If you believe Major League Soccer's MVP belongs in the hands of a player whose resume is more than a collection of counting statistics, whose contributions are apparent in his team's overall performance and who has come up biggest when his team needs him most, you need to give Fredy Montero a serious look.
The Seattle Sounders forward is among the league leaders with 12 goals and eight assists. Those are nice numbers, to be sure, but what makes Montero's candidacy stand out is how he compiled them.
Montero hurt his hand in the season opener, played with a brace for a couple games, eventually had surgery to repair the injury, played with a hard cast for four matches and then played eight more with a soft cast. In all, he played 14 matches with some kind of implement on his right arm. During that time, he scored three goals and had four assists.
Since being freed from those restrictions, he has been a man possessed. In the 13 matches since then, Montero has scored nine goals and has four assists. After his game-winner on Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes, he now has 20 combined goals and assists. Dwayne De Rosario (15 goals, 12 assists) is the only MLS player with more.
Unlike De Rosario, though, Montero has piled up his numbers for a team that has already qualified for the playoffs. Just as importantly, his numbers have also come in important situations. Of his 12 goals, 10 have either tied the game or given the Sounders the lead, eight of them have come in the second half and nine of them have come on the road. It's also worth pointing out that none of his goals have come from the penalty spot. Only Chris Wondolowski (15) and Thierry Henry (14) have more goals without a successful penalty.
While his non-MLS stats should not be directly factored into his MVP candidacy, it bears mentioning that Montero has also helped his team win a third straight U.S. Open Cup and led the Sounders into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. In 10 non-MLS appearances, he has six goals and two assists. He scored the game-winning goal in the Open Cup quarterfinals, semifinals and finals and all three of his CCL goals either tied the score or gave the Sounders the lead.
In MLS-only play, the Sounders have been +14 goals with Montero on the field. Broken down on a per 90-minute basis, the Sounders are .57 goals per 90 better than their opposition when Montero is on the field. Without him, the Sounders are .36 goals per 90 better than their opponents. That margin of .21 goals per 90 would equate to a difference of about seven goals over the course of a season.
The big problem with Montero's MVP candidacy seems to be one of perception. He has a reputation as being a bit of a soft player in a league that likes its stars to be physical. But the 2011 version of Fredy Montero is a lot different than the one who entered the league in 2009. Montero is no longer afraid to mix it up with opposing center backs in the box, with eight of his goals coming from inside the penalty area and nine goals coming from the run of play.
That Montero has done all of this for a team that most years would have probably won the Supporters' Shield also needs to be considered. It's tempting to say the Sounders' talent makes Montero less important, but he's a major part of why the team is so good.
Montero doesn't seem to be on too many experts' short-list for MVP, but he clearly belongs there.