The MLS MVP could come down to a decision between Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri and Los Angeles Galaxy forward Robbie Keane, and the voting might resemble the close race involving each team in the Western Conference playoff chase.
Valeri carries a three-game goal-scoring streak into Sunday's match as third-place Portland looks to remain ahead of visiting Los Angeles, which expects to have Landon Donovan in the lineup.
The Timbers (11-5-13) trail Seattle and Real Salt Lake in the West while holding a one-point edge on the Galaxy (13-10-6), who are tied with Colorado for the final two playoff slots. Vancouver and San Jose aren't far behind.
Valeri scored in the 13th minute of Portland's 1-0 win over Colorado on Sept. 20, helping it improve to 2-0-1 over its last three. He has eight goals and is tied with Philadelphia's Sebastien Le Toux for the MLS lead with 12 assists while recently playing through a hamstring injury.
"I think he's one of the best players in the league, no question about it," Timbers coach Caleb Porter told the team's official website of the first-year MLS player. "I can tell you this, he cares more about winning than any individual accomplishment. He tells me almost every week, 'Coach, we're going to win championships here.'"
There's a chance Valeri will be able to experience both if the 27-year-old Argentinian continues playing at a high level.
"The most important thing for me is to be champion and get trophies," Valeri said. "We work to be champions, and that's most important. I prefer to be champion and not MVP.
"Well, both things, but first to be champion, and then MVP."
Valeri assisted on Andrew Jean-Baptiste's goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time to beat Los Angeles 2-1 in the last meeting July 13.
"I think he's been fantastic," Donovan said of Valeri. "I think outside of Robbie Keane, he's been the best player in the league this year."
Keane is making his own case for the league's top individual honor. His 13 goals are fourth in MLS and his 11 assists are one off the league lead Valeri shares.
Keane scored six goals in his previous four MLS matches before Juninho scored Los Angeles' goal in a 1-all draw with Seattle on Sept. 21.
The two-time defending MLS Cup champions are 0-1-2 in their last three league contests, though Donovan has missed two of those matches and the second half a 2-all draw with D.C. on Sept. 14 after suffering a sprained ankle.
Los Angeles is 1-6-2 in its last nine true road games - it beat Chivas USA as the away team June 23 on the home field the clubs share - and knows it has a tough test awaiting in Portland.
The Timbers are 11-0-3 across all competitions in their last 14 at home.
"Outside of our field, I think it's the hardest place to go play," Donovan told the team's official website. "I think over the years teams would say they don't want to come to L.A., and I would say now they would say we don't want to go to Portland or Seattle."
Portland went 0-3-1 in the previous four meetings with Los Angeles before the thrilling victory in July.
- Sports & Recreation
- Diego Valeri
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- Los Angeles
- Robbie Keane
- Landon Donovan