Could this be Major League Soccer’s 1998?
For Major League Baseball, that was the year Mark McGwire not only broke the long-standing single-season home run record, but he crushed it: pushing the hallowed mark all the way from 61 to 70.
In MLS, the record is 27 goals, and Roy Lassiter’s mark has stood since the league’s inaugural season in 1996.
But six games into the season, Los Angeles Galaxy forward Edson Buddle has nine goals. No one has scored so many so fast, and it puts him on a pace for 45.
Can he keep up that pace?
“I’m not sure,” Buddle said Tuesday. “I wish I could give you a good number. Right now, I just hope it will carry over into this month. I can still improve, and the team can still improve. (L.A. coach Bruce Arena) has just brought in so many good players, it just makes things easier on the field.”
Buddle returns to that point when asked what has changed for him this season – because surely something has changed.
He is 28, with nine MLS seasons behind him. He reached his current total of nine goals in just five of those seasons, and his high of 15 goals came in 2008. Last season, when injuries limited him to 19 appearances, he had five.
And now this: a season of achievements that already has included one player-of-the-month award and two player-of-the-week awards. The latest came last week, when he provided two goals and one assist in a 3-1 win over Philadelphia. That assist came on the first L.A. goal this season scored by anyone other than Buddle – meaning he has figured in all 10 Galaxy goals so far.
“I really haven’t changed much up,” he said. “I would say it’s just the quality of the players.”
Certainly there is quality around Buddle. The Galaxy is instantly recognized as the team that brought David Beckham to America. But even with Beckham out for the season, the club also features 2009 MVP Landon Donovan along with the likes of Eddie Lewis, Clint Mathis and Donovan Ricketts.
This season, Donovan tops MLS with five assists – all to Buddle. And that causes Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid to view them as twin challenges when the Galaxy visits Seattle on Saturday.
“Buddle’s on fire,” Schmid said. “And now somebody’s got to step up and say, ‘Hey, you know what? He ain’t scoring against us.’ And the team has to take that approach. To stop a good center forward you have to stop the service, so we’ve got to make sure that we take care of Landon, who has been the main supplier of assists.”
The Galaxy (5-0-1) stops at Colorado tonight before continuing on to Seattle.
But even if the Rapids and Sounders can’t slow Buddle’s assault on MLS’ goal-scoring record, it’s possible that his own success might.
This is a World Cup year. And the U.S. national team has a shortage of goal scorers – especially with Brian Ching and Charlie Davies not fully healthy.
As of now, Buddle has only one appearance with the national team: in a 2003 friendly against Venezuela at Qwest Field.
Whether he earns more this year is expected to be announced next week by U.S. coach Bob Bradley.
Buddle is hoping for a call, even though it would certainly cost him Galaxy games and probably a chance at the goal-scoring record.
“I’m hearing the same things you’re hearing,” Buddle said. “There’s always speculation and all sorts of things like that. I don’t really know much. But I would love to. It’s a dream of mine since I started playing soccer, and it would be a wonderful experience for myself and my family.”
And soccer runs through the Buddle blood.
His father, Winston Buddle, also played pro soccer.
And when his first son was born, he decided to name him in honor of his soccer-playing hero: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known by his Brazilian nickname, Pelé.
“He’s a big fan of Brazilian soccer, and a fan of Pelé,” Buddle said. “I was too young to negotiate my name.”
BUDDLE’S THE BEST
Edson Buddle of L.A. Galaxy leads MLS in several categories, including:
9 – Buddle, L.A. Galaxy
6 – Dwayne De Rosario, Toronto
5 – Buddle
2 – (tie) Chris Wondolowski, San Jose; De Rosario, Toronto; Juan Pablo Angel, N.Y.; Kei Kamara, K.C.
26 – Buddle
23 – Fredy Montero, Seattle
SHOTS ON GOAL
12 – Buddle
11 – Sebastien Le Toux, Phila.