Which striker can strike gold and claim the MLS Golden Boot?

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In predicting who will lead MLS in scoring this year, let’s approach things in reverse order. I’ll start by listing who might get close, only to perhaps get nicked in the end:

Why Vancouver’s Sebastien Le Toux might not win: Le Toux had 25 goals over two seasons in Philly, quite an impressive sum. But he could find himself struggling to turn up all the minutes he’d like at BC Place.

Not only does Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie have plenty of other options, as we’ve discussed, but Le Toux tends to freelance, which is probably among the reasons Union boss Peter Nowak felt OK about parting with the high-scoring Frenchman. I see the bulk of the Whitecap goals falling Eric Hassli’s way.

Why Sporting Kansas City’s Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong might not: They accounted for 23 goals last year, 9 apiece for Bunbury and Kamara. And that trio promises to be mighty dangerous again at Livestrong Sporting Park. But the goals will continue to be distributed throughout the side, with new winger Bobby Convey and perhaps rookie Dom Dwyer collecting their share, too. With that kind of looming dispersion, I doubt any one SKC man can elbow his way into the Golden Boot chase.

Why Colorado’s Conor Casey might not: He’ll get goals at DSG Park this year – when he’s on the field, that is. And there’s the rub.  Casey will always be a handful for defenders, but he’s still not back from last year’s devastating Achilles tear. And he’s always been injury-prone.  Honestly, if you promised Rapids manager Oscar Pareja right now that he could get 22-24 games of complete health from Casey, Pareja might just take that and run with it.

Why Toronto’s Danny Koevermans might not: Any cat who can hit for 8 goals in 10 games, as the Dutchman did last year upon mid-summer arrival, has proven he can hit prolifically. But I still look at the team around him and scratch me noggin a bit, wondering about the quality of balls Koevermans might get. Ryan Johnson on one wing always seems slightly out of place; he looks more like a battering ram target guy; of course, they already have one of those in Koevermans.

The TFC midfield looks OK, but remains devoid of a true creative presence.  Eric Avila is the closest Aron Winter has to a true playmaker, but he’s young and his game still has too many holes. The Dutch striker might be my choice to claim Golden Boot if the service at BMO Field looked less spotty.

Why FC Dallas’ Brek Shea might not: Two words: Blas. Perez. FCD’s new Panamanian striker is in place now, and I expect the attack around FC Dallas stadium to adjust accordingly. Shea struck impressively last year 11 times. More impressive still: each goal came in a different match. There were no stat-padding afternoons. But this year Shea can aim for Perez with service rather than barreling toward goal quite as often. (As such, expect his assist total to tick up this year after a modest four in 2011.)

Why United’s Dwayne De Rosario might not: He’s 33 and, like the rest of us, not getting any younger. Remember, Landon Donovan has already practically stamped “old man” on himself, saying that he’s no longer a “goal scorer” in this league, that at his advanced age he’s really more a set-up man. (I do believe in golf they refer to this as “sandbagging.” But never mind that …) All that, and Donovan is just 30!  So where does that leave De Rosario?

The thing with “De Ro” is this: he relies heavily on explosive bursts, on those signature slashing drives out of recessed areas. That gets harder as the legs lose some jump. Don’t forget, he’ll get extra wear and tear in Canadian World Cup qualifiers this summer. De Rosario will have a great season, I predict, just maybe not a Golden Boot season.

Why the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane might not: Keane will be a force at the Home Depot Center, for sure. But I see the goals being will be well-dispersed around Galaxy valley. Mike Magee’s good instincts aren’t getting any worse as he gains additional experience.  Donovan and Edson Buddle will get theirs, of course. Keane won’t need to carry the offense, even though he’s sure to latch onto his share of David Beckham’s snappy services.

Why Vancouver’s Eric Hassli might not: Actually, he just might. I like him a lot to challenge for the crown, and not just because he struck me as such a nice fellow when I chatted with him Arizona. (He’s oddly soft spoken, considering that sledgehammer style that only Conor Casey could love.) Taylor Twellman told me Hassli was his choice for the scoring crown. (Taylor’s interview is at the 42:30 mark of our radio show/podcast). So, I do favor Hassli to be a major factor in the race … I just like one fellow a little more. Keep reading.

Why San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski might not: Same deal as Hassli.  He could surely press my pick to win it. “Wonder Wondo” has absolutely carried the Earthquakes offense over the last two seasons. His 34 goals is tops in MLS over that time, and I don’t see any significant drop in production.

So my pick is …

Seattle’s Fredy Montero: Seattle’s talisman has been in sensational form in preseason and in the Sounders’ Champions League win over Mexico’s Santos. The young Colombian’s game continues to mature. But he is 24 now, no longer a pup, edging ever closer to the finished product.  Montero has everything he needs right there in his rave green striker’s tool belt: shooting ability from distance, proficiency in the air despite his size, impeccable timing near goal, etc.  Considering that he hit 22 over the last two seasons combined, considering the service and the creation that’s sure to come from Mauro Rosales along the right side and elsewhere at CenturyLink Field this could well be Montero’s year.

(Update: Looks like I got a few people in a twist over this one. Who woulda thought? Ahem. So look for a subsequent post with potential additions, clarifications, explanations, meaculpas, sorry excuses … you know, the whole shebang. I’ll let this one stew for a bit, then drop the follow-up post in about an hour.)