Ranking Every MLS Golden Boot Winner

By Ben Morris in Soccer
| January 2, 2021 5:01 am PDT
Ranking Every MLS Golden Boot Winner

Between 1996 and 2004, Major League Soccer used a points-based system to determine the league’s top scorer, with two points for a goal and one point for an assist.

But since 2005, the MLS Golden Boot has been awarded to the league’s top goalscorer each year.

From inaugural winner Taylor Twellman to 2020 champion Diego Rossi, 13 players have clinched the famous prize, with three men winning it twice.

But who is the most prolific Golden Boot winner in MLS history?

I assess the Golden Boot winners from each of the past 16 years and decide who enjoyed the most efficient season – ranking each player on a goals-per-game basis.

16. Dwayne De Rosario – DC United (2011)

  • Goals – 16
  • Games – 33
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.48

Across a 13-year career in Major League Soccer, Dwayne De Rosario scored 101 goals in 317 appearances for five different clubs – San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls, and DC United.

With 16 goals in 33 games, the Canadian clinched his only Golden Boot in 2011, finishing ahead of MLS legends like Chris Wondolowski, Thierry Henry, and Landon Donovan.

Funnily enough, De Rosario only managed to net a combined total of 11 goals across the next three seasons, despite playing 68 matches.

His final years in Major League Soccer were far from fruitful, so it is hardly surprising that De Rosaria is the least efficient Golde Boot winner of all time.

15. Jeff Cunningham – Real Salt Lake (2006)

  • Goals – 16
  • Games – 31
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.52

Let’s get one thing straight – scoring at a rate of just over a goal every other game is a special achievement. But Jeff Cunningham’s efforts in 2006 don’t get him anywhere near the most prolific Golden Boot winners.

The Jamaican-born forward is best known for his time with Columbus. He scored 53 goals in 203 appearances for the Crew between 1998 and 2004, yet he claimed his first Golden Boot with Real Salt Lake in 2006.

However, his best scoring season was still to come.

14. Jeff Cunningham – FC Dallas (2009)

  • Goals – 17
  • Games – 28
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.61

Three years after winning his first Golden Boot, Cunningham finished as the MLS top scorer for a second year, this time with FC Dallas.

Cunningham outscored Colorado striker Conor Casey by one goal in 2009, although he did play four games more than the Rapids man.

Following his 2008 move from Toronto to Dallas, Cunningham arguably enjoyed the best years of his in Texas. The forward bagged 34 goals in 69 outings for the Toros before moving back to Columbus in 2011.

Cunningham wasn’t the most prolific goalscorer, yet he still managed to get his hands on two Golden Boots.

13. Chris Wondolowski – San Jose Earthquakes (2010)

  • Goals – 18
  • Games – 28
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.64

It is no real surprise that the all-time leading goalscorer in Major League Soccer has secured the Golden Boot – not once, but twice.

The legendary forward has scored 176 goals in 416 matches throughout his career, with the first of his two Golden Boots coming in 2010.

Remarkably, Wondolowski scored exactly half of San Jose’s regular-season goals in 2010. The Quakes only managed to finish sixth in an eight-team Western Conference back then, yet Wondo still finished as the league’s top scorer.

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate just how prolific Wondolowski has been over the years.

CHRIS WONDOLOWSKI’S MLS CAREER IN NUMBERS
Season Goals Games Goals Per Game Ratio
2020 5 19 0.26
2019 15 32 0.47
2018 10 34 0.29
2017 13 34 0.38
2016 12 30 0.40
2015 16 31 0.52
2014 14 26 0.54
2013 11 29 0.38
2012 27 32 0.84
2011 16 30 0.53
2010 18 28 0.64
2009 5 21 0.24
2008 8
2007 1 16 0.06
2006 1 6 0.17
2005 2

CLICK TO CLOSE

12. Sebastian Giovinco – Toronto FC (2015)

  • Goals – 22
  • Goals per game – 33
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.67

It could be argued that Sebastian Giovinco is Toronto FC’s greatest ever-player.

The diminutive Italian racked up an incredible 83 goals and 51 assists in 142 appearances for the Canadian outfit, clinching the Golden Boot in 2015.

Giovinco scored three braces and two hat-tricks that year, netting doubles against Dallas, DC United, and Colorado, along with trebles against New York City and Orlando. Oh, and he also chipped in with a league-high 16 assists for good measure.

The former Italy international enjoyed four hugely successful years with the Reds. However, there is no denying that 2015 was Giovinco’s season.

