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If you can't see Bradley Wright-Phillips' case for MLS MVP, you aren't even trying to look for it

The notion David Villa is the current MLS MVP front-runner only makes sense if you don't know BWP exists.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It is time for Once A Metro to answer a cry for help:

Don't worry, Brian, we got your back.

So you're thinking about voting for David Villa for MLS MVP? Cool. Not a bad choice. Certainly a contender. Might well finish the season as the Golden Boot winner and perhaps the leading scorer on the top-scoring team in MLS.

You're in good company. Plenty of soccer watchers have been talking up Villa's MVP candidacy for a while now.

Oh, look - it's you again. Wrestling with this problem for a while, I see.

So David Villa's significant claim to the sort of extraordinary contribution that warrants MVP status is goals. He has scored 21 in 31 appearances for NYCFC this season. That's great!

It's a little weird we're talking about high-volume goal scoring as the factor that defines MVP quality in MLS 2016. After all, goal scoring went out of fashion in 2014.

published October 27, 2014

published October 27, 2014

That's Matt Doyle telling us via that assist-making is where it's at these days. And there seemed a strong consensus for that: the top scorer in the league that year didn't greatly trouble the MVP vote.

27 goals in 2014 was good for 4th in MVP voting

27 goals in 2014 was good for 4th in MVP voting

Of course, anyone who is high on Villa this year, must have been all about BWP in 2014. It was a brave position to take for any member of the media, as the paltry 8% of votes landing with Wright-Phillips indicates. But someone who appreciates the virtues of a pure goal scorer in 2016 would surely have been delighted by the show BWP put on in 2014.


Anyway, not picking on you here, Brian. No one in that particular piece had a 27-goal season pegged as MVP-worthy. It was, as the MVP voting showed, essentially the consensus of the US soccer media that whomever might be the 2014 MLS MVP, it wasn't BWP.

But we'll put to one side the curious fact that a guy who scored 27 goals in a season didn't even crack the top three of MVP voting in 2014, but a guy with 21 is apparently the front-runner in 2016. We'll put it to one side cos the only explanation for that seems to be some sort of consensus of hypocrisy, and that can't be right.

Let's see if anyone out there matches up to what Villa has been doing for New York City FC this season.

MLS scoring stats; October 1, 2016

MLS scoring stats; October 1, 2016

Psst...I think there might be another contender.

If I'm following this correctly, David Villa is MLS MVP because of his goal scoring. And right now he has 21, which is one more than anyone else. But that in itself isn't enough to be MVP because otherwise some guy called BWP would have won the award in 2014. So there's more to it. OK, let's look for more.

Is it the assists? Villa has three. The guy below him on the scoring list - Bradley Wright-Phillips - has five. And BWP has 20 goals. Twenty plus five is...25. Villa's 21 plus three is...24. Wait: BWP has contributed to one more goal than Villa so far this season. Huh.

Game-winning goals are important. Villa's MVP cos he has a ton of those? He has four. That's pretty good.

BWP has five game-winning goals. That seems to be better than four. Huh.

Maybe Villa is MVP because he's just a more efficient scorer? He's converting 13.7% of his shots into goals. Excellent! BWP is stumbling along at a measly 21.7% conversion rate. And he's taken 62 fewer shots than Villa this season. If he maintained his current rate of scoring over 154 shots, he'd have scored about 33 goals. Yeah - that seems to be better than what Villa has been doing too.

Oh - and BWP doesn't take penalties for the New York Red Bulls any more. Villa's 21-goal total includes four penalties. It takes a special skill to score from the spot, no doubt. Roland Alberg and Kaka have scored four penalties each this season: should we include them in the MVP conversation?

Maybe the issue is multi-goal games? Villa just scored a brace, for the second consecutive game. He's now had six multi-goal games in MLS 2016.

Wait, BWP also has six multi-goal games in MLS 2016.  The RBNY man hasn't scored back-to-back braces this season though. He just had that time in May when he followed two-goals-in-a-game with a hat-trick against Toronto. Villa might remember it: the first two came in a 7-0 win over NYCFC.

OK. Maybe there is something less obvious that separates these two. Maybe Villa simply makes NYCFC better in a way BWP does not with RBNY?

