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Sep 7, 2009

MLS MVP race will go down to the wire this season

Scoring might be down in MLS, but that doesn't mean the race for the MVP award has been any less than thrilling. One year after winning the award in his second season in MLS, Argentine midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto is back with a vengeance and making waves. Schelotto has become the prototypical designated player in the league, a leader who not only produces but also elevates the talent of those around him.

Don't write off the rest of the league quite yet, though. With most teams having six or seven games remaining, there still is plenty of time for a player's form to give him front-runner status for the award. Just as easily, someone on this list could play himself out of contention. And while the Crew midfielder is very deserving of consideration, others have been just as impressive this season.

The reigning MVP: Schelotto has been nothing short of scintillating this season. With 10 goals and three assists, the former Boca Juniors midfielder and one-time Argentine international has paced a Columbus attack that is among the best in the league. He's missed some time with injuries (after all, he is the senior member of the Columbus midfield, having turned 36 in May), but his production is still gaudy. With that being said, he is the favorite to repeat but is by no means the clear-cut winner.

Reason why he wins: People remember his outstanding form in 2008 and continue to marvel at his high level of play.

Reason why he won't win: Columbus has proved it can win without him in the starting 11, undermining his importance to the team's success.

The young star: He might have only one "d" in his name, but there is plenty of offense on the foot of one, Fredy Montero. The first-year MLSer has been a revelation for expansion side Seattle, and his nine goals have accounted for nearly one-third of the Sounders' goals in the league this season. As it stands right now, Seattle is in the bottom half of scoring and Montero is the sole reason the team has any semblance of offense at this juncture of the season. He might win the award based on the fact that he might not be in the league next year.

Reason why he wins: As the most exciting, young, international talent in the league since Stern John, a new generation embraces a rising star in Montero.

Reason why he won't win: Seattle has cooled off since a torrid start, and his legal issues earlier this season left a sour taste in voters' mouths.

The feel-good story: Montero's Sounders teammate Kasey Keller has kept the Northwest boys in plenty of games this season. The clear veteran presence on the team, Keller brings loads of international experience with the United States national team and more than two decades playing club ball in Europe's top leagues. Keller is averaging just .90 goals conceded per game this season, something only one keeper managed to do last season. How important is Keller to this team? Seattle has not won a game without him in the lineup.

Reason why he wins: Keller is a sentimental pick, a person everyone in U.S. soccer loves. The fact that he came to the league to close out a stellar career might be too good a story to pass up.

Reason why he won't win: Seattle's defense folds like a cheap box, and Keller's goals-against average increases.

The comeback kid: Which leads to another keeper and the man who backed up Keller in the '96 Olympics, Zach Thornton. Want to know why Chivas USA is primed for a third straight playoff appearance? Look no further than the svelte Thornton in goal, who is leading the league in goals-against average and is near the top in wins and saves. The Goats might have had their struggles of late, but there hasn't been a keeper in the league as good as Thornton this season.

Reason why he wins: Thornton leads Chivas USA back to its early season form and a strong push into the playoffs.

Reason why he won't win: Chivas USA misses the playoffs, or Thornton wins comeback player of the year honors.

Most valuable to his team: It might seem odd for this player to be considered an MVP candidate, but if the award is truly for the most valuable player, Shalarie Joseph has to be in the mix. He is a veteran of more than 180 games in the league, and some of his best performances have been this season. New England has been hit hard with injuries this year, meaning Joseph has been surrounded by a makeshift team. It also means the international from Grenada has been played out of position; coach Steve Nicol at one juncture was forced to line up the defensive midfielder as a striker. The fact that he has netted eight goals and layed off six assists is a testament to his pure class.

Reason why he wins: The Revolution once again go far in the playoffs, and Joseph is the catalyst of the team.

Reason why he won't win: His numbers and style of play aren't gaudy enough.

Who should win: The Galaxy might share a stadium with Chivas USA, but Los Angeles' Landon Donovan has been in a league of his own this summer. After the season started in controversial fashion with a book about David Beckham that included quotes by Donovan questioning the English midfielder, Donovan more than backed up his talk with strong play in MLS. While his outstanding performance for the national team at the Confederations Cup shouldn't factor into the MVP race, it just might make Donovan too tempting an all-around player not to name as the league's best player. He also is a front-runner for goal of the year.

Reason why he wins: He's the golden boy of American soccer; people still are in love with his hot performance for club and country.

Reason why he won't win: The Galaxy miss the playoffs.

Other players, like the Colorado duo of Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, have a chance to make a serious statement as the last winds of the season die down.

Quote of the week

"I think we've said everything we could say over the last two months. We've exhausted the words, and different people spoke up. It's an unusual league; it's an unusual season so there's a lot of ups and downs. But we were on a real low, and hopefully this gets us on our way up."

-- Kansas City forward Josh Wolff on the team holding a players-only meeting this week. The Wizards beat New England 4-2 on Saturday night.

Quick kicks

• D.C. United played its league-high 12th draw Saturday night in a 2-2 tie with FC Dallas.

• Saturday's World Cup qualifying win by the United States over El Salvador once again proved the value of MLS. Eight Americans who started the game either currently play or began their careers in the league.

• Continuing a strong season, Seattle claimed the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night, becoming the second expansion team in the league history to win the tournament.

• With the win at the Revolution this past weekend, Kansas City now is 7-1-5 all time at Gillette Stadium.

• With a 1-0 win over Columbus, the Red Bulls won consecutive games for the first time since the 2008 playoffs.

Kristian R. Dyer is a freelance writer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the associate editor of Blitz magazine and writes for the New York daily paper Metro. He can be reached at KDyer@RutgersInsider.com

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