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Sizing up the wide open MLS MVP race

We've got no fewer than six players on our "short" list.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

This is shaping up to be a historic year in Major League Soccer. Bradley Wright-Phillips has four more games to score the three goals he'd need to match the league's all time single-season high. Landon Donovan has already tied the career record for assists and is two away from becoming just the second player in league history -- Carlos Valderrama had 26 in 2000 -- to claim at least 20 in a season. Robbie Keane is poised to become just the third player in league history to post at least 15 goals and 15 assists in the same campaign and the first since Diego Serna did in in 2001.

It's a pretty crazy year for team accomplishments as well. The LA Galaxy may break the record for best team goal-difference and the Seattle Sounders could become the first team in the post-shootout era to post 20 wins in one year. DC United could end up engineering the greatest single-season turnaround in history, having improved by 35 points with four matches left to play.

Surely, all of these things will be weighed by MVP voters at the end of the year. But that only serves to underscore just how wide open this year's race appears to be. Even after much discussion, we were only able to narrow our list down to six players who deserve serious consideration. Here they are in no particular order:

Robbie Keane

The case for: Only two players have more than his 17 goals and his 14 assists are second most in the league. On top of that, he's helped lead the Galaxy to one of the best statistical seasons in the history of MLS. And it's not just the big counting numbers, either. The Opta-fueled statistics site Squawka has him as the top rated player by accumulated "performance score"; with an attacking score about 30 percent higher than anyone else in the league. His  31 combined goals and assists are already the second highest total in league history since 2000 and could tie the all-time record with three more.

The case against: The Galaxy are just so stacked that removing Keane from the equation doesn't hurt them too much: they've have gone 2-0-1 with a +9 goal-difference in the three games he missed. Also, that cart-wheel to six-gun shooter celebration is getting a bit tired.

Thierry Henry

The case for: Even at 37, the Frenchman is capable of absolutely dominating games almost at will. His nine goals and 13 assists don't necessarily jump off the page, but it's how he's gotten them that is so impressive. Henry also deserves a lot of credit for helping turn teammate Bradley Wright-Phillips into a scoring dynamo. On a team that doesn't have a lot of creative players, he's managed to pick up 63 "key" passes, the sixth most in the league. He's also on pace to play more minutes than he ever has in MLS, as he should surpass last year's 2,519 within his next couple games.

The case against: The Red Bulls might miss the playoffs, due in no small part to their defense. That's not Henry's fault, per se, but he's never been known as a full-field player and that's only become more apparent in his later years. Henry's defense can charitably be called indifferent at this point.

Bill Hamid

The case for: Everything about D.C. United is so much better than it was a year ago that it's hard to identify a single reason why. But the development of Hamid into an elite goalkeeper has to be among the top. It's not just that he has nine shutouts after only getting four last year or that he's allowed so many fewer goals, it's more than he commands the penalty area and rarely makes serious errors. A year ago, it was starting to look unlikely that he'd ever assume his spot atop the USMNT hierarchy, but he's back on pace now.

The case against: The only time a goalkeeper was named MLS MVP was in 2000 when Tony Meola had a season for the ages. There's nothing about Hamid's stats that really stand out; he's third in saves, fourth in wins and fourth in goals against average. He's probably the league's best goalkeeper, but it's hard to justify him as MVP.

Lee Nguyen

The case for: Once a promising US youth international, the 27-year-old is now making good on all that potential. After a dip in form around midseason, he's back on track and leading the New England Revolution to the playoffs. His 13 goals and five assists probably understate how important he's been, as he is the only consistent threat the Revs have on offense. Nguyen is also heating up at the most important time, scoring seven goals and registering four assists over the past 10 games in which the Revs have gone 7-1-2.

The case against: The main reason the Revs aren't already leading the Eastern Conference is because of their eight-game losing streak. That was obviously a lot bigger than one player, but Nguyen sure didn't do much to change things, scoring just one goal and failing to register an assist during the seven matches he played in that span. His goal total is also inflated by his four penalties.

Obafemi Martins

The case for: The Sounders fell apart at the end of last season. Martins' absence during much of that time was sometimes pointed to as contributing to the the collapse, but it may have been an even bigger reason than anyone credited. Now rested and healthy, Martins has been almost unstoppable at times. His 15 goals and 10 assists are the third highest combined total in the league. It's also worth noting that the Sounders have gone 1-2-0 with just two goals scored in the three games he's missed. It's not just the goals he's directly involved in, either. There's no one in MLS that has his combination of speed, skill and strength, making him a matchup nightmare. If the Sounders hold off the Galaxy for the Supporters' Shield, there'll be no question as to who deserves the bulk of the credit.

The case against: Similar to Keane, it's tricky separating Martins' performance from the Sounders' simply having tons of talent at their disposal. Clint Dempsey has obviously helped Martins immensely, just like Donovan has aided Keane. He's also scored five of his goals against Chivas USA, which seems like it should come with an asterisk of its own.

Diego Valeri

The case for: You don't need to spend much time watching Timbers games to realize who the most important player on the team is. Everything seems to run through Valeri and he's done a masterful job doing what so many other foreigners have failed to do: Hit the ground running and keep on going. His nine goals and 14 assists are certainly impressive, but it's all the little stuff he does that really makes him valuable. Moving into space here, a clever pass there. Without Valeri, the Timbers are no where near the playoffs.

The case against: Even with Valeri, the Timbers might miss the postseason. So much of what they do is built to enhance the offense and Valeri doesn't do much of anything to help out the defense aside from keep the ball well. And when you're being judged on your offensive contributions, those contributions better be big and the reality is the other guys on this list have better numbers.

The other guys

It's crazy to think that Wright-Phillips could break the scoring record and not make our short list. Similar things could be said about Donovan, who's enjoying one of the best years of his career and will surely get some sentimental votes based on this being his final season. But in our estimation neither have been quite as MVP-caliber as the other ones. Wright-Phillips has really benefitted immensely from the playmaking and attention Henry draws. Donovan's failing is in that his production has come almost entirely in the second half, as he had just three goals and three assists heading into the last game of July.

Clint Dempsey might very well be at the top of this list if not for the fact that he's missed eight games and that the Sounders went 5-2-1 without him.

Dom Dwyer, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Bobby Boswell and Osvaldo Alonso were also players whose names got tossed about, but none of them have quite risen to serious MVP consideration.