Kevin Molino is no stranger to Most Valuable Player awards. While he was with Orlando City in the Lions' USL days, he took home two such trophies in 2012 and 2014.
In 2012 he wasn’t even the goal-scoring threat that he’s become, mainly chipping in assists and being a keystone in the midfield. There’s a reason that he was Orlando’s first-ever MLS signing even before he was breaking USL offensive records. Even Dom Dwyer, former Lion and Sporting Kansas City’s current goal machine, knew that Kevin had potential in 2013.
"Dom said that Kevin had all the ability to be MVP of MLS when we finally made the grade," Adrian Heath told MLSSoccer.com.
And even though he had to sit out most of last season due to injury, this year he has come on strong and started to realize some of his potential. Coming off a great July, where he managed three goals and three assists, Molino is up for Player of the Month. With the national recognition beginning to show, it begs the question — can Kevin Molino earn an MVP title this year?
He’s playing two tiers higher in the American soccer pyramid but he’s proven that he can still produce at the same level. His eight assists so far are actually ahead of pace from his USL MVP seasons -- he had eight assists in 2012 and nine in 2014 — and he has a great chance to set a personal record for assists in a season. Unfortunately, he’s still a little behind the 8-ball when it comes to recent MVP winners, even if his name should be in the mix.
The good news for Molino is that he’s one of two players in the top 10 of both the goals and assists categories in the league. His recent brace against New England has moved him into a tie for ninth place in the goals table, ahead of Didier Drogba, Giovani dos Santos, and Robbie Keane, and he’s comfortably tied for fifth in assists, level with Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo. That’s impressive company to be in even if he’s not on the final MVP shortlist.
The bad news is that reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco is the other player in both top 10 lists and he’s also ahead of Molino in both. Keane and Giovinco have set the bar high in the last two seasons, bagging at least 14 in both goals and assists; they’re the only two MVPs to do so in the last decade.
If Molino keeps up his current pace and plays every minute of the remaining matches, he would finish with 15 goals and 13 assists, which are more than respectable numbers but most likely short of the mark. If he did manage to win with those numbers, it would be the lowest regular season goal tally since David Ferreira in 2010 and one of the lowest goals per 90 minutes of the last decade. His assist rate, on the other hand, would be in the top five. On top of that, Giovinco’s average is behind his numbers from last season, at least, and Molino is still within touching distance — he’s only behind by three goals and one assist.
But there’s another factor besides great statistics when it comes to winning an MVP award.
Only two MVPs in the last decade watched the playoffs from home. The kicker is that both Mike Magee and Dwayne de Rosario were moved from playoff teams (the Galaxy and Red Bulls, respectively) to their new clubs mid-season. Contributing to a playoff appearance is an unspoken requirement to winning the award and, right now, Orlando is on the outside looking in. Molino would have to continue his great run of form and secure a playoff bid in order to be seriously considered.
Luckily, since Landon Donovan in 2009, only Chris Wondolowski has won the MVP award and led his team to the top of the conference. But half of the MVPs over the course of the last decade were with teams at the top of their respective tables.
At this point in the season, the field has narrowed and, barring an unforeseen statistical explosion, the amount of real threats are few. Giovinco is leading the pack and if David Villa and Sacha Kljestan can stretch their leads over the field in goals or assists, they’ll be among the contenders at year’s end. Molino is the dark horse, but he’s squarely in the top five as it stands. With 13 matches left on the docket and a small gap to close to get above the red line, the team will need Molino to continue his run of form to win its duel with New England for that sixth place or to catch Montreal for fifth.
If he can manage to turn it up just one more notch, not a small task at all, then there will be a serious debate about whether or not he deserves the award. But even now, he’s had one of the best seasons around MLS and deserves to be in that conversation.