2016 MLS MVP: Sebastian Giovinco, obvs

Major League Soccer today released the nominees list for its 2016 annual awards, which included nominees in multiple categories including the following categories focused on player performance: MVP, Defender, Goalkeeper, Newcomer, Rookie, Coach, Comeback Player. MLS players, MLS club staff and media members covering MLS vote in the League’s end of year honors. The full list of categories, nominees and announcement dates are available here.


Last week, we began to share our favorite MLS performers with our choices for Top Striker and Top Creator. Before the end of this week we will share our picks for Top Duo, Top Defender, and Top Goalkeeper. Expected goals is at the core of our analysis and, therefore, our selections. Note that we limited the eligible player pool to players who played a minimum of 900 minutes.


The MLS announced finalists for MVP are Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls and David Villa of New York City FC. Because we – and pretty much everyone else – saw a notable snub in the MVP nominations, we’re sharing our pick for MLS MVP ahead of schedule. Our pick, which should come as no surprise, is Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC.


Maybe the majority of MLS awards voters thought Giovinco already had enough on his hands with an ESPY Award and a complimentary one year auto lease to be bothered with a second consecutive MLS MVP recognition. Sure, Giovinco played less minutes (2,419) than any of the other nominees, missing five of the last seven regular season games, but his impact on Toronto’ FC’s season can not be understated. Toronto FC averaged about 0.5 points per game more with Giovinco on the field.


The Italian was involved in more chance creation than any of the three MVP candidates. In fact, per 90 minutes, Giovinco (0.75), Jack McInerney (0.68), Ola Kamara (0.66) and Juan Agudelo (0.63) were all involved in more chance creation xG than either Wright-Phillips (0.62), Villa (0.62) or Kljestan (0.46).


Giovinco’s 0.75 cQxG involved/90 resulted in 17 goals and 15 assists (combining for most in the League). His 17 goals were good for a third place tie with Montreal Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti, behind BWP and Villa, neither of whom surpassed five total assists. Giovinco’s 15 assists put him in second in the League, and he was also second with his 0.35 cQxG assisted per 90 (tied with Federico Higuaín). Kljestan was close behind with 0.34/90.


BWP and Villa did each account for 41% and 39% of his team’s cQxG respectively, while Giovinco accounted for 25% of Toronto’s, but remember Giovinco played more than 400 minutes fewer than either. This leads us to recognize a basic fact in the MVP conversation: it is a subjective exercise. Each voter is likely using different criteria, and therefore, different data, when making his or her nominations. We would argue that a player who is expected to both execute and create opportunities for his team  – which indeed the data supports that Giovinco does and does quite well – is more valuable to his team, than a player who plays in a system designed to make him the beneficiary of the opportunities created by his teammates.