11. Taylor Twellman – New England Revolution (2005)

  • Goals – 17
  • Games – 25
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.68

Taylor Twellman fended off competition from DC United’s Jaime Moreno to seal the Golden Boot by a one-goal margin in 2005.

The Revs star only featured in 25 games, but hat-tricks against Dallas and Columbus saw him finish as the league’s top scorer for the second time – the first since the Golden Boot was introduced.

Twellman’s season eventually ended in MLS Cup heartbreak, with the Galaxy beating New England in the final. But on a personal level, Twellman enjoyed a very fruitful campaign.

10. Luciano Emilio – DC United (2007)

  • Goals – 20
  • Games – 29
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.69

Luciano Emilio guided DC United to the Supporters’ Shield in 2007, winning the Golden Boot in the process.

Juan Pablo Angel netted 19 goals for the Red Bulls, but Emilio’s 20 goals were enough to see him finish as the top scorer in MLS. The Brazilian also bagged five braces, including back-to-back doubles against the Revs.

After netting 20 goals in his first 29 appearances for the Black & Red, Emilio only managed to score 21 goals in his next 58 matches in Major League Soccer.

It would probably be unfair to label Emilio as a one-season wonder, although his efforts in 2007 were never repeated.

9. Camilo Sanvezzo – Vancouver Whitecaps (2013)

  • Goals – 22
  • Games – 32
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.69

It’s fair to say that 2013 was a high scoring year in MLS. Three players broke the 20-goal barrier, with Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact) and Mike Magee (Chicago Fire) both unlucky to miss out on the Golden Boot.

But with 22 goals in 32 games, nobody can argue that Camilo Sanvezzo didn’t deserve the award.

In a year that also saw Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy) and Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls) scoring for fun, Sanvezzo ended the campaign with an outstanding goals per game ratio of 0.69.

His achievements are made even more special by the fact that Vancouver only finished sixth in the Western Conference and thirteenth in the overall standings.

8. Bradley Wright-Phillips – New York Red Bulls (2016)

  • Goals – 24
  • Games – 34
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.71

After struggling to make a name for himself in his homeland, I don’t think many people expected Bradley Wright-Phillips to make too much of an impact in America.

Over a century of MLS goals later – the Englishman has definitely proved his doubters wrong.

A year after securing his second Supporters’ Shield triumph with the Red Bulls, Wright-Phillips won the Golden Boot. He netted 24 goals in 34 appearances, outscoring his nearest challenger – David Villa (New York City) – by just a single goal.

The forward failed to score in his first seven outings in 2016, yet he finished the campaign with a run of 15 goals in the final 13 matches.

Believe it or not – 2016 isn’t even Wright-Phillips’ most efficient goalscoring season.

BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS’ MLS CAREER IN NUMBERS
Season Goals Games Goals Per Game Ratio
2020 5 15 0.33
2019 2 24 0.08
2018 20 32 0.63
2017 17 32 0.53
2016 24 34 0.71
2015 17 34 0.50
2014 27 32 0.84
2013 1 7 0.14

7. Nemanja Nikolic – Chicago Fire (2017)

  • Goals – 24
  • Games – 33
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.73

David Villa will probably feel slightly unfortunate not to have got his hands on the Golden Boot during his time in America. The Spaniard scored 20+ goals for the second season running in 2017, but Nemanja Nikolic still managed to outscore him.

Nikolic scored at a rate of over one goal every other game during his three-year stay in Chicago, netting 56 times in 104 appearances for the Fire.

He scored 15 goals in 2018 and 12 in 2019, but he will always be remembered for his phenomenal Golden Boot-winning campaign.

6. Diego Rossi – LAFC (2020)

  • Goals – 14
  • Games – 19
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.74

Diego Rossi may be the lowest scorer in Golden Boot history, but having only featured in 19 regular-season matches in 2020, the Uruguayan has one of the best goals ger game ratios.

The LAFC star could not have dreamed of a better start to the campaign. He bagged five goals in the first two games at the MLS is Back Tournament, with four coming in a single game against the Galaxy.

He even missed three matches in October, yet he still ended up two goals clear of Robert Beric (Chicago Fire), Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders), and Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew).

If you’re interested in learning more about last season’s statistics, make sure you check out my 2020 MLS stat leaders post.

5. Landon Donovan – LA Galaxy (2008)

  • Goals – 20
  • Games – 25
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.80

Despite missing five matches in 2008, Landon Donovan clinched the Golden Boot with a lethal goals per game ratio of 0.80.

