Friday, August 22, 2014
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Why Sebastien Le Toux is MLS' most valuable player

Between his 14 goals and 11 assists, Sebastien Le Toux had a role in a higher percentage of his team's overall goals than any other player in league history.

Why Sebastien Le Toux is MLS' most valuable player

Sebastien Le Toux was the key player in the Union´s attack this season. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Sebastien Le Toux was the key player in the Union's attack this season. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

I cast my votes for the various end-of-season awards across Major League Soccer yesterday afternoon. For the last few weeks, I had been planning to vote for Sebastien Le Toux as the league's Most Valuable Player, but San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski's epic goalscoring streak of late had changed my mind.

Just as I was about to put Wondolowski's name on the ballot, though, the Union's media relations staff put out a tweet that changed my vote back to Le Toux. You would expect a team to promote its own player for awards, but the information they had assembled had real substance and power behind it.

Between his 14 goals and 11 assists, Sebastien Le Toux had a role in a higher percentage of his team's overall goals than any other player in league history. Yes, really: no player in the entire 15-year existence of Major League Soccer ever had the kind of season Le Toux just wrapped up.

Not only that, he set the record by a considerable margin. Courtesy of the Union and the Elias Sports Bureau, here are the top six player-seasons in what we'll call "goals affected" in MLS history:

Year Name Team G A Team G Gs. Aff. # Gs. Aff. %
2006 Jeff Cunningham RSL 16 11 48 27 0.563
2002 Taylor Twellman NE 23 6 49 29 0.592
2003 Preki KC 12 17 48 29 0.604
1999 Joe-Max Moore NE 15 8 38 23 0.605
1999 Jason Kreis DAL 18 15 54 33 0.611
2010 Sebastien Le Toux PHL 14 11 35 25 0.714

Soccer doesn't lend itself easily to being measured by statistics. That's part of its beauty, but it has also made the sportless easy to explain to Americans raised on baseball, football and basketball. You can quantify just about everything in those realms: batting average and UZR on the diamond, quarterback rating on the gridiron and offensive efficiency on the hardwood.

Statistics are slowly making their way into soccer, but it's still a pretty abstract sport overall. So what tangible methods can we use to determine a player's statistical value?

This "goals affected" figure is certainly a good measuring stick. In its early years, Major League Soccer awarded a hockey-style prize for points recorded in a season, counting goals for two and assists for one. That offended the soccer purists who wanted a traditional Golden Boot prize for the top goalscorer. MLS rightly listened and changed the award.

But assists are still an important part of the game, and deserve to be quantified by the record-keepers. A player who sets up lots of goals brings plenty of value to his (or her) club.

So how should we award a "most valuable player" prize in soccer? I'm the kind of person who believes that a most valuable player is one whose absence would be most missed were he not on the field. That is a different standard from a most outstanding player prize. If I were voting for that, I would go for Wondolowski or Los Angeles' Edson Buddle.

You can certainly make a case for Wondolowski's value to the Earthquakes. His 18 goals won this year's Golden Boot, but just as important was the high percentage of San Jose's goals that came from Wondolowski. He accounted for 52.5 percent of his team's overall tallies.

To put that number in context, Wondolowski is only the second Golden Boot winner in MLS history to score more than half his team's goals in a season:

Year Name Team G Team G GS%
1996 Roy Lassiter TB 27 66 0.409
1997 Preki KC 12 57 0.211
1998 Jaime Moreno DC 16 70 0.229
1999 Jason Kreis (t) DAL 18 54 0.333
1999 Roy Lassiter (t) DC 18 65 0.277
1999 Stern John (t) CLB 18 48 0.375
2000 Mamadou Diallo TB 26 62 0.419
2001 Alex Pineda Chacon MIA 19 57 0.333
2002 Taylor Twellman NE 23 49 0.469
2003 Carlos Ruiz (t) LA 24 44 0.545
2003 Taylor Twellman (t) NE 15 55 0.273
2004 Amado Guevara NY 10 47 0.213
2005 Taylor Twellman NE 17 55 0.309
2006 Jeff Cunningham RSL 16 48 0.333
2007 Luciano Emilio DC 20 56 0.357
2008 Landon Donovan LA 20 55 0.364
2009 Jeff Cunningham DAL 17 50 0.340
2010 Chris Wondolowski SJ 18 34 0.529

But Wondolowski only recorded one assist this season, putting him behind Le Toux in the total "goals affected" category. So to me, that diminished his claim for MVP honors.

