Every year, hope dawns anew, with the melting of the past winter’s snow and spring breezes wafting through the air. The pitch is made ready for the cleats that will do their best to tear asunder the grass. Well, except for those stadiums that use an alien substance that was once known as AstroTurf, upon which to ply their trade.
For the myriad supporters scattered across North America, their hopes gradually begin to focus on what their club will do in the upcoming season. The main hope is that they’re good enough to make the MLS Playoffs when the summer heat dissipates with the cooler autumn temperatures.
And of course, we cannot forget the pundits that pontificate from on high about how one club is better than another club, before a match has even been played. Then there are the players that these pundits anoint as being “The One” who is the best, prior to the midway point of the season.
Such was the case when the conventional wisdom that was coagulating in offices far away from the stadiums began to seep through cracks under the doors of those that were cloistered in tiny offices. The word was slowly spread, barely whispered at first, as it spiraled out like tendrils in search of support.
“The One,” of course, was new Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco. The “Atomic Ant,” owing as much to his robust skill, as to his equally diminutive stature. Twice was Giovinco able to help Juventus claim the Serie A title. His great vision and pace, coupled with his skill, saw him named to the Italian Men’s National Team beginning in 2011.
The whispers increased in volume with each passing week, touting his poise and vivacity being almost better than anything MLS had ever seen in its 20 years in existence. The whispers were gone, replaced with a now audible tone that proclaimed “Giovinco IS the Most Valuable Player in MLS” as summer was fast approaching.
The hopes and dreams of the Toronto FC faithful were couched in cautious optimism. Could this be the year that they finally broke through to the postseason since their inception in 2007?
Granted, watching Giovinco was like gazing longingly at the Mona Lisa to the faithful. The pundits were enamored with the 28-year-old from Turin, as he dazzled all that witnessed his hat trick in Yankee Stadium against new kids on the block, NYCFC. He was seemingly able to nutmeg his opposition at will, such is his prowess with the ball.
Toronto paid dearly for his services, signing him to a five-year contract that lines the little Italian’s pockets with a reported $7.1 million per year. This made him the highest paid player in Major League Soccer and marked a turning point for the league.
For the first time, a player in his prime, from a top club in one of the top leagues in the world, made the decision to come to MLS. The pundits began to boldly state that Giovinco was the runaway favorite for MVP.
Playing in the blindside of those who wanted to anoint Giovinco as “The One,” there was another who was quietly going about the business of scoring goals, establishing an early lead in the chase for the Golden Boot.
Standing almost one foot taller than Giovinco, the 30-year-old player from Sierra Leone had stints with four MLS sides, played for a Premier League club and a Football League Championship side, before returning to MLS in January 2015. He’s been a member of the Sierra Leone Men’s National Team since 2008, making his debut in 2010.
Columbus Crew SC welcomed forward Kei Kamara back into the fold of the familiar Black and Gold with open arms. He’s the catalyst for a Columbus side that seems lost when he’s not on the pitch with them. He has an uncanny ability to get above every other player in search of heading-in another goal. His attitude and personality are in a perpetual state of ease and happiness.
Kamara leads the league with 20 goals, and is chasing the MLS record of 27 goals in a season with just five games remaining. He scored a brace in his most recent match against the Philadelphia Union, marking the sixth time he’s accomplished that feat this season. The aforementioned Giovinco is three goals behind in the chase with 17.
“To be honest, my teammates are thinking about it more than I am,” Kamara said to SI.com writer Grant Wahl. “They’re finding ways to say: ‘How can we beat this record?’ I’m hearing guys saying, ‘We need to find a way to get you those goals.’ For me, I think it’s kind of hard to get to (the record). I’m just looking to whether I can win the Golden Boot this year.”
Kamara’s 20 goals are almost half of the total goals scored by Crew SC (47) this season. He’s also managed to get to this point without taking a single penalty kick (unlike the players chasing him), as that job is normally reserved for Federico Higuain. Kamara was also named MLS Player of the Week for the third time this season on September 15.
Giovinco and Toronto FC occupy fifth place (37 points) in the Eastern Conference, still chasing their elusive first MLS playoff appearance. They hold a five point lead over the last playoff spot held by the Montreal Impact.
At the same time, Columbus sits in third place (44 points), just one point behind the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United, with having 45 points. Crew Sc could clinch a playoff berth this weekend with a win at D.C. and a Chicago Fire win or draw against Orlando City FC.
The chase for the Golden Boot is by no means over, even this late in the season. But the reality is simply that the Golden Boot is Kamara’s to lose. And what about the proclamations that Giovinco should be MVP, having been bandied about for better than half of the season?
There is no clear frontrunner for Most Valuable Player. Sebastian Giovinco and Kei Kamara are both deserving of the honor, although Kamara holds a slight edge.
We’ve already mentioned that the Columbus forward has three more goals than Giovinco, with none coming from penalty kicks. Kamara also has six game-winning goals and seven assists to go with his 20 goals.
One of the most important attributes of an MVP is that they are simply a game-changer. They elevate their teammates play on the pitch in a very meaningful and significant way.
The most recent example of this was the Crew SC 3-0 loss to FC Dallas without Kamara. The team looked hesitant and was, at times, disjointed. Saturday in Philadelphia, Kamara was on the pitch and they played with significantly more confidence and purpose.
For these reasons, Columbus Crew SC forward Kei Kamara has my vote over Sebastian Giovinco for MLS Most Valuable Player of 2015.