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This week’s MLS5: Our early look at the Most Valuable Player award

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Each week throughout the rest of the Major League Soccer season, we’ll take a look at (at least) one of the league’s major postseason awards, giving you our “if we have to vote today” view on MLS’s most prestigious honors. It’s our way of keeping a conversation going from start-to-finish rather than jumping in at season’s end to take inventory of the previous eight months. If we start paying attention now — thinking about things in terms of our eventual votes — hopefully we can make more informed decisions come October.

Every week, there’ll be one award and five points of discussion, and while it’s way too early to be making decisions about how we’re actually going to vote, it’s not too early to consider which players are distinguishing themselves.

We start with Most Valuable Player:

source: Getty Images

5. Mauro Díaz, FC Dallas

When you watch the young Argentine play you see an array of skills and choices that could vault him among the best players in Major League Soccer. For some, he’s already there, having won March’s MLS Player of the Month honor. Break down his games, actually track the end result of all those deft touches and though balls, and you see much of his skill has resulted in unrealized potential. He does have three assists (two primary), good for second in the league, but for all his orchestrating majesty, only five of Dallas’s 17 goals have come from open play. Soon, when those small, seemingly innumerable pieces of skill represent more than just potential, Díaz could climb this list.

source: Getty Images

4. Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew

Four goals, two assists, and the key role in a team that looks primed for one of the season’s biggest turnarounds earns Higuaín a place on this list, though whether he deserves to be above Díaz is another question. Though Higuaín has scored more goals, that’s by virtue of being his team’s penalty kick taker. Those scores aside his numbers, like his influence, is almost identical to Díaz’s.

For us, there are two tiebreakers. First, Higuaín has been more dangerous as a penalty area threat. Second, in Columbus’s system, he’s having to do more work to drop back and pick up the ball. Even when his team’s established possession in the opponent’s half, Higuaín’s often drifting to the flanks to influence the game.

Are those minor distinctions? Of course. It’s not easy to try to draw lines between Mauro Díaz and Federico Higuaín. If you prefer the FC Dallas man, we can’t argue. Columbus has also only produced five open play goals (though that does represent 55 percent of the team’s production).

source: AP

3. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC

Moment to moment, this is the most influential player in Major League Soccer. Defensively, he may be the league’s most valuable, and as he showed in Columbus, had can also be one of MLS’s most dangerous going forward. The game he missed against Colorado hurts his ranking, but once that gets teased out, he’ll likely be competing with our choice for number one.

source: Getty Images

2. Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

With four goals in five games, Keane is proving as valuable as ever. While he doesn’t quite have the minute-to-minute effect that Díaz, Higuaín, and Bradley have, he has a much greater influence within 18 yards of goal. Only Marco Di Vaio and Clint Dempsey are getting off more shots per game, while no forward is generating more scoring opportunities for his teams mates (as measured by Opta’s Key Passes, for what that’s worth). Despite only playing five games, he leads the league with 11 shots on target.

source: AP

1. Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders

Who else could it be? Even though he’s missed two games through suspension, Dempsey’s tied for the league’s lead in goals (six). His three assists (two primary) are second only to teammate Obafemi Martins, with most of his contributions coming in high-leverage situations (via late goals against Portland, Dallas). When Michael Bradley gets more minutes under his belt, the philosophical debate between a high value attacker and all around midfielder will escalate. For now, Dempsey’s surged to the top of our early, theoretical MVP ballot.

Others considered: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Erick Torres (Chivas USA)

18-year-old American Carter-Vickers signs new Tottenham contract

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 29:   Cameron Carter-Vickers of Tottenham Hotspur headers the ball during 2016 International Champions Cup Australia match between Tottenham Hotspur and Atletico de Madrid at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 29, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)
Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images
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It’s been a decent eight days for Cameron Carter-Vickers, to say the least.

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Just last Wednesday, the 18-year-old United States and England dual international made his first-team debut for Tottenham Hotspur in the club’s rout of League One side Gillingham in the third round of the 2016-17 EFL Cup.

Barely a week later, it was announced by the club that Carter-Vickers had put pen to paper on a brand new contract that will keep him at Tottenham until the summer of 2019.

Carter-Vickers, who is yet to make his Premier League debut for Spurs, has been a part of the club’s youth academy for eight years now, progressing through the ranks and arriving onto the periphery of the first-team squad this season. Available off the bench for just about every game Spurs have played this season, the Essex-born youngster has seemingly surpassed 23-year-old Austrian international Kevin Wimmer along Mauricio Pochettino‘s pecking order.

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Man United soar; City still the standard ]

The son of an American father, former professional basketball player Howard Carter, CCV is eligible for both the English and U.S. national teams. With his rise to the Spurs first team, rumors have begun to circulate that England would come calling soon, though SI.com reported on Wednesday that he is “all USA” regarding his international allegiance.

CCV spoke exclusively and extensively to PST’s Joe Prince-Wright last September. You can read JPW’s feature about the then-17-year-old, right here.

