Fall is upon us, and as such the stretch run for the MLS regular season has commenced at last, with just six weeks left. And while there are plenty of key matches still to be played, enough games have gone in the books to get a sense of which player has edged in front in the MVP race.
At first glance, the award seems poised to come down to three players, but closer inspection reveals other deserving candidates who have each played a huge role in their team's fortunes.
1. Mike Magee, Chicago Fire
Magee has suited up for two teams this year, and one could argue that during both stints, he was the team MVP. It was Magee's six goals that helped L.A. get off to a solid 5-3-2 start while Landon Donovan got up to speed following his sabbatical. But Magee's best work occurred following his May trade to the Fire. His 10 goals and three assists in 16 matches helped Chicago overcome a wretched start and now the Fire finds itself back among the playoff places.
The only caveat to handing the award to Magee concerns the fate of his team. If Chicago fails to make the playoffs, that may cost the Fire forward enough votes that someone else could snag the award, but if Chicago can maintain its recent run of form to reach the postseason, its difficult to see the MVP trophy going to anyone else.
2. Robbie Keane, Los Angeles Galaxy
Had a combination of international duty and injury not limited Keane to 17 regular season games, it's frightening to think of the numbers the Irishman could have racked up. As it stands, Keane's 13 goals and 11 assists have proven to be enough of a nightmare for opposition defenses, as he's had a hand in 53 percent of L.A.'s goals this season.
Some might argue that playing in just 17 of L.A.'s 28 games means that the Irish international hasn't been around enough to really merit MVP consideration, but one only has to look at the Galaxy's record of 3-7-1 when Keane is absent to see what he means to his side.
3. Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders
Holding midfielders rarely garner many MVP votes, but one could do worse than cast a vote Alonso's way. For all of the talk about Seattle's depth in attack, it's the team's defense that is most responsible for the Sounders winning eight of their last nine, with just six goals conceded over that stretch. And over the course of the season, Seattle's defense ranks second, just behind Sporting Kansas City.
Acting almost as a one-man shield in front of the back line, Alonso has been at the forefront of those efforts. According to stats compiled by Opta, among the league's midfielders, only Toronto FC's Matias Laba has averaged more tackles per game than Alonso's mark of 3.1, and while he isn't counted on to contribute much in the attacking third, Alonso has been efficient with his passing as well.
4. Marco Di Vaio, Montreal Impact
The Impact has been at or near the top of the Eastern Conference standings all season, and this is in large part due to Di Vaio's league-leading 18 goals. The former Italian international has been called offside a whopping 67 times -- more than double that of the No. 2 man in that category, Seattle's Eddie Johnson -- but his timing has been clever enough that when combined with his lethal finishing, he has more than delivered for Montreal this season. Di Vaio has recently made noises about retiring from the game, so MLS fans should catch a glimpse of him while they still can.
5. Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake
So outstanding have been the efforts of the first four players on this list that Morales' season has flown under the radar to some extent, even though RSL is still a threat to win the Supporters Shield. Yet two years after suffering a broken ankle, the Argentine has been the attacking catalyst behind RSL's league-leading 52 goals, tallying seven times and assisting on 10 others. He's also second in the league with 82 chances created, trailing only Columbus Crew attacker Federico Higuain. It's a season that harkens back to Morales' stellar 2008 campaign when he had six goals and 15 assists.