Lee Nguyen

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Tackling the MLS MVP debate: Which players are for real?

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We have a former MVP, a league newcomer and everything in between this season as MLS’ most prestigious individual award nears its end.

[ MORE: Atlanta continues home-field dominance with win vs. Impact ]

New York City FC’s David Villa is strongly in position to win his second MVP award in a row, while Diego Valeri, Josef Martinez and others chase the former Barcelona man.

PST takes a look at five serious candidates for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award this season.

David Villa

The debate starts with the NYCFC captain for a second consecutive season. “El Guaje” has come out and lit it up once more for the Bronx side and propelled his side into a prime spot to grab a first-round bye in the Eastern Conference, despite Atlanta’s hot pursuit. The biggest thing working against Villa right now is a combination of injuries and lacking finishing. The Spanish international hasn’t scored an MLS goal since August 20, making his stock fall a bit.

Diego Valeri

Is there a player hotter than Diego Valeri right now? Well, there might be one other, but we’ll talk about him in a minute. The Argentine is simply scorching MLS defenses right now, scoring in nine straight matches and lifting the Portland Timbers to within a point of the Western Conference lead. Not only has Valeri exhibited incredible finishing technique in 2017, but the 31-year-old has also recorded nine assists for Caleb Porter’s group. Valeri’s most important trait could very well be his clutch factor. The attacker has six (yes, six) game-winning finishes this season for the Timbers.

Josef Martinez

Cut the whole “he missed half the season” argument out of the equation because that argument actually helps his case. The Designated Player has scored 17 goals in 16 matches this season for newcomers Atlanta, and while the expansion side has plenty of attacking firepower, such as Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad, it’s Martinez that has proven to be the vital piece for Tata Martino and Co. down the stretch. By the way, Atlanta is 9-2-2 this season when Martinez starts for them. That’s not a coincidence.

Ignacio Piatti

These last two players won’t be sexy picks given the possibility that neither of their teams will make the postseason, but just listen to why they should be in consideration. Piatti has recorded a 25.3 percent conversion rate this season, which ranks second-highest in MLS when accounting for players that have scored 10 goals or more. The Impact have given up the second-most goals in the East this year, making it more difficult for Piatti and Co. to work

Lee Nguyen

To many, this pick will be a bit out of left field, but bear with me for a second. The 30-year-old has recorded 10 goals and 15 assists this season, making him the New England Revolution’s most dangerous attacking player because of his duel-threat abilities. Nguyen is the only player in Revolution history to record double-digit goals and assists in the same season, which further makes the case for what a historic season he is having. The Revs will need some help in order to qualify for the playoffs, but if they do, Nguyen’s stock will have to increase even more.

MLS Snapshot: TFC lose late in NE; Shield celebration delayed

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
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The game in 100 words (or less): All Toronto FC had to do to clinch the 2017 Supporters’ Shield on Saturday was beat the New England Revolution, a side that had suffered back-to-back defeats by a combined score of 10-1 and fired head coach Jay Heaps on Tuesday. Instead, because this is MLS we’re talking about, the Revolution were galvanized and full of fighting spirit backed their way into a 2-1 victory over TFC in a game that saw all three goals scored during a five-minute period beginning in the 82nd. The Shield celebration will have to wait at least another week, with TFC hosting the New York Red Bulls next Saturday. The chance to clinch and celebrate at home will almost have been worth it. Still, the gap between TFC (62 points) and second-place New York City FC remains 10 points with just three games to go (NYCFC have a game in hand). The Revs, meanwhile, are four points out of the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final playoff place, and have played two more games than the sixth-place Red Bulls.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

82′ — Nguyen wrong-foots Irwin with a lucky deflection — It’s been a long, turbulent season for the Revs, so they were probably owed this bit of good fortune (and quite a few more).

84′ — Hasler gets on the end of Bradley’s ball for 1-1 — It’s been a long, turbulent season for the Revs, and they’ve grown used to unfortunate breaks like this.

