The Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award is given out at the culmination of every season and is awarded to the player deemed to be the league’s most valuable. The award is voted on by media members, MLS players, and club management.
Throughout the history of the award, only one player has won it twice. That player was former U.S. international Preki who won the award twice with Kansas City in 1997 and 2003. D.C. United has had more winners than any other club with four, however, they have had no MVPs since 2011.
While the list of winners is a who’s who of players that have dominated the league, it is interesting to observe the big names who haven’t won the award. Notably absent from this list are names like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Clint Dempsey, despite their substantial and noteworthy MLS careers.
The award was named after the league’s greatest player, Landon Donovan, in 2015 after Donovan’s retirement.
Check out our list of every MLS MVP Winner in history below:
1996: Carlos Valderrama, Tampa Bay Mutiny
The league’s very first MVP award went to one of the league’s most exciting players of all-time. Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama was arguably MLS’s biggest name when the league kicked off in 1996. In typical Valderrama fashion, he ran the show with a class and style unlike anyone else.
Valderrama’s 4 goals and 17 assists helped the Tampa Bay Mutiny lift the very first Supporter’s Shield, for the team with the best record in the regular season.
The Columbian was an assist machine for Tampa Bay, and in 2000 he recorded an incredible 26 assists for an MLS record that will likely never be broken. He remains fourth in MLS history for all-time assists.
1997: Preki, Kansas City Wizards
Preki proved that not only Brazilians can go by one name, sometimes Americans born in Yugoslavia can too. They definitely can if they are as excellent at football as Preki was. Known for his excellent vision and deft “Preki chop” to turn opponents, the attacking midfielder was one of the league’s early stars.
Preki scored 12 goals and recorded 17 assists, which would remain career highs only equaled in one other season. Preki helped The Wiz finish first in the Western Conference and 6 points behind D.C. for the Supporter’s Shield. They would be knocked out of the playoffs in the first round at the hands of the Colorado Rapids.
1998: Marco Etcheverry, D.C. United
Marco Etcheverry was D.C. United’s best playmaker before the 1998 season, and at the time was the young league’s all-time leader in assists. However, he took his game to the next level in 1998 by adding a lethal goalscoring streak.
Etcheverry scored 10 goals in 1998 to go along with his 19 assists. Those 10 goals were three more than he had the previous two seasons combined. It’s no wonder then that he was able to lead his D.C. United club to a third consecutive MLS Cup Final appearance.
1999: Jason Kreis, Dallas Burn
Jason Kreis became the first U.S. born player voted MVP of Major League Soccer when he picked up the award after the 1999 season. Preki may have been a U.S. international, but he was born in Yugoslavia.
Kreis lit up the league for the Dallas Burn with 18 goals and 15 assists. With his prolific tally, Kreis became the league’s first player to record 15 goals and 15 assists in one season.
The impact was felt on the field as the Burn finished with their best record in club history and advanced to the Western Conference Finals before being knocked out by the Los Angeles Galaxy.
2000: Tony Meola, Kansas City Wizards
Tony Meola made MLS history in the year 2000 when he became the first goalkeeper in league history with the MVP Award. With the league only a handful of years old, it was easy to imagine that another goalkeeper could have a similar impact for their club, yet in the 20 years since no other goalkeeper has picked up the league MVP award.
Meola set a new MLS record for shutouts in a season with 16. He was also named Goalkeeper of the Year and picked up the MLS Cup MVP Award as the Wizards beat the Chicago Fire 1-0.
During the MLS All-Star Game, in which Meola was also named MVP, he played the first half in goal and the second half in front as a forward.
2001: Alex Pineda Chacon, Miami Fusion
Talk about a one-hit-wonder, Alex Pineda Chacon was the ultimate MLS one-hit-wonder. The Honduran playmaker joined the Miami Fusion for the 2001 season, lit the league up, and then the team was folded. That’s right, the team was no more.
Chacon was incredible in that one season though. He registered a league-high 19 goals and added 9 assists. The only thing that could stop him from scoring was a failed ownership group.
An exciting team and the 2001 Supporter’s Shield couldn’t save the team, and every player was put into the MLS Dispersal Draft to find them homes on other MLS teams.
He was sent to New England but never regained his scintillating 2001 form as he bounced around the league for a few more years before retiring. A true one-hit-wonder.
2002: Carlos Ruiz, Los Angeles Galaxy
Carlos Ruiz dominated MLS during the 2002 season. The Guatemalan international picked up the Golden Boot with 24 regular-season goals as he led the Galaxy to the Supporter’s Shield. Not only was he prolific, but his goals were meaningful, with 9 of them coming as match-winners.
Ruiz was most clutch in the biggest games. Specifically, in the Cali Classico’s against the defending MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes. Ruiz scored game-winners in consecutive 1-0 victories over the Earthquakes to ensure the Galaxy lifted the Shield. Ruiz did this all in his first season in the league. At the age of 23, Ruiz also became the youngest MLS MVP.
