Who is most deserving of the 2006 MLS MVP award? Jeff Carlisle and Kristian Dyer debate the issue in ESPNsoccernet's own version of "Pardon The Interruption."
Jeff Carlisle: Who is the MVP? It has to be Real Salt Lake 's Jeff Cunningham. Forget the playoffs. Without this guy, RSL is in the United Soccer Leagues. Cunningham has had a hand in 27 of Real's 44 goals this season, and with its leaky defense, Real has needed every single one of them. I'd put Houston 's Dwayne De Rosario second and D.C. United's Christian Gomez third.
Kristian Dyer: Jeff, love your columns, you're a great guy, but you couldn't be more off. MVP is the Most Valuable Player in the league, and only one guy fits that bill this year: Ante Razov of Chivas USA. Without question. Christian Gomez is a candidate for second, while Cunningham is third.
JC: Kristian, flattery will only get you so far. Razov? I admit, the guy has been money all season, but look at the attacking talent he has by his side: Juan Pablo Garcia and Paco Palencia as well as two stellar rookies, Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Klejstan. As for Cunningham, with the likes of Jason Kreis and Chris Klein, my MVP pick hasn't done it alone, but he hasn't had nearly as much help as Razov has had.
KD: So now you're citing two rookies as the primary reason why Chivas is better? Razov has been the element that turned the second-year side into a team with legitimate playoff ambitions. You're talking about Garcia and Palencia like they're two world-beaters right now. How about this for a stat -- Garcia and Palencia combined have scored fewer goals per game this season than last season. But let's not discredit them as players entirely, because Razov's presence has allowed Palencia to be the engine of the team and Garcia to focus on the creative aspects and the free kicks that he is so good at.
Yes, Garcia's and Palencia's effect goes beyond the numbers, and Klejstan and Bornstein are stellar rookies, but Cunningham isn't the only reason Real Salt Lake has turned around its act. There have been key contributions from players such as Kreis and Klein, plus Atiba Harris and Carey Talley (eight assists, two goals). Let's not forget Andy Williams (six assists, two goals) and Mehdi Ballouchy.
JC: I never said Bornstein and Kljestan were the primary reason Chivas is better, but they've been a big help. Bornstein has started every game, and Kljestan has almost done the same, with one sub's appearance. The words "rookie wall" have yet to enter their vocabulary. And I haven't even talked about Francisco Mendoza, who has been solid this season. You're going to compare those guys to Harris and Williams, who have been in and out of the lineup all year? There's no comparison. And look at how the goals have dried up for Razov down the stretch. He has scored only twice since the All-Star break, while Cunningham is still banging in the goals.
KD: Chivas had one of the worst regular seasons in MLS history last year, and Razov is the reason why the team has improved so much. He has contributed to half of Chivas' goals this season, but more important are his intangibles. He has been a steadying force and the link between the other attackers on his team. Remember, his former coach with the Red Bulls/MetroStars, Mo Johnston, claimed that Razov wouldn't score 10 goals this season. Now that Chivas has made the playoffs, Razov's contribution becomes all the more apparent. Cunningham is a nice player, but four of his 16 goals were from the penalty spot. Razov adds another dimension to the equation as a far more complete player.
Jeff, I am sure we can agree on this: Who is the biggest bust of the year? After last season's campaign, it must be Youri Djorkaeff. Got to be.
JC: I'll admit, Djorkaeff has spent much of the summer finding his inner Lothar Matthaeus, but how can you overlook Eddie Johnson? Yeah, I know he had some injury problems, but he finished the season suspended for nothing more than a bad attitude. And even when played, he was terrible. The guy had, what, two goals all season? Jimmy Conrad had that many, and when you compare their minutes, our fellow ESPN columnist did it in about three fewer games. I'm guessing the guys at MLS headquarters are thinking, "We should have taken that Benfica offer."
KD: Jeff, there is no doubt that Eddie has most definitely disappointed; however, lets cut him some slack. The guy was missing for a good chunk of the summer due to the World Cup and has received some awful service; plus, he was acclimating to a new team following his trade from Dallas. Youri has been a perpetual disappointment this season. Perhaps I jinxed Djorkaeff by writing about him as a legitimate MVP candidate in 2005. This year, not only is Youri slow and unmotivated, but he can't even finish off simple passes or easy opportunities. He apparently has taken a few lessons from the Roy Wegerle "should have retired instead of sticking it out for one more year" academy.
