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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)

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Lineups and Live Stream)

AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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Tottenham Hotspur’s thin hopes of winning the Premier League demand all three points from its visit to Chelsea on Monday (Watch live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).

Spurs are eight points behind Leicester City, and a loss or draw makes the Foxes the 2015-16 champions.

[ MORE: Burnley clinches promotion to the Premier League ]

Reigning champion Chelsea, in an odd twist, can play the spoiler for either its London neighbors or the fairytale Foxes.

 

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Begovic; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Mikel, Matic; Willian, Fabregas, Pedro; Diego CostaSubs: Amelia, Baba, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Oscar, Hazard, Traore.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (c), Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Dembele; Lamela, Eriksen, Son; Kane. Subs: Vorm, Davies, Wimmer, Carroll, Chadli, Mason, Clinton.

“It’s magic” — Goal hero Vokes hails Burnley’s Premier League return

BURNLEY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 02:  Sam Vokes of Burnley (obscured) scores their first goal past goalkeeper Matt Ingram of QPR during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Queens Park Rangers at Turf Moor on May 2, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Sam Vokes‘ 61st minute header has Burnley back in the Premier League at the first time of asking, and there’s only one way to describe it.

Magic.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood to Hamburg for $4 million? ]

Burnley clinched automatic promotion thanks to its 1-0 win over QPR and Brighton’s draw earlier in the day. With Brighton facing Middlesbrough this weekend, only one could pass Burnley in points.

Take away the math, though, and Burnley is flying off the emotion of the 1-0 win.

From the BBC:

“It’s magic, it’s a great feeling. You could feel the anticipation around the place when we kicked off. We knew what we had to do after the Brighton result earlier. Magic scenes here today. Getting that goal sparked relief around the place. I missed a lot of the Premier League last season but hopefully I’ll get another chance next season.”

And here’s Sean Dyche, classically stoic in the face of extreme emotion:

“That was well off our performance level but the result was all that mattered today. The resilience, belief and character got us through. You can’t be brilliant every week, we don’t think we’re the real deal, but we’re a real group that sticks together.”

If you don’t know much about Burnley, we suggest Joe Posnanski’s SportsWorld piece from last season’s Premier League campaign.

Congrats to the Clarets.

Burnley clinches automatic promotion to the Premier League

PRESTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 22:  Andre Gray of Burnley holds up one finger to indicate the score to opposing supporters as he is substituted during the Sky Bet Championship match between Preston North End and Burnley at Deepdale on April 22, 2016 in Preston, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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One claret and blue team has been relegated from the Premier League, but another is taking its place.

Sam Vokes did not score in 15 Premier League appearances last year with Burnley, but his goal on Monday boosted the Clarets back into England’s top flight.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood to Hamburg for $4 million? ]

Vokes, 26, headed home in the second half to give Burnley a 1-0 lead over Queens Park Rangers, and the Clarets held on to make sure their absence from the Premier League was a mere season long.

The win gives Burnley 90 points with one match to play. With Middlesbrough and Brighton & Hove Albion sitting on 88 points and playing each other on the final day of the season, only one winner can pass the Clarets.

Report: USMNT striker Wood would cost Hamburger around $4 million

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Bobby Wood #7 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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There seems to be growing interest in USMNT striker Bobby Wood, who is having a sensational season for Union Berlin in 2.Bundesliga.

Linked with Liverpool in March, Wood is now said to be desired by Hamburg in Germany’s top flight.

[ MORE: Klinsmann calls up 40 for Copa America camp ]

Hamburg’s strike corps consists of young target forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga, ‘Gladbach loanee Josip Drmic and veteran Ivica Olic.

Bild.de says the fee is around $4 million, but that the club has yet to begin discussing terms with Union.

Wood has 17 goals and 3 assists in league play this season, and has also become a mainstay with the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann.

[ MORE: Timbers striker wanted by Palace, St. Etienne ]

Union Berlin is sixth in 2.Bundesliga, while Hamburg is 11th in Bundesliga.

Fellow USMNT striker Aron Johannsson has faced a long injury lay-off with Werder Bremen, while a similar situation has faced Terrence Boyd. The latter is with Red Bull Leipzig and is set for a promotion to the Bundesliga barring extreme unlikelihood over the final few weeks.