MLS MVP Watch: Who is in the race for league’s top individual honor?

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It’s not always the big names taking home Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Player award. For every Landon Donovan, there’s a David Ferreira. For every Preki, a Mike Magee.

And that’s not to slight the less-publicized winners, for we very well may have another slow-burning star bringing home the award this year.

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With the matches winding down and the playoff race heating up, we take a look at the names making waves all year-long after a Twitter comment from a college coach got us thinking… who’s in the MVP driver’s seat as we head into Fall?

There are a few more names to toss into the discussion, of course: Donovan would be more than a sentimental selection, currently leading all players with 15 assists. Erick Torres is doomed by being on Chivas USA, but has been splendid for most of the season.

We’re at the point where Gyasi Zardes also deserves some love, which is what hurts the cases for both Donovan and Keane. L.A. is so, so good and at the right time. And while Keane is hammering shots around the park like no one else, the finely-tuned unit can point to a number of players as integral parts of the team. I still think Keane is the lynchpin, but does this hurt him with the voters?

It’s difficult to nod to World Cup players, though you certainly don’t want to fault them for being good enough to rep their national teams. But if you’re choosing between Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, how about the latter’s 12 goals and 9 assists keeping Seattle steady while Clint was in Brazil?

[ THE WAY BACK MACHINE: Early season MVP analysis ]

For this reason I don’t think Nick Rimando gets a look at giving the goalkeepers and MVP, at least not over DC’s Bill Hamid (However, if the sensational Rimando doesn’t finally pull in a Goalkeeper of the Year award… man, oh man). Still, no backstop is taking this home in 2014.

source: APSpeaking of DC, here’s a wild card for you: Bobby Boswell. Don’t laugh, the DC United defender has played the most minutes in the league as an anchor on the stingiest defense in the MLS. His teammate Perry Kitchen deserves a nod for similar reasons, albeit in the midfield.

But really the big numbers reign, and Bradley Wright-Phillips and Dom Dwyer are putting up the silliest goal figures going. BWP’s 21 goals on a relatively-weak NYRB side could nudge him ahead in the debate.

Here’s where I come out, though, especially if New England continues its ascension: Lee Nguyen has been incredible this season on a team that has sometimes ached for offense. He’s posted 12 goals and four assists while amassing a tied-for-league-best six match-winners (Zardes).

It has to be between Keane and Nguyen, in my mind. And the eye-popping goals and assist totals from Keane has me thinking he’ll take it home. Fourteen goals and 13 assists with games to spare while shining during a congested part of the schedule? Wow.

Who are we missing? Surely Timbers fans would like to hear Diego Valeri, who has sparked the part of Portland’s team that has thrived: attack. Who else?