best player, tied for the league lead in assists with Robbie Keane (who had two on Saturday). Bradley Wright-Phillips broke the single-season franchise goalscoring record on Saturday, but Henry has been a big reason for his success: eight of his 11 assists have been to Wright-Phillips.
Martins, not USA captain Clint Dempsey, has been at the forefront of the Seattle Sounders’ attack recently, still playing well despite being left off the Nigeria squad for the World Cup. Both have scored 10 goals so far, but Martins’ eight assists are more than Dempsey’s five.
This week, both continued their good form, although Martins had the benefit of an extra match. In a 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes, he had the assist, and he followed it up with his Saturday performance against the Portland Timbers, capping the match with an impressive individual goal that included a stumbling run through the Portland back line.
With so little separating the two, it feels unfair to have to give the highest accolades to either Henry or Martins over the other. However, Henry could have had more assists had his teammates been able to finish better on Saturday against the Montreal Impact; he created six goalscoring chances overall, while Martins managed two in each match, giving Henry a slight edge.
Henry, the narrow winner of Player of the Week, now has nine goals and four assists in five league games against the Impact. He and Martins are joined by nine others on the Best XI:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 24
• Bobby Shuttleworth (New England Revolution): Shuttleworth kept a four-save shutout against Chivas USA, earning a win with the bare minimum difference between the teams. His best save was moving across goal before diving low to his right to keep out a tough Erick Torres header.
• Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew): Francis contributed an assist to the 3-0 win over Houston. He created three chances total, overlapping down the left flank, and only failed to connect one attempted pass in the attacking half.
• Nick Hagglund (Toronto FC): A combination of 85 percent passing and 10 clearances showcased both sides of Hagglund’s game in a 2-2 draw with Chicago. He also won every aerial duel he contested.
• Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew): Similarly, Parkhurst completed 98 percent of his passes and completed eight clearances. The American international also cleaned up 10 loose balls.
• Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union): Williams scored the winning goal in a 4-2 triumph over San Jose. He created two scoring chances on the overlap.
• Justin Meram (Columbus Crew): Meram scored a goal and added an assist in Columbus’ 3-0 win over the Dynamo. He played two passes that resulted directly in shots besides his assist, misplaying just one pass all match.
• Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders): After somewhat of a quiet season, Alonso played the past week like fans have grown accustomed to seeing, making a total of 23 loose-ball recoveries and completing over 90 percent of his passes in two games. Alonso leads the league in passing percentage among players who have played at least 200 minutes, with a total of 91 percent completion.
• Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy): After assisting the team’s second and scoring the winning goal in a 4-3 comeback win over Colorado on Wednesday, Donovan added a goal in a 2-0 win over Vancouver. On Saturday, he created seven goalscoring opportunities, although he finished without an assist.
• Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls): With his 19th and 20th goals of the season on Saturday, Wright-Phillips tied and surpassed Juan Pablo Ángel’s franchise record for goals in a single season. His finishing ability has complemented Henry’s delivery all year.
• Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls): This week’s best player, narrowly edging out Martins, scored twice and assisted one goal in a 4-2 win over Montreal. Henry’s business-as-usual celebration personified his usually cool and aloof demeanor, as MLS continues to look like a walk in the park for possibly the league’s best player ever.
• Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders): Two strong performances should keep Martins in the MVP conversation, as he scored two goals and assisted two others across two games last week. A combination of physical speed and awareness have made Martins an important cog in the Sounders attack his second year in the league.