I put together a chart that I thinks brings everything together. I took the goals affected leaders from each MLS season and crunched a series of statistics to measure each player.

Here's the chart in chronological order. Note that the "Games" column reflects games in a season, not games played, as I think that is a truer reflection of value to a team. "GS %" is percentage of a team's goals scored, "A %" is percentage of a team's assists recorded, "GA #" is total number of goals affected and "GA %" is percentage of goals affected.
 

Year Name Tm G A Tm G Tm A Gms G/gm GS % A % GA # GA %
1996 Roy Lassiter (t) TB 27 4 66 60 32 0.844 0.409 0.067 31 0.470
1996 Preki (t) KC 18 13 61 59 32 0.563 0.295 0.220 31 0.508
1997 Preki KC 12 17 57 64 32 0.375 0.211 0.266 29 0.509
1998 Cobi Jones LA 19 13 85 104 32 0.594 0.224 0.125 32 0.376
1999 Jason Kreis DAL 18 15 54 66 32 0.563 0.333 0.227 33 0.611
2000 Mamadou Diallo (t) TB 26 4 62 94 32 0.813 0.419 0.043 30 0.484
2000 Clint Mathis (t) NY 16 14 64 72 32 0.500 0.250 0.194 30 0.469
2001 Diego Serna MIA 15 15 57 89 26 0.577 0.263 0.169 30 0.526
2002 Taylor Twellman NE 23 6 49 62 28 0.821 0.469 0.097 29 0.592
2003 Preki KC 12 17 48 41 30 0.400 0.250 0.415 29 0.604
2004 Amado Guevara NY 10 10 47 40 30 0.333 0.213 0.250 20 0.426
2005 Christian Gomez DC 11 9 58 58 32 0.344 0.190 0.155 20 0.345
2006 Jeff Cunningham RSL 16 11 48 51 32 0.500 0.333 0.216 27 0.563
2007 Landon Donovan LA 8 13 38 33 30 0.267 0.211 0.394 21 0.553
2008 Landon Donovan LA 20 10 55 55 30 0.667 0.364 0.182 30 0.545
2009 Jeff Cunningham DAL 17 8 50 49 30 0.567 0.340 0.163 25 0.500
2010 Sebastien Le Toux PHL 14 11 35 35 30 0.467 0.400 0.314 25 0.714

And here's the chart ranking the players by goals affected percentage:

Year Name Tm G A Tm G Tm A Gms G/gm GS % A % GA # GA %
2005 Christian Gomez DC 11 9 58 58 32 0.344 0.190 0.155 20 0.345
1998 Cobi Jones LA 19 13 85 104 32 0.594 0.224 0.125 32 0.376
2004 Amado Guevara NY 10 10 47 40 30 0.333 0.213 0.250 20 0.426
2000 Clint Mathis (t) NY 16 14 64 72 32 0.500 0.250 0.194 30 0.469
1996 Roy Lassiter (t) TB 27 4 66 60 32 0.844 0.409 0.067 31 0.470
2000 Mamadou Diallo (t) TB 26 4 62 94 32 0.813 0.419 0.043 30 0.484
2009 Jeff Cunningham DAL 17 8 50 49 30 0.567 0.340 0.163 25 0.500
1996 Preki (t) KC 18 13 61 59 32 0.563 0.295 0.220 31 0.508
1997 Preki KC 12 17 57 64 32 0.375 0.211 0.266 29 0.509
2001 Diego Serna MIA 15 15 57 89 26 0.577 0.263 0.169 30 0.526
2008 Landon Donovan LA 20 10 55 55 30 0.667 0.364 0.182 30 0.545
2007 Landon Donovan LA 8 13 38 33 30 0.267 0.211 0.394 21 0.553
2006 Jeff Cunningham RSL 16 11 48 51 32 0.500 0.333 0.216 27 0.563
2002 Taylor Twellman NE 23 6 49 62 28 0.821 0.469 0.097 29 0.592
2003 Preki KC 12 17 48 41 30 0.400 0.250 0.415 29 0.604
1999 Jason Kreis DAL 18 15 54 66 32 0.563 0.333 0.227 33 0.611
2010 Sebastien Le Toux PHL 14 11 35 35 30 0.467 0.400 0.314 25 0.714
More coverage
 
Sebastien Le Toux profile

What are your thoughts on how a Most Valuable Player prize should be awarded? I know a lot of you are Union fans, but even so, is Le Toux the most deserving candidate this year? Fire away in the comments.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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