Posted November 27, 2013

SI Soccer Roundtable: 2013 MLS awards, surprises, Turkeys and more

Alexander Abnos, Avi Creditor, Brian Straus, Chicago Fire, Clint Dempsey, D.C. United, David Beckham, Grant Wahl, L.A. Galaxy, Landon Donovan, MLS, MLS Cup, MLS Expansion, MLS Playoffs, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, Supporters Shield
Graham Zusi and Javier Morales

Sporting Kansas City star Graham Zusi and Real Salt Lake maestro Javier Morales will go head-to-head in the MLS Cup final. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

The 2013 MLS season is a game away from being in the books, with Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake set to do battle for the right to host the Anschutz Trophy at Sporting Park on Dec. 7.

Even before a champion is crowned, though, the first post-David-Beckham-era MLS season can be looked back upon as a loaded campaign. Portland raised the stakes not just in Cascadia, but in the Western Conference as a whole; Two new expansion franchises were announced, one in New York and one in Orlando; Landon Donovan returned to the field and also to some of his best form after his playing hiatus; Clint Dempsey returned to the USA from the Premier league; The New York Red Bulls captured the Supporters’ Shield (not so Metro) before fizzling out in the playoffs (OK, that’s so Metro). And so on, and so forth.

The latest panel discussion (or shall we say, The Greatest Podcast On Paper ™)  is centered around postseason accolades and some of the more notable moments from the league’s 18th season. Let’s get it started:

Mike Magee

Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee is one of three finalists for the 2013 MLS MVP award. (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

Who is your MLS MVP?

Grant Wahl: Mike Magee, Chicago Fire. I prefer to call this award “Player of the Year” rather than “MVP” to avoid lame arguments about what “valuable” means. Magee was the best MLS player in 2013, period. His stats were terrific (21 goals, 4 assists), and Magee carried two teams (Chicago and L.A.) on his shoulders this season. L.A.’s decision to trade him for Robbie Rogers turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades in league history. Normally, it would be hard for me to consider a player whose team missed the playoffs as Player of the Year, but Magee’s personal on-field record (with L.A. and Chicago) would have put him in the postseason. Just a career year all-around for an MLS stalwart who deserves this accolade.

WAHL: Toronto FC has used Drake to recruit players

Brian Straus: Chris Wondolowski made it easy for us in 2012. This year, there’s no obvious winner, and that ‘V’ complicates matters further.

This isn’t an award presented to the “best” or “most outstanding” player – if it was, Robbie Keane would have a stronger claim. There are intangibles attached to the honor. Context matters. An MVP should inspire. He should alter the face of his team. Context is why Vancouver’s Camilo Sanvezzo, who led MLS in scoring with 22 goals, wasn’t even a finalist. And it’s why Mike Magee should win it.

Everyone recognizes what the 29-year-old attacker brings to the table. He’s technically gifted, dedicated, clutch and so frequently willing to do the extra work that makes his teammates better. Magee had a career year in 2013, tallying 22 goals and four assists and making his first All-Star appearance. The primary rub against his MVP candidacy was that the Fire didn’t make the playoffs. If that’s Magee’s fault, it’s because he scored a hat trick against his future club in March while a member of the L.A. Galaxy, not because of anything he did once he wore Fire red.

Chicago was 2-7-2 without Magee. It was a club whose big-name signings were failing and whose coach was desperate for answers. Then came the Magee-Robbie Rogers trade in late May. The Fire went 12-6-5 with their new hometown hero, a pace that would have produced the best record in MLS over a 34-game season. Magee had 15 goals in 22 matches with his new club after netting six in 10 for L.A. He was durable. He was expected to be a leader. He bore more of the attacking burden with his new team (no other Fire player scored more than four goals all season). Yet he flourished. Chicago became a contender.

Keane is a great player. He’d be a fine MVP. Tim Cahill, Diego Valeri and Marco Di Vaio had stellar seasons. But Magee, who finished 2013 as the Galaxy’s third-leading scorer, deserves it.

Alexander Abnos:  I actually don’t think the debate on the “MVP” nomenclature is lame at all. It’s an argument that needs to happen, not just in MLS but in all U.S. sports – the MVP rarely awards the one who is actually most valuable to their team, and that’s kind of ridiculous.

Personally, I like the dictionary definition of “MVP.” It denotes worth, not necessarily talent or skill. There’s a lot to be said for that; however, there’s also a lot to be said for a simple “best player” award. I don’t see why we don’t just have both. But that will likely never happen, so I’m forced to select the player that had the most impact to his team. And that player is Mike Magee.

The reason why is pretty simple, and can be explained graphically. Here, via the results map, is Chicago’s first 11 games of the season, before they acquired Magee: 


And here’s the next 11: 


That’s a lot more green Ws, huh? In fact, the Fire had more losses (seven) in their first 11 games without Magee than they had the entire rest of the season with him (six). I can’t in good conscience argue that Magee was MLS’ best player this year, especially if Robbie Keane is nominated alongside him. But looking at the results, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the most valuable.

CREDITOR: Former MVPs De Rosario, Ferreira up for grabs

Avi Creditor: I’d love to deviate from the majority, but it’s got to be Magee. He transformed Chicago and saved the Fire’s season (although the club ultimately came up short of the playoffs, which doesn’t make it as much of a slam dunk as it may seem). Why he hasn’t gotten a sniff from Jurgen Klinsmann, more so for the Gold Cup and no matter the USA’s new-found forward depth, remains a mystery.


Normally, I believe that you don't give the MVP to a player whose team missed the playoffs. Given that Magee wasn't with the team the whole season, the stats above are pretty compelling.

Anthony Roque
Anthony Roque

Still not convinced that Dempsey made a good move. It may prove to hurt his play in Brazil. We'll see.