2003: Preki, Kansas City Wizards
Preki’s 2003 MLS season is one for the history books. Not only did Preki make history by becoming the league’s first repeat MVP, but he did it at the age of 40! You don’t get awarded league MVP by standing in the center circle and pinging 40-yard passes to your forwards, so rest assured Preki worked for it.
Remarkably, Preki recorded 12 goals and 17 assists for the Kansas City Wizards in 2003, six years after his first MVP season when he recorded the exact same tally for both stats. He was the oldest athlete in American professional sports to win an MVP Award, a record he now shares with the NFL’s Tom Brady.
2004: Amado Guevara, NY/NJ MetroStars
Honduran International Amado Guevara picked up the MVP award in 2004 after an incredibly consistent performance. Neither of his offensive statistics is overwhelming, he scored 10 goals and added 10 assists.
However, he recorded an assist or goal in 16 of the 24 games he played in. Also, he recorded one or the other in 9 consecutive games at one point.
He was the only player in the league that season to record double-digit totals in both categories. Guevara fueled the league’s most prolific offense, pushing the MetroStars to 3rd in the Eastern Conference and into the playoffs.
2005: Taylor Twellman, New England Revolution
Taylor Twellman had a banner year in 2005, winning just about everything he could. He was the MLS Golden Boot winner with 17 regular-season goals. He was the league MVP, and he was the MLS All-Star Game MVP.
The only thing he didn’t win was an MLS Cup, as the Revolution were in the middle of four straight defeats in the MLS Cup Final. At that time only three other MVP or Golden Boot winners had gone on to lift the MLS Cup.
Twellman couldn’t have done more for his team though. Of his 17 goals, 6 came after the 86th minute, with 5 being game-winning or game-tying goals. Talk about clutch.
2006: Christian Gomez, D.C. United
Fit in a team is so important for a player’s success. For Gomez, he could not have found a better fit than D.C. United. The midfielder linked up so well with striker Jaime Moreno, and the relationship was mutually beneficial. He was named an All-Star in three of his four seasons in D.C.
Gomez’s 2006 season was the jewel of his time in the capital city. He scored 14 goals and assisted on 11 goals as D.C. won yet another Supporter’s Shield. Unfortunately, they were dumped out of the playoffs by the New England Revolution in the Conference Finals.
2007: Luciano Emilio, D.C. United
Luciano Emilio had no trouble adapting to the rigors of Major League Soccer in his first season in the league. Emilio was an offseason acquisition from CD Olimpia in Honduras but made himself right at home in D.C.
The Brazilian scored a league-leading 20 goals and helped D.C. to the league’s best regular-season record and the Supporter’s Shield before being prematurely knocked out in the playoffs at the hands of the Chicago Fire.
He was the first MLS player to reach the 20-goal mark since 2002 when Carlos Ruiz and Taylor Twellman both did it.
2008: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Columbus Crew
Guillermo Barros Schelotto proved the old adage that class is permanent with his arrival in Columbus. The former Boca Juniors playmaker dominated the league at 35 years old like it was no big deal. Only Preki and Carlos Valderrama won the MVP award at older ages.
Schelotto played over 2000 minutes and tallied 7 goals and 19 assists. While he didn’t end up matching Carlos Valderrama’s incredible 26 assist season, there were times when Schelotto was on pace to surpass it. He did win the ultimate prize though, as the Crew lifted MLS Cup at the end of the season.
2009: Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy
Incredibly, after 9 years in the league, Landon Donovan would win the award that would later bear his name. In the year following his Golden Boot winning season, Donovan would score 12 goals and add 6 assists on his way to the MLS MVP Award.
Donovan helped lead the Galaxy back to MLS Cup, where they would be defeated in a penalty shootout by Real Salt Lake. He became just the second Galaxy player, after Carlos Ruiz, to win the award.
The American also picked up the league’s Goal of the Year Award for a volley against the New England Revolution earlier in the season.
2010: David Ferreira, FC Dallas
David Ferreira was an outstanding playmaker in MLS. The Colombia international made the move to the States in 2009 and immediately began creating for FC Dallas.
In 2010 Ferreira scored 8 goals and added 13 assists as the club made a surprise run to MLS Cup Final. Tragically, they lost in overtime on an own goal.
Ferreira topped the league in an unusual category as he was the most fouled player in the league in 2010. This was due in part to his aggressive playmaking style. Despite this Ferreira played in every match that season. Creative and durable.
2011: Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United
Dwayne De Rosario was one of the best MLS players of his generation. For most of the 2000s, he dominated the league with the San Jose Earthquakes and then the Houston Dynamo when the franchise moved to Texas. He won league titles, but the individual awards evaded him.