MLS Playoff Picture: LA, Philly, 4 others can clinch berths this weekend

Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy (Photo credit: LA Galaxy / Facebook)
Photo credit: LA Galaxy / Facebook
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By 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, the race for MLS Cup Playoffs places in the Eastern Conference could be 100 percent complete, with only (lots and lots of) questions over seeding for the postseason left to be worked out over the season’s final two games.

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In the Western Conference, as many as four playoff places could be claimed by weekend’s end, with three teams left to battle it out for the final two spots over the final month of the 2016 regular season.

Eastern Conference

Already clinched

Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls, New York City FC

Can clinch this weekend

Philadelphia Union With a win over New York Red Bulls (7 p.m. ET, Saturday), and a New England Revolution draw or loss to Sporting Kansas City (7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday), would clinch a playoff place; would also clinch a playoff place with a win over Red Bulls, and a Revolution loss to Sporting KC, and an Orlando City SC draw or loss to Montreal Impact (1 p.m. ET, Sunday).

Montreal Impact — With a win over Orlando City SC, and a Revolution draw or loss to Sporting KC, would clinch a playoff place.

D.C. United — With a win over Toronto FC (7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday), and a Revolution loss to Sporting KC, would clinch a playoff place.

Game to watch

Toronto FC vs. D.C. United (7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday) — Massive implications at the top of the East, and at the bottom of the playoff places. TFC need a win to stay at least one point clear of the duo from New York, while DCU would just about lock up a spot of their own with the three points. Fourth place, thus hosting the knockout round game, is still in play for United.

Western Conference

Already clinched

FC Dallas

Can clinch this weekend

Colorado Rapids — With a win or draw against Portland Timbers (9 p.m. ET, Saturday), would clinch a playoff place.

LA Galaxy — With a win over FC Dallas (9 p.m. ET, Saturday), would clinch a playoff place; would also clinch a playoff place with a draw against FC Dallas, and a Timbers draw or loss against Rapids; would also clinch a playoff place with a loss to FC Dallas and a Timbers loss to Rapids.

Real Salt Lake — With a win over San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 p.m. ET, Saturday), and a Timbers loss to Rapids, would clinch a playoff place.

Game to watch

FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy (9 p.m. ET, Saturday) — With the Rapids just five points back and holding two games in hand, the Supporters’ Shield is far from locked up for FCD. Winless in their last three, they’ve only themselves to blame for Colorado being back in it.

VIDEO: PL Download on Arsene Wenger’s 20-year anniversary at Arsenal

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This is a must-watch for any fan of the Premier League.

On Oct. 1 1996, Arsene Wenger arrived as Arsenal’s new manager as a virtual nobody. This Saturday he celebrates 20 years in charge of the Gunners and there is a special Premier League Download to celebrate his incredible longevity.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live on NBC Sports 

At 12:30 p.m. ET, this Saturday, Oct. 1, NBCSN presents a new Premier League Download: Inside the Mind of Arsene Wenger, hosted by The Men in Blazers’ Roger Bennett.

Watch the promo above to get a taste of what’s to come in the full episode, as Bennett traveled to London to interview Wenger on his legacy, philosophy as a manager, and more.

PL stars Rashford, Alli, Iheanacho on nominees list for 2016 Golden Boy award

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates his goal during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The end of 2016 is quickly approaching, which means it’s nearly time to hand out a bunch of awards to players who performed exceptionally well over two halves of two completely different seasons during the calendar year.

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While we already know one of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will likely take home the Ballon d’Or for a ninth straight year, the field is much larger and wide open for the 2016 Golden Boy award, which goes to the best player under the age of 21 currently plying his trade in Europe.

Headlining the list of 40 nominees are 10 players currently contracted to Premier League clubs, including the likes of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli, and Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho.

The full list of nominees:

Dele Alli (Tottenham), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Leon Bailey (Genk), Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax), Gabriel Boschilia (Monaco), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Carlos Fernandez (Sevilla), Andreas Christensen (Borussia Monchengladbach), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Ante Coric (Dinamo Zagreb), Amadou Diawara (Napoli), Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Monchengladbach), Danilo Barbosa (Benfica), Moussa Dembele (Celtic), Ousmane Dembele (Dortmund), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Gabriel Barbosa (Internazionale), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Goncalo Guedes (Benfica), Demarai Gray (Leicester), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Alen Halilovic (Hamburg), Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid), Emanuel Mammana (Lyon), Nathan (Vitesse), Olivier Ntcham (Genoa), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich), Jairo Riedewald (Ajax), Ruben Neves (Porto), Tonny Sanabria (Real Betis), Leroy Sane (Manchester City), Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen), Youri Tielemans (Anderlecht), Almamy Toure (Monaco)

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Man United soar; City still the standard ]

The last five winners of the Golden Boy award reads as such: Anthony Martial, Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, Isco and Mario Gotze. While that’s a not-so-bad list to potentially join, the three winners before them: Mario Balotelli, Alexandre Pato and Anderson. So, it’s a less-than-perfect gauge for the trajectory of a player’s career. Although, some guys named Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas, Messi, Wayne Rooney and Rafael van der Vaart took home the first five awards.