Like most things in Major League Soccer’s 25-year history, the Golden Boot award has changed dramatically over the years. From 1996-2004 the award was known as the MLS Scoring Champion Award and was awarded differently.
Instead of going to the player with the most goals, the league employed a points system that gave a player two points for a goal and one point for an assist. At the end of the season, the award was given to the player with the most points.
Beginning with the 2005 season the league changed the award, named it the Golden Boot, and began awarding it to the player with the most goals, with ties being broken by assists.
Some of the most legendary names in Major League Soccer history are featured on this list. These are their stories.
1996: Roy Lassiter, Tampa Bay Mutiny
Obviously, the league leaders of an inaugural season will be the default record holders for the league. However, when Roy Lassiter recorded 58 points in the 1996 season, he set a mark that would not be matched in the 9 years the league gave out the award.
Lassiter finished the season with 27 goals and 4 assists. Lassiter’s 27 goals stood as the league record until 2018 when the record was broken by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez.
1997: Preki, Kansas City Wizards
League record books show that most league scoring champions are forwards who also add a few assists to boost their numbers. Preki broke the mold in 1997 when he scored 12 goals and added 17 assists for a total of 41 points.
The Kansas City Wizards midfielder added the league MVP award to his impressive haul of postseason awards in 1997. His output in the center of midfield helped the Wizards to a first-place finish in the Western Conference and just 6 points behind eventual champions D.C. United in the Supporter’s Shield race.
1998: Stern John, Columbus Crew
Stern John was one of the league’s first stars to make MLS a stepping stone to Europe, and his prolific 1998 season made that possible. John recorded a massive 57 points on 26 goals and 5 assists. That put him one off the MLS single-season goals record set two years earlier by Roy Lassiter, and one point of Lassiter’s point record.
John would play just two seasons in Columbus before making the move to England where he would play for Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, and Southampton, among others. In his two seasons in Columbus, John would score 44 goals and lead the league in goals both seasons.
1999: Jason Kreis, Dallas Burn
Jason Kreis made history during the 1999 MLS season by becoming the first player in league history to register a 15-goal, 15-assist season. He bettered that mark by scoring 18 goals to go with his 15 assists.
His performance earned him the league MVP award, which was the first time the league had given the award to an American-born player.
Kreis helped the Dallas Burn finish second in the Western Conference, and advance to the Western Conference Finals before they were knocked out by the LA Galaxy.
2000: Mamadou Diallo, Tampa Bay Mutiny
Mamadou Diallo had a nearly 20-year career in world football, but nothing compared to his breakout 2000 season in Major League Soccer. The league office allocated him to Tampa Bay in 2000, and he was immediately right at home.
Diallo scored 26 goals in the league, the highest total since Roy Lassiter’s 27 goals in the league’s first season. He also added 4 assists. He would be named to the MLS Best XI. However, that was his one outstanding season in MLS as he bounced around the league for two more seasons before moving on to Saudi Arabia.
2001: Alex Pineda Chacon, Miami Fusion
Alex Pineda Chacon’s 2001 performance was outstanding, considering the chaos that surrounded the Miami Fusion in 2001. The league was on the brink of contracting Miami and Tampa Bay, and yet the Fusion were excelling and would go on to win the Supporter’s Shield.
Pineda Chacon would register 19 goals and 9 assists on his way to both the league scoring crown and the league MVP award. Despite their accomplishments on the field, the Fusion and Mutiny were both contracted at the end of the season.
2002: Taylor Twellman, New England Revolution
He may be an MLS legend now, but in 2002 Taylor Twellman was a newcomer to the league, having returned to the United States after two years with 1860 Munich in Germany. Twellman quickly established himself in the league and became a bona fide star.
He scored 23 goals and added 6 assists for a total of 52 points. Twellman finished second in the MVP voting but was named to the league’s Best XI. He helped lead the New England Revolution to their first MLS Cup Final, which they would lose to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
2003: Preki, Kansas City Wizards
The 2003 campaign saw the league get its first repeat scoring champion when Preki won the title for a second time. Incredibly, the Wizards talisman put up identical numbers to the 1997 crown-winning season. Yet again Preki recorded 41 points on 12 goals and 17 assists.