That's a tough case to make since we just don't have a lot of evidence for what RBNY looks like without BWP: he has appeared in every regular season game the team has played this season. He started the year with a slump, and didn't score for the first seven matches of the league campaign. The Red Bulls lost six of those seven matches, and were held scoreless in five of them.

BWP opened his MLS 2016 account with two goals in a 3-2 win over Orlando. In effect, given his barren start, he has since scored 20 goals in 24 appearances. Indeed, his peak form has been during the team's current 13-game unbeaten streak. The backbone of the streak has been BWP's indefatigable scoring. He scored in eight of the nine matches played between July 24 and September 18, including a run of six consecutive games with a goal. Villa might remember it: the scoring spree started with a BWP brace in a 4-1 win over NYCFC.

So no one can conclusively say that RBNY is better or worse without BWP because it hasn't been without him in the league so far this year. We can say that when BWP couldn't score at the start of the year, the Red Bulls lost six of seven games. We can say that since he's started scoring, the team has lost three of 24 outings. Circumstantial evidence suggests the team might be a lot better when BWP is contributing goals.

Indeed, there were a lot of articles written during the Red Bulls terrible start that found solace in statistics and pointed out that RBNY was still creating chances and taking shots - they just weren't going in. When the team's top scorer of 2014 and 2015 started his march toward being its top scorer for 2016, RBNY's fortunes turned around. Can't say for sure, but it seems like what the Red Bulls were missing at the start of this year was BWP's scoring touch.

What about Villa? Same problem: he has played in almost every league game for NYCFC this season. When his team isn't playing well, he's usually there; and when it is good, he is there too. There has been just one league game he didn't play: a tricky July 30 visit from Colorado. The Rapids were on a 15-game unbeaten streak at the time. NYCFC had just been thrashed, 4-1, by RBNY.

Villa didn't play against Colorado. It was, as you might expect, a mismatch. The best team in the league against a hot-and-cold side that was missing its top scorer. NYCFC won, 5-1: it's biggest win of the season to date.

I can't tell you David Villa's presence on the field makes his team better or worse. Common sense would suggest having its most reliable scorer around probably makes a team better. But, of course, that same logic would have to apply to BWP - whose worst form of the season happens to have been when his team was at its worst, and whose best form has occurred when his team is at its best. Villa watched his team record its most impressive victory of the year so far from the stands.

There are other measures of value, of course. One could compare salaries to output: Villa and BWP are basically neck and neck with regard to the number of goals they have contributed to their respective teams; Villa costs his team about $5.6 million per year, while BWP is taking $710,000 out of Papa Red Bull's pocket.

Or one could look to see if there were any other player on the team approaching the same level of productivity in front of goal. The second-highest league goal scorer for RBNY so far this season is Mike Grella, with six goals from a 17.1% conversion rate. Sacha Kljestan and Felipe Martins have five each, at a 13.9% and 9.4% conversion rate respectively. There is no goal scorer approaching BWP's ability in the squad.

For NYCFC so far this season, the second-highest scorer is Frank Lampard, who has banged in 12 goals at remarkable rate: a 36.4% conversion rate, just 18 appearances, a perfectly balanced six goals at home and six on the road. He has been injured too often this year to be ever-present in the side. But if he had been capable of staying fit and sustaining that form over a full season - he'd be the runaway MVP of the league. Certainly, you don't have to look very hard to find a player in NYCFC's squad whose scoring impact equals- in fact, exceeds - that of Villa.

Which suggests that if you don't see how you might vote for anyone but David Villa for MLS MVP in 2016, you haven't really been looking for anyone else who might deserve that vote. Because there is at least one player in his own team who has put on a more impressive (albeit shorter) show, and most definitely one player in a rival squad whose achievements this season exceed Villa's if subjected to anything but the most glancing scrutiny.

The season still has a few games to be played; the MLS MVP is not crowned yet. But if you think David Villa is the front-runner right now, you're mistaken. Because right now, by almost every metric you might use to argue for Villa's supremacy, you're going to find Wright-Phillips has performed better. So if you want to crown Villa, you have to crown BWP.