Friday Five: Selecting a few potential candidates for MLS MVP

2011 winner Dwayne De Rosario leads a potential list of hopefuls with the season poised to start next weekend.
With the MLS campaign set to commence next weekend, the time for speculation is now upon us.

Next week will bring plenty of in-depth material to peruse ahead of the opening kickoff, but the Friday Five wanted to cast its glance on the big names under the bright lights heading into the season.

Picking a potential MVP before the season remains an exercise fraught with danger. In this particular instance, the Five scoured the league for a few familiar faces that should compete for the ultimate individual honor this season.

1. D.C. United forward Dwayne De Rosario: It's only fair to start the discussion with a glimpse at the incumbent. DeRo will benefit from plenty of support – United executives pushed through a new contract, while Hamdi Salihi joined the club from Rapid Wien to bolster the front line – as he attempts to replicate his stunning 2011 form (13 goals in 18 games with D.C.). The veteran Canadian international should benefit from a strong supporting cast and his beloved free role as he seeks a second straight crown.

History, however, suggests that De Rosario will fall by the wayside in 2012. Only two MVP holders – Carlos Valderrama (1997) and Marco Etcheverry (1999) – have landed a spot among the three finalists in the following season. No MVP has ever repeated. Then again, no player had ever mounted a serious case for hardware while playing for three teams in one season, either.

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2. Los Angeles forward Landon Donovan: This perennial contender has failed to make the final three in each of the two seasons following his victory in 2009. It isn't as if Donovan's influence has waned – he finished fourth in the balloting last year after posting 12 goals and three assists for the Supporters' Shield winners – but his excellence is almost taken for granted at this stage. Playing in more matches might help (odd and internationally influenced career stat: Donovan has never featured in more than 25 games in a single MLS season), but that goal might prove elusive with World Cup qualifying looming later this year. In the end, the onus will once again fall upon Donovan to force his way into the mix by exceeding the lofty standards set for him.

3. New York forward Thierry Henry: An emotional and somewhat successful loan spell at Arsenal could spark the former French international to greater heights this season. He displayed his quality last campaign (14 goals in 26 matches represents a fine return), but he will need to ensure his side does not slide down the table as it did last year. A torrid half-season of work toward the business end of matters can do the trick these days. It isn't beyond Henry – along with some help from teammates eager to make amends for last season – to tear through the league for that period or a longer stretch of time.

4. Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso: Holding midfielders generally fare poorly in these sorts of evaluations, but the ex-Cuba international exerts the type of influence worthy of serious consideration. Seattle's overall success would play a large part in his candidacy – nothing less than a Supporters' Shield would likely do in this instance – as Alonso doesn't breach the score sheet very often (five goals in three seasons). Even another stellar season, however, may only result in a nomination.

5. Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales: If RSL wants to outlast Los Angeles and Seattle in the daunting Western Conference race, then the Claret-and-Cobalt must lean on its Argentine playmaker to pull the strings. Ex-Chivas USA forward Marcos Mondaini all but erased Morales' 2011 campaign with a nasty tackle on May 7. Morales featured in the last seven games of the season (including playoffs), but he never quite recaptured his best form. A full winter to prepare for 2012 could set the stage for the 32-year-old schemer to inject himself into the thick of the race by dictating the tempo of RSL's silky possession game and keeping the supply lines open for Fabián Espíndola and Álvaro Saborío at all times.

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