87′ — Kamara rises up, heads home the winner — It’s been a long, turbulent season for the Revs, one without nearly enough alley-oops to Kamara.

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Man of the match: Lee Nguyen

Goalscorers: Nguyen (82′), Hasler (84′), Kamara (87′)

MLS Snapshot: New England 2-3 New York Red Bulls (video)

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less)Jay Heaps and the New England Revolution threw away two wonderful plays from Diego Fagundez, and perhaps their playoffs hopes in the process. New England is now eight points back of the sixth spot in the East, while New York stays within shouting distance of the Top Six. Coach Jesse Marsch is now the winningest coach in RBNY history, while Heaps days of adding to his total as Revs boss may be dwindling down to zero.

(Some of) The goals

21′ — Pretty build-up, gutsy finish — The first example of Fagundez’s fantastic playmaking was met by Teal Bunbury’s fearless finish. It’s a shame few fans will be thinking about it following the match.

23′ — BWP’s vicious equalizer — Sometime it’s more power than placement.

26′ — Fagundez wins the ball back, finds Nguyen — Look at this mazey dribble from the 22-year-old Uruguayan.

90′ — Veron gets on the board — Not a banner moment for keeper positioning, but the Argentine from San Lorenzo has his first of the season to just drive a sledgehammer into New England’s collective gut.

Man of the Match: Fagundez.

MLS Snapshot: Timbers waste Valeri’s stunner, give up late NE equalizer

Pete Christopher//The Oregonian via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): For 180 seconds, the Portland Timbers found themselves under pressure and on their heels. Eventually, the New England Revolution’s two early scoring chances came and went without any real harm done. The same couldn’t be said for Diego Valeri’s stunning side-volley nine minutes later. For 70 minutes, Portland were in cruise control, dominating the run of play through prolonged periods of possession, but stalling once time came to hit the final box into the box. New England managed to create very little, until Jake Gleeson’s goalkeeping gaffe gifted Lee Nguyen the easiest goal he’ll score all season. Portland might be the most talented team in MLS, but their inability to close out games from a winning position comes back to bite them again and again and again.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup | Late-night ]

Three Two moments that mattered

12′ — Valeri unleashes a perfect side-volley — For about a year now, I’ve calling Diego Valeri “the MLS god.” He forces me to do it just about every other game.

84′ — Gleeson spills, Nguyen pounces — Gleeson has to hold onto the ball in this situation. If he doesn’t, the absolute last thing he can do with it is to palm it into the path of Nguyen. About that…

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Men of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Valeri (12′), Nguyen (84′)

MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 3-1 New York City FC (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): It’s official: No one wants to win the Eastern Conference in 2016. New York City FC, who have been at or near the East summit for much of the season, have had every chance — many of them straightforward, on paper — to run away with the top spot and home-field advantage through the playoffs. They have, instead, stumbled through the last two months of the summer and into the fall, racking up just three wins in their last eight games after Saturday’s 3-1 defeat away to the eighth-place New England Revolution. Juan Agudelo, Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez got the goals, more than enough to cancel out Frank Lampard‘s 12th goal of the season, which (briefly) brought NYCFC back to within one early in the second half. With the victory, the Revs are within a point of Orlando City SC in the race for the sixth and final playoff place in the East. They have, however, played two more games than the Lions. They will face FC Dallas in the U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered 

21′ — Agudelo goes far post for the opener — At some point, someone should probably consider closing down Agudelo as we creeps closer and closer to the six-yard box.

42′ — Nguyen finishes off a fine piece of build-up — Nguyen scores a goal here, but it’s tough to care after also watching, 1) Kelyn Rowe break a defender’s ankles, and 2) Diego Fagundez pull off the casual dummy to attract the attention of three defenders.

49′ — Lampard ghosts in right down Main Street for 2-1 — Lampard’s ability to become invisible to opposing players, but remain visible to his teammates, is an extremely unfair advantage.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Juan Agudelo

Goalscorers: Agudelo (21′), Nguyen (42′), Lampard (49′), Fagundez (58′)