Not only is the race for the Supporters' Shield coming down to the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, but the MVP race handicapping is starting to center around Obafemi Martins, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan. Keane is having yet another career year, but when asked about the MVP award he deflected the opportunity to campaign for himself.
"In football, the most important thing is consistency. If you're consistent every year and you continue and strive to do better than you did the year before. Every year since I've been here, I've done that. That's all you can ask for. More assists than the year before... More goals this year. To challenge yourself every season to do that. I'm satisfied with what I've done this season and, as I said, every year the aim is to do better than the year before."
Robbie Keane has been nothing if not consistent since coming over to MLS. In his first two full seasons he recorded sixteen goals (in fewer minutes and shot in 2013). This year he's already beaten his best goal totals a month early, while on pace to meet his minute total from 2012. He's increased his assist total each year, with different strike partners.
So judged against himself, he's certainly having a career year in MLS. Each year is different though, so what's more important is how he's doing compared to his peers this season. Right now, mlssoccer.com has him and Landon Donovan as no's. two and three on their MVP ladder behind Obafemi Martins. The list contained votes from ten MLS Soccer editors who were asked to name their top five MVP candidates. Keane was ranked first on the most ballots (5), which makes you wonder what was going on in the other five ballots to keep him behind Martins.
The knock against Robbie Keane in the minds of some is that he's partnered with a fellow MVP candidate in Landon Donovan on a team which has been consistently good. Which doesn't exactly explain when Martins' partnership with Clint Dempsey is being overlooked, just because Dempsey isn't considered an MVP candidate he's still Clint Dempsey.
Step back a step from goals and assists and look at some advanced stats and we see both average about two key passes a game. That evens out the assist categories a bit, as Martin's efficiency on shot-to-goal ratio does for the goal difference. In those two key areas, the players are about neck-and-neck.
What puts Keane in front of Martins for me is his efficiency during the rest of the run of play. He's significantly less likely to be dispossessed or turn the ball over, which means in games when he's not scoring he's less likely to cost other players the opportunity to score.
Martins and Keane both had arguably their best performances of the season over the weekend, with Martins getting a perfect 10 in his whoscored.com rating (Landon Donovan got a 9.9). Each got two goals while Keane took thirty fewer touches than Martins, while Martins adding an assist got him that 10. Keane had one key pass to Martins' three, and that coupled with Donovan's rating shows how much WhoScored values chance creation.
Its hard to separate Keane and Martins, about as hard as it's been to separate the Galaxy and Sounders. My argument would be that at their current paces, Keane should overtake Martins in the minds of the media by the end of October. Of course, that would be my argument for the teams as well. At any rate, I fully expect the winner of the Supporters' Shield this season to have on its roster the 2014 MLS MVP.
Basically, both races come down to the final two games in October. Not a bad job done by the schedulers.