Jeff Cunningham's Quest for the MLS Golden Boot
|Jeff Cunningham scored two more goals for Dallas to tie Colorado's Conor Casey for the league lead with 15. Actually, he now leads in the race for the golden boot due to the first tiebreaker, assists. He has 7 to Casey's 1, so he'll win any tie between the two men. Not only that, he has an extra game remaining and FCD has been assaulting the nets recently. He has to be the favorite to take home the award.|
It's amazing how he's come on so strong in the second half of the season. I know he wasn't starting full time, and he was even playing on the wing for a little while. But still, I don't think anyone expected this type of production. That brings us to the next point: Would Cunningham be the worst Golden Boot winner ever? It's hard not to immediately jump to that conclusion. Now, several players have won the award for middling teams (like Jeff Cunningham, 2006). However, I don't recall seeing any of them finish with such a flurry of goals for a team so clearly out of contention.
At the halfway point of the season, Dallas was 3-7-5 (14 points) and their season was already over. Cunningham had scored only once. He'd fire in a brace in the 16th game, the 2-1 home victory over New York, and since then he's been on fire. Obviously he plays better without Kenny Cooper (the team was only 3-8-8 when both started over this year and last).
So how exactly does Cunningham's stellar second half compare to previous boot winners?
Jeff's current season certainly stands out. I'm a bit surprised at how even most of the previous seasons have been, actually. I also looked at all the 15 goal scorers in league history, and there really isn't a comparable situation to this one. A lot of that is because not every team is going to remain in playoff contention (thank god) as the league expands, whereas previous players didn't have the opportunities to score tons of less meaningful goals.
So we can say that:
1) It's not normal for a golden boot winner to have one amazing half where they score the vast majority of their goals.
2) No player has scored this many goals for a team out of playoff contention.
Let's talk more about the comparison between Casey and Cunningham. It doesn't take any research to know that Casey's goals have been more important than Cunningham's. Of course, I did it anyway. So let's see how many times each player has tied the game or given their team the lead when scoring:
Not only have Casey's goals been more important in the context of the entire season, but also in the games themselves. And the number of games scored in is similar: Casey 10, Cunningham 9 (so it's not like there was a disparity in that category). I'd also argue that Casey's goals have been a bit higher quality as well, although that can be subjective.
Now, I don't mind if either player wins (even if Casey deserves it more). I don't hate Cunningham, I'm actually enjoying his scoring run. I just find it interesting, especially as he's seemingly become proficient at scoring lots of goals for mediocre teams.