Preki had spent a few seasons away from Kansas City but returned to the club via the dispersal draft that took place after the contraction of the two Florida clubs. Kansas City was home sweet home for Preki, who also picked up his second MVP award in 2003.
2004: Amado Guevara, NY/NJ MetroStars, and Pat Noonan, New England Revolution
The 2004 season saw the first, and only, shared MLS scoring crown when NY/NJ MetroStars’ Amado Guevara and New England Revolution’s Pat Noonan both landed on 30 points at the end of the regular season.
Noonan scored 11 goals and added 8 assists for the Revs, while Guevara recorded 10 goals and 10 assists for the MetroStars. Ironically, in the last year of the scoring championship, neither man led the league in goals, with Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson leading the league with 12. The league would change the award with the Golden Boot going to the player with the most goals a year later.
2005: Taylor Twellman, New England Revolution
The Revs frontman picked up the league’s first-ever Golden Boot, and his second scoring crown in the 2005 season. This would be Twellman’s finest season as a professional, as he added 7 assists to the 17 goals he scored.
In recognition of his stellar season, he was awarded the MLS MVP Award and was named to the MLS Best XI. Twellman helped propel New England to their first of 3 straight MLS Cup Finals. Unfortunately for Twellman and the Revs, they would lose all three.
2006: Jeff Cunningham, Real Salt Lake
Jeff Cunningham had an excellent season for Real Salt Lake in 2006. Cunningham managed to win the league’s Golden Boot with a record low tally of just 16 goals, but he also tied for the second-most assists in the league with 11.
One of the league’s greatest goal scorers, Cunningham set franchise records in both categories for RSL. His honeymoon in Utah wouldn’t last long though, as he was traded to Toronto FC the following season.
2007: Luciano Emilio, D.C. United
Luciano Emilio became the first South American to win the Golden Boot when he picked up the award in 2007 while playing for D.C. United in 2007. Emilio scored 20 times for the club as they lifted their 4th Supporter’s Shield.
That wasn’t the only bit of hardware the league’s leading goal scorer picked up as he was also named the MLS Most Valuable Player, and the Newcomer of the Year. As the last award indicates, Emilio did all of this in his first year in the league.
2008: Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy
For virtually the entirety of Landon Donovan’s career, he had been one of the league’s finest playmakers, chipping in nearly as many assists as goals. However, with his partnership with fellow Galaxy star David Beckham flourishing, Donovan found himself taking on more of the goal-scoring.
Donovan scored a career-high 20 goals and added 9 assists. Despite his output, the Galaxy struggled over the season, finishing 6th in the Western Conference and did not make the playoffs.
2009: Jeff Cunningham, FC Dallas
By 2009, Jeff Cunningham had become MLS’s mercenary striker, a gun for hire. By the time he suited up for FC Dallas in 2009, he was on his 5th MLS club. His impeccable goal-scoring record kept him employed in the league long after most of his contemporaries were retired.
Cunningham would pick up his second Golden Boot in 2009 after scoring 17 goals in 28 matches. This gave him two of the lowest-scoring seasons in this history of the award.
He would play just two more seasons in MLS and retire as the league’s all-time leading goal scorer. He is currently 3rd on that list today.
2010: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes
2010 was Chris Wondolowski’s breakout season. The striker had been with the club for 5 years but had always played a limited role in the squad. During the 2009 season, Wondo scored three times. A year later, Wondo scored 18.
He led the Earthquakes back to the playoffs and continued his goal-scoring streak in the postseason. Wondolowski scored the playoff series winner against New York that sent San Jose to a 3-2 aggregate win and on to the next round.
2011: Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United
Dwayne De Rosario became the first midfielder to win the Golden Boot when he won the award with just 16 goals. Incredibly, De Rosario played for three different clubs during the regular season and scored goals for each of them.
“DeRo” scored 1 goal for Toronto, 2 for New York, and then finished off the season with D.C., for whom he scored 13 times. You could imagine how that many transitions could upset the performance levels of a player, but not De Rosario.