JC: Awful service? I can't agree. After he returned from the World Cup, it seemed like Johnson's biggest talent was for hitting shots into the knees of opposing goalkeepers. This isn't about service. This is almost entirely due to confidence, or in EJ's case a lack thereof. And if the service was really that awful, then Scott Sealy would have the same numbers. He didn't. His strike this past weekend against the Red Bulls gave him 10 goals for the season. You also have to factor in what Johnson cost the Wizards. Kansas City ponied up two allocations to Dallas for Johnson's services, double what New York shelled out for Djorkaeff.
KD: The two-allocation price comparison isn't valid. At the time, Youri should have cost the MetroStars only a discovery allocation, not the allocation they received for Ricardo Clark (who, this time next year, should be suiting up for a team in Holland). Whereas Johnson has been bad, Youri has been awful. The poor guy can't run anymore and has created more drama than the cast of Laguna Beach. It has gotten to the point that teams don't mark him much any more; this is how ineffective he has been.
Johnson has blown his chances, but mentally he is not right, and I can't fully blame him for that. Youri has produced his whole career and played well last year. Keep in mind, Johnson had only five goals and two assists last season. Yes, he failed to live up to his hype from 2004, but this is more par for the course then an actual surprise. Djorkaeff's fall from grace -- both on the field and off the field -- has been higher and harder then Johnson's, clearly.
JC: Johnson has certainly held his own in the drama department. This latest suspension is his second of the season. And while Djorkaeff could star in his own rendition of "Lazy Sunday," no matter how you slice it, Johnson cost the Wizards more. And whose fault is it besides EJ's that he isn't mentally right? Bruce Arena? Bob Gansler? It's down to Johnson himself. Yes, returning from injury is difficult, but Johnson has been back playing since January when he went to the national team camp. That should have given him more than enough time to find some semblance of form. And those five goals he had in 2005 do not represent a full year's work. They all came in the season's first two months, before Johnson hurt his foot, at which point he was sidelined for nearly the rest of the year. I'd also be willing to wager that prior to this season, Gansler had Johnson penciled in for more than just two goals, or even the five he got last year.
KD: Jeff, here is the point, and here you are missing it. If your name were Ramiro Corrales, you couldn't be more off the mark. Johnson is a disappointment, but he has only lived up to his billing once, and that was in 2004. Since then, Eddie has never been the star player he was hyped to be. Because Gansler overpaid for his services does not mean that he was the biggest bust. Djorkaeff's drop-off, not only in terms of stats but also in the intangibles, has been mind-blowing. Here is a World Cup winner and a man who excelled professionally in France, Germany, England and Italy. He is a legend in his country ... and at times last year he was nearly dominant. Could Johnson make the same claim in 2005? Was Johnson deserving of the trade value that Dallas received this offseason? No. In no way is Johnson's fall from grace nearly as meteoric as the luster wearing off Youri's shine. Nice try Jeff!
JC: I might be Mezzanine-yo on the field, but not in this case. The fact that Djorkaeff was a great player in Europe is immaterial. We could probably come up with an All-Bust XI comprised entirely of players who were great in Europe but stunk in MLS. Gilles Grimandi anyone? That New York got one good season out of the Frenchman is one more than a lot of people thought they'd get. The fact that he no longer can stand the pace was a risk New York knew they were taking when they signed him. That's what happens when you sign a guy who is ready to collect his pension. And let's not forget their respective salaries: Djorkaeff makes $207,000 a year while around $300,000 of Johnson's monstrous contract counts towards the salary cap. There are a lot of decent players in MLS that could be had for $93,000, and I'm sure Brian Bliss wishes he had someone else, especially since the Wizards will be watching the playoffs on TV while Youri and the Red Bulls will be playing D.C. United.
KD: Jeff, I'll say this much. If Bradley wasn't fired prematurely by Lalas last year and was coach for 2006, then Youri wouldn't be a candidate for bum of the year. There is a reason why Bradley has been able to resurrect Chivas USA, and it is not the team's obscene salary-cap number. The man is still the best coach in all of MLS, and Youri respected him for what he brought to the table; he never had respect for Mo or Richie Williams. And for what it is worth, Bob Bradley should be coach of the year.