A run of eight goals in the first five games set Donovan on his way. He then scored braces against four different teams and netted hat-tricks against both Chivas USA and DC United.

The former USMNT star scored 35 goals in 83 games for the Quakes before signing for the Galaxy in 2005. He went on to score 137 goals in 315 appearances for the Los Angeles outfit, although he only reached the 20-goal mark in his Golden Boot-winning campaign.

The Galaxy finished second from bottom in the overall standings in 2008, with just 14 teams competing in MLS at the time. Given his team’s shortcomings, Donovan’s achievements cannot be overlooked.

4. Chris Wondolowski – San Jose Earthquakes (2012)

  • Goals – 27
  • Games – 32
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.84

Over the years, the Golden Boot race has gone down to wire. But in 2012, it was all about Chris Wondolowski.

The San Jose star bagged 27 goals in 32 appearances, with his nearest challenger – Kenny Cooper (New York Red Bulls) – ending the regular season with just 18 goals to his name.

Unsurprisingly, the Quakes were the top scorers in MLS that year. San Jose racked up an unrivalled 72 goals in 34 matches and capped off the campaign by sealing the Supporters’ Shield.

For the best part of two decades, Wondolowski has enjoyed numerous successful seasons. But there is no denying that 2012 is his best year to date.

The 37-year-old was due to retire at the end of 2020, but he recently signed a one-year contract extension with the Quakes. How many more goals can Wondo add to his record-breaking tally?

3. Bradley Wright-Phillips – New York Red Bulls (2014)

  • Goals – 27
  • Games – 32
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.84

Only two players have scored more goals in a single MLS season than Bradley Wright-Phillips.

The Englishman joined the Red Bulls from Charlton Athletic midway through the 2013 campaign, winning the Supporters’ Shield a few months later. But in his first full season in America, Wright-Phillips unleashed his full potential.

The striker netted a hat-trick against three different clubs – Houston, Chicago, and Seattle. Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City) scored 22 goals, but he ultimately got nowhere near Wright-Phillips’ tally of 27.

After spending the 2020 season with LAFC, the veteran will team up with Columbus for the 2021 campaign. The fact that the defending MLS Cup champions want Wright-Phillips on board speaks volumes about his longevity.

2. Josef Martinez – Atlanta United (2018)

  • Goals – 31
  • Games – 34
  • Goals per game ratio – 0.91

When the Five Stripes signed Josef Martinez in 2017, it’s fair to say that they weren’t getting the most prolific striker on the planet.

Following relatively uneventful spells in Switzerland and Italy with Young Boys and Torino, respectively, the Venezuelan wasn’t expected to set Major League Soccer alight.

As it turned out – he exceeded all expectations.

Fending off competition from Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), Martinez scored a phenomenal 31 goals in 34 appearances in 2018. He also claimed the MVP award as Atlanta beat Portland Timbers to win the MLS Cup.

Unfortunately, Martinez suffered a season-ending injury in the very first game of 2020. It goes without saying Atlanta struggled without their main man last term.

MLS TOP GOALSCORERS – 2018
Player Goals
Josef Martinez 31
Zlatan Ibrahimovic 22
Bradley Wright-Phillips 20
Mauro Manotas 19
Gyasi Zardes 19

1. Carlos Vela – LAFC (2019)

  • Goals – 34
  • Games – 31
  • Goals per game ratio – 1.10

Carlos Vela is the undisputed MLS Golden Boot king.

The Mexican magician became the only player in the league’s history to finish as the top scorer with a 1+ goals per game ratio, scoring 34 goals in 31 matches in 2019.

It is worth mentioning that Vela missed two games with a hamstring injury and was even an unused substitute on one occasion. Still, five doubles and two hat-tricks enabled him to finish four goals clear of Zlatan.

LAFC eventually fell to Seattle in the Conference Finals, but Vela’s efforts will never be forgotten.

Like Martinez, the Mexican also missed the majority of 2020 through injury. However, he still managed to score nine goals in 13 appearances last term, proving that he is still at the top of his game.

If Vela can stay fit, he will almost certainly challenge for the Golden Boot in 2021.

Conclusion

It’s official – Carlos Vela is the most efficient MLS Golden Boot winner of all time.

In all honestly, it is difficult to imagine anyone ever surpassing the LAFC star’s outrageous goals per game ratio of 1.10.

It seems crazy that world-class strikers like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa, and Wayne Rooney were never able to get their hands on the Golden Boot. But I’m sure you’ll agree that every player is worthy of their place on this list.

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