Find me one person who doesn’t love awards season. You can’t. It’s like reality TV. We can lie to ourselves all day long, but secretly, we all love it.
Because we just passed the halfway point of the 2022 MLS regular season, I’m using that landmark as an excuse to hand out some midseason awards. The twist, however, is that these awards are based on the numbers. So don’t blame me if you don’t like the choices, blame the stats.
Let’s do this.
Landon Donovan MLS MVP
Hany Mukhtar’s numbers pop. Not only does he have nine goals and a handful of assists this season, but he has some of the best underlying statistics in the entire league. Per American Soccer Analysis, Nashville’s star leads MLS in goals added so far this year. He’s also fifth in goals added per 96 minutes among players with at least 1,000 minutes in 2022.
According to Second Spectrum, Mukhtar is first in the league in xG and second in xG per 90 among regular starters. He’s creative, goal-dangerous and extremely important to Gary Smith’s team.
MVP candidates always get a little bump when they play for a really, really good team, right? Well, Jose Cifuentes plays for the best team in MLS right now in LAFC – and he’s been the best player on that team. Among regular central midfielders, Cifuentes is second in the league in xG per 90. He’s also one of the leaders in goals added and he’s an elite ball-progresser.
I’m not saying Cifuentes should be a top-tier MVP candidate, but I’m also not not saying that.
Young Player of the Year
FC Dallas isn't FC Dallas without Jesus Ferreira. With his ability to drop in and combine and his frequent runs into the box, Ferreira is a key part of Nico Estevez’s aggressive 4-3-3 formation. At just 21, Ferreira is tied for the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi with 10 goals and also has some lovely underlying numbers.
According to FBref, the US men's national team striker is 14th in xG per 90 among players with at least 1,000 minutes. And according to Second Spectrum, he’s fifth among strikers in xA per 90 in that same group of players.
This award is Ferreira’s to lose.
To be totally clear, if any NYCFC youngster is going to win this award, it’s going to be Talles Magno. Magno’s been fantastic this year and looks ready for a bigger role if/when Taty Castellanos leaves.
But you know who else looks ready for a bigger role? Thiago Andrade. The 21-year-old doesn’t get a ton of minutes for NYCFC (he’s only played 667 minutes this year), but he’s been dangerous in those minutes. He has four goals, 3.9 xG, and is in the 95th percentile in terms of xG per 90 among attacking midfielders and wingers, according to FBref.
Thiago is certainly a player to watch during the second half of the season.
Newcomer of the Year
When D.C. United initially agreed to sign Taxi Fountas, the plan was for him to join in July during the Secondary Transfer Window. But D.C. decided that they didn’t want to wait, so they paid a reported $400,000 to release Fountas from his contract with Rapid Vienna in March.
For fans of D.C. United and MLS, those extra few months have been worth every penny. Fountas has nine goals for D.C., is fifth in the league in xG+xA per 90 (according to FBref), and is the highest-rated newcomer based on American Soccer Analysis' goals added metric.
Not too shabby, Taxi. Not too shabby.
Leonardo Campana might not really be a dark horse given how many goals he’s scored for Inter Miami this year, but he needed a shoutout somewhere in this section. Campana has become the guy for Phil Neville and Inter Miami. His eight non-penalty goals put him tied for fourth in MLS and his 0.41 xG per 90 puts him eighth in the league among players with at least 1,000 minutes, per Second Spectrum.
Campana deserves all of the love he’s been getting.
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year
We can pretty safely say that Minnesota United would be at least a handful of points lower in the Western Conference standings without Dayne St. Clair. He’s won them games, saved them points, and made some impressive stops in goal along the way.
According to American Soccer Analysis, St. Clair is first in the entire league in total goals added. That means he’s been hugely valuable in 2022, particularly with his shot-stopping. Adrian Heath has himself a good one.
Don’t look now, but the best shot-stopping goalkeeper on a per 90-minute basis this year is Inter Miami’s Drake Callendar. Based on post-shot expected goals (which measures how likely a shot is to score after it’s been taken but before the goalkeeper gets to it), Callendar has been the best goalkeeper in MLS.
Now, he’s only played nine games for Miami this year, but he snagged four points for them back in May and he’s still putting in quality work in goal as we head into the heart of July.
Defender of the Year
Jack Elliott doesn’t like to sit down. He’s played every single minute for the Union in MLS this year and he’s been excellent in those minutes. According to American Soccer Analysis, Elliott is third among fullbacks and center backs in MLS with at least 1,000 minutes in goal added’s “interrupting” category. That indicates that he disrupts plays and causes problems for opposing attackers.
Yeah, that sounds about right. Add Elliott’s defensive interventions to his pressures (91st percentile, according to FBref) and Philly’s success, and you have a Defender of the Year.
If the Timbers were a little better this year, we’d be talking more about Bill Tuiloma. Portland’s center back is having himself quite the season. He has five goals, which is the most of any center back, and is second among center backs in xG per 90 minutes according to Second Spectrum.
Tuiloma also ranks only a couple of spots behind Elliott in terms of interrupting value. He’s been an impact player for Gio Savarese in 2022.
Comeback Player of the Year
This one feels right, doesn’t it? After another brutal ACL injury, Jordan Morris is back scoring goals for the Seattle Sounders. He helped them win the Concacaf Champions League and clinch a FIFA Club World Spot (both first in MLS history) earlier this season and now he’s helping them climb up the Western Conference table.
Per Second Spectrum, Morris leads MLS in xG per 90 minutes (among regular starters) and it looks like his ability to break into the box and torture defenders is slowly coming back to him.
What exactly is Darwin Quintero coming back from? Well, I’m glad you asked. He’s coming back from a year of being mismanaged and generally left out by former head coach Tab Ramos in Houston. So far in 2022, Quintero has been awesome. According to Second Spectrum, he’s in the top five in xA per 90 minutes among regular starters. According to FBref, he’s in the 91st percentile in xG per 90 in 2022.
It’s great to see Quintero shining on the field again.
Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year
I chose to look at the winner of this award as a function of improvement. Which team’s coach has had the biggest impact on their team’s results from 2021 to 2022? Well, that’s an easy one: Pat Noonan. After winning three Wooden Spoons in a row, Cincy have the fifth-best goals added differential per 96 minutes, according to American Soccer Analysis.
That puts them behind NYCFC, LAFC, the LA Galaxy, the New York Red Bulls and no one else. FC Cincinnati are sitting in fifth place in the East and there are real ideas behind how they play. Noonan deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done this season.
Hey, remember what I just said about basing this award off of improvement? The same thing applies here with Wilfried Nancy. CF Montréal are breathing right down Cincy’s neck in terms of goals added differential.
They’re sixth in MLS in that metric and third in the East right now after being 10th in that metric and 10th in the East in 2021. Montréal are fun to watch and, if they’re healthy, are a real threat in the Eastern Conference this year at least in part because of Nancy.