The fluctuation in MLS goal-scoring surprised me, so I decided to re-evaluate the top goal scorers in league history.  I wanted to give a little extra credit to attackers who were scoring during the lean years, and temper those who scored during a higher-league average season.

I went through the top goal-scorers each year, and stripped out the PK goals.  Next, I created a Weighted Goals index, based on how much that season’s goals-per-game average deviated from the historic median of 2.86 goals per game.  I applied that to each player’s goal total, and then compared that rate per 90 to the total goals scored that season.

Analyzing goals alongside a season-adjusted goal-scoring rate reveals three underrated goal scoring performances.

MLS Goals by Weighted Goal Rate, 1996-2018(1).png

Josh Wolff – Chicago Fire, 1998

Before becoming US assistant coach, before scoring in the original Dos A Cero, Josh Wolff made the absolute most of his playing time with Chicago.  Behind Ante Razov and Roman Kosecki on the depth chart, Wolff started just 4 games as a rookie, playing 651 minutes.  However, he scored an astonishing 8 goals on 14 shots on target, presaging his rise with the US.  Even in 1998 – the highest goals-per-game year in league history – this is an impressive 8-goal season.

Alan Fucking Gordon – San Jose Earthquakes, 2012

Fandom has more or less sucked as a Quakes fan since 2012.  That Supporters’ Shield winning season is an outlier from the average-to-abysmal others.  One catalyst for that outlier: hero of The Beckham Experiment, Alan Gordon.  Gordon embodied the Goonies attitude of the team, scoring 13 goals in 1,300 minutes in a season with below-average scoring rates.  Fittingly, Gordon capped his year with a 90th minute assist on Eddie Johnson’s game winning goal for the US against the mighty Antigua and Barbuda.

Yes, this season is a case study in over-performance and predictive power: Gordon’s Expected Goals were 6.21.  Gordon ended his career with 0.42 non-PK goals per 90, though, remaining effective as a super-sub up through his retirement last season.

Didier Drogba – Montreal Impact, 2015

Though hopefully no one would underrate Didier Drogba’s career, it’s worth noting just how suddenly he transformed Montreal’s 2015 season.  He scored a hattrick against Chicago in his first start.  Despite arriving mid-season, Drogba led the team with 11 goals, tallying that in a mere 870 minutes.  While other high-profile designated players had varying degrees of success that season, Drogba highlighted the upside of talented players in their later stages.


Here are the goal weightings for each season:

Year Goal Weighting Goals Per Game
1996 0.849 3.37
1997 0.877 3.26
1998 0.784 3.65
1999 1.000 2.86
2000 0.897 3.19
2001 0.872 3.28
2002 0.950 3.01
2003 0.990 2.89
2004 1.096 2.61
2005 0.997 2.87
2006 1.092 2.62
2007 1.075 2.66
2008 1.018 2.81
2009 1.126 2.54
2010 1.163 2.46
2011 1.109 2.58
2012 1.083 2.64
2013 1.092 2.62
2014 1.000 2.86
2015 1.036 2.76
2016 1.018 2.81
2017 0.963 2.97
2018 0.897 3.19