The 2014 MLS MVP race has a number of viable candidates. This is the second in a series in which Planet Futbol writers state their case for why they believe a specific candidate sticks out above the rest. The league will name its MVP on Dec. 2.
Soccer is a simple game. We hear the phrase so often that we don’t really think about it anymore. But it’s an entirely different thing to make soccer look easy, and Robbie Keane found a way to do that for the LA Galaxy in 2014. It was as if Keane slowed everything down, turned chaos into order and placed himself in the white space of the sport’s immaculate design—game after game after game for an entire season.
For his instincts, for his creativity, for his production—19 goals (third in the league) and 14 assists (tied for second)—Keane is an easy choice as the player of the year in the 2014 MLS regular season.
For our purposes here, we’re not going to get bogged down in another tortuous hair-splitting of what valuable means in “most valuable player.” History suggests the use of valuable was an unintended quirk anyway, and the question that matters is this: Who was the best player?
If you watched the games this season, the answer was Keane. His influence was greater than that of any other MLS player, and he did it consistently over the course of a 34-game season. He passes the eye test.
You could make a case for others as player of the year. Seattle’s ageless Obafemi Martins combined goals (17) and assists (13) in a way similar to Keane. New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips tied the MLS single-season record for goals (27). New England’s Lee Nguyen scored the most goals ever by an MLS midfielder (18) and had nine game-winning strikes, the second most in MLS history.
There were times that LA’s Landon Donovan (10 goals, 19 assists), New York’s Thierry Henry (10 goals, 14 assists) and Seattle’s Clint Dempsey (15 goals, 10 assists) looked like the best players in the league. And big defensive-minded seasons were had by Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso and Chad Marshall, LA’s Omar González and D.C.’s goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
But then you can start eliminating Keane’s challengers. Donovan, Henry and Dempsey were fantastic at times, but unlike Keane they all had stretches in which their consistency waned. And none of the defensive-minded guys were dominant enough to snatch the player of the year award in the way Tony Meola did in 2000.
Nguyen turned into an elite MLS player this season, but he only had five assists compared to Keane’s 14. Wright-Phillips was a goal-scoring revelation, but he wasn’t multi-dimensional like Keane. What’s more, six of BWP’s goals were penalties; Keane had just one.
Martins is Keane’s closest challenger, but his stats are Keane Lite: A shade fewer goals and assists. Most importantly, Keane played better than Martins did against the league’s best teams: 10 of Keane’s 19 goals came against playoff teams, compared to just two of Martins’ 17 goals.
Finally, you come back to the eye test. I enjoyed watching Keane more this year than any other MLS player. The 34-year-old Irishman has been a welcome addition to the league.