Finally, in 2011, DeRo got the appreciation he deserved. He started the season with Toronto FC, was traded to the New York Red Bulls, and finally finished the final 18 games of the season with D.C. United.
Despite the multiple changes of uniform, De Rosario picked up the Golden Boot with 16 goals and added 12 assists. Makes you wonder why he was moved so often that year.
2012: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes
Chris Wondolowski was a history maker in 2012. After two straight years of leading the league in goals, Wondo decided to up the ante by breaking the league’s all-time single-season scoring record by scoring 27 times. He also added 7 assists for good measure.
Incredibly, Wondolowski had grown up an Earthquakes fan in Northern California, spent years playing in the Reserve League, and eventually worked his way to the record books. With his win, Wondolowski became just the 5th U.S. born player to win the MVP.
2013: Mike Magee, Chicago Fire
A midseason trade from Los Angeles to Chicago didn’t disrupt Mike Magee’s career year. In fact, for Magee, the move was to his hometown and may have made things easier for him. His numbers certainly reflect that.
Magee scored 5 goals in LA before the trade and then put the ball in the back of the net 15 times in 22 games with the Fire. Unfortunately, the glory came only to Magee as the Fire failed to make the playoffs. Magee beat out Robbie Keane, Marco Di Vaio, and Tim Cahill for the award.
2014: Robbie Keane, Los Angeles Galaxy
Robbie Keane had an incredibly complete season as a forward in 2014. Not responsible solely for putting the ball in the back of the net, Keane scored 19 but more impressively added 14 assists. This gave him the highest combined total of goals and assists in an MLS season to date.
Keane wasn’t just filling his stat sheet with meaningless numbers either. Five of Keane’s goals were game-winners, as were 5 of his assists. Talk about clutch. He would also help the LA Galaxy to lift the MLS Cup at the end of the playoffs.
2015: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Sebastian Giovinco made waves when he left Juventus to join Toronto FC. Many saw the move as a money grab and a sign of a lack of competitiveness from the Italian as he was yet to turn 30 and at one of the best clubs in the world.
He proved all the doubters wrong, and in his first season in the league put up the greatest offensive season the league had ever seen.
Giovinco became the first player in MLS history to record 20+ goals and 10+ assists in a single season when he scored 22 and assisted on 16. He led the league in both categories. He helped propel the franchise to their first MLS Cup Playoffs in their history.
2016: David Villa, New York City FC
David Villa entered MLS as the first player in NYC FC history and was charged with igniting a passion in the fan base and carrying the team on the field.
In his second season in the league, he did just that and more. Villa scored 23 goals and recorded 4 assists. His goal total also saw him finish 2nd in the Golden Boot race.
Villa’s goals and assists helped propel the team to their first MLS Cup Playoffs birth in franchise history. In a minor bit of history, in winning the award Villa became the first World Cup winner to be named league MVP. He was also the first Spaniard to win it. Ole!
2017: Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers
Diego Valeri had an all-time great season in 2017, racking up 21 goals and 11 assists. He became just the second player in league history to score 20 goals and record 10 assists in a single season. Put up the 5th highest combined assists/goals tally in league history.
His output is notable, but his consistency throughout the season was also historic. Valeri set an MLS record with a goal in 9 consecutive games throughout the season and scored a goal or recorded an assist in 19 of 21 games he played. Incredible.
2018: Josef Martinez, Atlanta United
The MVP Award wasn’t the only bit of hardware Atlanta’s Josef Martinez picked up at the end of the season. He broke the MLS single-season goal record by 4 goals, was named MLS Best XI, and helped the club lift the MLS Cup for the very first time.
Martinez was the focal point of an Atlanta attack that scored an MLS high 70 goals in 2018. He helped push United close to the Supporter’s Shield, and despite falling short of that goal they lifted the MLS Cup at the end of the season.
2019: Carlos Vela, Los Angeles FC
Carlos Vela came into MLS with high expectations placed on him. He was the player the expansion franchise was built around when the team first kicked off in 2018. The choice, as it turns out, was the right one.
The former Arsenal and Real Sociedad winger dominated the league during the 2019 MLS season. Vela won the Golden Boot and set an MLS record for goals in a season, with 34. He also added 15 assists.
Vela’s performances helped lead LAFC to a league record for points and the MLS Supporter’s Shield. He beat out LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimović and former MVP winner Josef Martinez for the award.
2020: Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC
Alejandro Pozuelo picked up the MLS MVP award in the pandemic-shortened 2020 MLS season. Despite playing just 23 games, Pozuelo finished with 9 goals and 10 assists. Pozuelo’s 10 assists were tied for the league lead.
Throughout the season, TFC were forced to play their matches in Connecticut due to Canadian travel restrictions. Comfortable on either side of the border, the former Sevilla playmaker beat out Golden Boot Winner Diego Rossi to the award.