Here are some numbers: 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 2, 4, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 32, 5. It looks like defunct morse code — or Joey Chestnut finishes in Staten Island on the Fourth of July — but it's actually where Lionel Messi has ranked in total goals plus assists across Europe's five major leagues since the start of the 2008-09 season. That's 14 of 15 consecutive seasons in the top five, 13 of 15 in the top three, 10 of 15 in the top two and eight of 15 with more goals and assists than anyone. He's one of one.
Outside of his first, strange season with Paris Saint-Germain, there's been one constant in European soccer for the past 15 years: Lionel Messi scoring and creating more goals than anyone else currently playing in the most difficult leagues in the world.
Now, Major League Soccer is not quite one of the most difficult leagues in the world. According to the consultancy Twenty First Group, it's currently the 32nd-most difficult league in the world — and it's about to be home to the greatest soccer player of all time.
Messi has made a career out of redefining what we thought possible for a single player to accomplish on a soccer field over the course of 38 90-minute matches. And right when it seemed like he might finally be done — remember that 32 — he rebounded with 16 goals and 16 assists in Ligue 1 this past year. Oh, and the World Cup; he won that, too.
Is there a limit to what this player might do to MLS? It's not as if there's ever been one like him before.
What was Messi's best season, and where would it rank in MLS history?
It might not seem like Messi has had a peak since making his Barcelona first-team debut back in October 2004; his whole career has sat above the rest. But him always being better than everyone else doesn't mean the degrees of better-ness haven't varied, and his two best seasons came right around the time we'd expect most other players to be at their best, too.