As we welcome the return of Major League Soccer to our TV screens this weekend, there are loads of things to be excited about.
The golden boot will be hotly contested this year with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kei Kamara, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Nemanja Nikolić and Josef Martínez all battling it out to see who reigns supreme by the end of the regular season. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on the contenders for the award.
Since arriving in MLS last year, Ibrahimovic excelled in the Californian sun. His arrival grabbed headlines globally and worked wonders for the expansion of the sport in the States, whilst also providing fantastic entertainment for pre-existing fans of the league.
This, of course, included his superb 45-yard half-volley effort in the El Tráfico Derby. The game not only served as his debut, but also a chance for him to perform in typical Zlatan style. He stated: “I heard the crowd saying ‘We want Zlatan, we want Zlatan’, so I gave them Zlatan.”
The third-most decorated footballer of all-time scored on 22 occasions in just 27 appearances last year, which resulted in him finishing second in the golden boot standings.
He also netted his 500th professional goal against Toronto FC, which even further cements his legacy as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. That said, I don’t think Zlatan will conclude the season as the top scorer. This is largely due to his age (37), which I feel could lead to a few slight knocks. Zlatan isn’t overly-confident playing on artificial pitches, being that he skipped certain games on such grass in order to avoid aggravating injury.
The Rapids have built a stacked roster for the upcoming season.
The latter has already led the league in scoring, evidenced by the 2015 season when he netted 22 goals. The 34-year old is one of only 10 players to score 100+ goals in the league, which he did within 300 appearances. The Sierra Leonean also arrives in fine form, having scored 14 goals in just 28 games for the Vancouver Whitecaps last year. This tally meant he averaged a goal every second game.
Now, that is obviously far off the tally produced last season, however, I believe Kamara is certainly a dark-horse for the award. He still boasts exquisite finishing ability, strength and football IQ. As a result, I believe he can still be prolific in what may serve as his final campaign in the league.
Bradley Wright-Phillips has been phenomenal since arriving in New York back in 2013.
He has featured 201 times for the club, scoring 120 goals. He has also bagged two golden boots from the 2014 and 2016 seasons, when he scored 27 and 24 goals respectively.
What’s even more impressive is that Wright-Phillips’ 100th goal against D.C. United on 25th July 2018 meant that he surpassed Taylor Twellman as the fastest player to register 100 goals in the history of Major League Soccer. His contributions to the team were subsequently rewarded by the Red Bulls organisation, which has vowed to retire the #99 jersey.
That retirement is a long way away however, as he will return for the 2019 campaign. He has a good shot at competing for the award. He still boasts speed, skill and that same finishing ability which saw him top the leaderboard more than once.
Can he do it again? That remains to be seen, but if he does I believe he would then become arguably the greatest signing in MLS history.
Hungarian forward Nemanja Nikolić is one of Europe’s most prolific goal-scoring heroes that most people have never heard of. In a total tally of 352 career games, Nikolić has scored an incredible 210 goals.
Before arriving in the Windy City, he had just completed one of his best seasons statistically, having scored 40 times through 56 appearances for Legia Warsaw. Since arriving in 2016, he has scored 39 goals in 65 games, averaging a goal every second game.
He also captured the 2017 golden boot for scoring 24 times, whilst he also assisted on four occasions. The next year, he led the Fire in scoring with 15, however, concluded the leaderboard in 7th place.
Whilst Nikolić still boasts the same ability, I don’t feel he has the correct pieces surrounding him in order to have another successful season like that of the 2017 campaign. Besides, he, as well as everyone else, has to compete with Atlanta’s ace, Josef Martínez.
Martínez is the bookies’ favourite to retain the award.
The Venezuelan striker dominated the league last season, as he notched 31 goals in 34 games. His 28th goal, which came against Orlando City, set the record for most goals in a season, whilst his tally of 31 appears to be a tough mark to beat.
He is easily the most dangerous threat in front of goal, and that is saying something. Not only does he possess agility and speed, but he can finish with either foot. He is adequate in the air and never cracks under pressure, having scored eight penalties last season.
Of course, he will be without Miguel Almirón who left Atlanta for Newcastle this offseason. Those two combined last season to create one of the most formidable duos in global football.
However, I believe he can be replaced by Pity Martínez, which inevitably will help United capture their second MLS Cup in as many years. I think Martinez will also produce another career year with the help of the Argentinian midfielder and once again capture the illustrious MLS golden boot award for the 2019 season.