2012: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes
By 2012, Chris Wondolowski was one of the elite goalscorers in Major League Soccer. He’d already picked up a Golden Boot in 2010, but in 2012 Wondo took his game to a historical level. Wondolowski became the first player to match Roy Lassiter’s 27 goals of 1996.
Wondolowski was a spectacularly consistent performer in the league that season and became the first player in league history to win Player of the Month four times. During the 2012 season, Wondolowski also became the Earthquakes all-time leading goal scorer.
2013: Camilo Sanvezzo, Vancouver Whitecaps
When Camilo Sanvezzo won the Golden Boot in 2013, he broke a run of five years in a row of a North American born player winning the award. The Brazilian forward won the award out of nowhere, having just 5 goals the year prior.
Sanvezzo secured the Golden Boot on the final day of the season as he overtook Mike Magee and Marco Di Vaio. Sanvezzo moved to Mexican club Queretaro in the offseason.
2014: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
The 2014 season was the second in New York for Bradley Wright-Phillips but his first full season. Having settled in the year before, Wright-Phillips went about making his mark in 2014.
By the middle of May, Wright-Phillips had already recorded two hat tricks. By August he had broken Juan Pablo Angel’s club record for goals in a season.
Finally, on the last day of the season, Wright-Phillips recorded a brace to bring him level with Roy Lassiter and Chris Wondolowski’s record 27 goals.
2015: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
When Sebastian Giovinco joined Toronto FC from Italian giants Juventus in 2015, there were many who thought he was quitting on his career early. On the contrary, Giovinco came to work.
In his first season in the league, Giovinco scored 22 goals which won him the Golden Boot. The goals combined with 16 assists earned him the league MVP Award. It also saw him break the league’s combined goal and assist record. It was a truly remarkable season for the Atomic Ant.
2016: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
Bradley Wright-Phillips picked up the second Golden Boot award of his MLS career in 2016. His production helped spur the Red Bulls to an accomplished season in which they finished 3 points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The former Manchester City man, pipped cross-town rival David Villa at NYCFC, to the Golden Boot title by one goal. During the season, Wright-Phillips made history, scoring the fastest hat trick in MLS history when he put three goals in the net in 27 minutes against Toronto FC.
2017: Nemanja Nikolic, Chicago Fire
Designated Player signings in Major League Soccer don’t always have the impact that they are intended to, for one reason or another. However, Nemanja Nikolic’s $3 million transfer from Legia Warsaw was a win for both the player and the club.
Nikolic scored in the club’s home opener and didn’t stop scoring, putting 24 balls in the back of the net in 34 matches. He helped the Fire to third place in the Eastern Conference, their highest finish in a few seasons.
2018: Josef Martinez, Atlanta United
The MLS single-season goal scoring record had stood at 27 since Roy Lassiter’s incredible inaugural season in 1996. Two men, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips, each equaled the record, but it wasn’t until 2018 that it would fall.
Martinez smashed the record, scoring 31 goals in 34 matches, putting up the best goals per game rate in the Golden Boot era. For his efforts, Martinez also picked up the MLS MVP award and helped Atlanta United lift their first MLS Cup.
2019: Carlos Vela, Los Angeles FC
The single-season goal record stood for so long, 22 years to be exact, but the record-breaker Josef Martinez was only able to hold onto it for a season. One year later Carlos Vela put on his own record-breaking display, scoring 34 goals in 31 matches.
For the first time in the Golden Boot era, an MLS player scored goals at a rate of better than one a game. It was a truly outstanding season that also saw LAFC break the team points record on their way to their first Supporter’s Shield.
2020: Diego Rossi, Los Angeles FC
For the second year in a row, the Golden Boot went to a player from LAFC, only this time it wasn’t Carlos Vela, but Diego Rossi. In a pandemic shortened season, Rossi led the league in goals with 14 in 19 matches played.
The Uruguayan was one of just 7 players in the league to reach double figures for goals, but managed to finish 2 goals ahead of the next closest player. Despite Rossi’s prolific season, LAFC finished 7th in the Western Conference and were dumped out of the playoffs in the first round.