There are 10 MLS award categories — 11 including Best XI. That might seem like a lot, but there are cracks that dozens of deserving names fall through every year. As it stands, not everyone who deserves recognition gets it. That’s just a fact, both of MLS and in life.
Look no further than the newly-christened AT&T Young Player of the Year. Creating the award was the right decision. It filled a clear hole. Youth development in MLS is so much bigger than the SuperDraft. The league was simply updating with the times to honor Homegrown Players whose pro careers started in USL and international prospects who were getting paid to play before they got to North America.
On the other hand…
One crack was filled, but another opened where there wasn’t a crack before! Damned if you don’t and, depending on your perspective, damned if you do.
Enter Extratime driven by Continental, where our mission is to break outside the “official” categories in order to ensure everyone in MLS gets the shine their performances/role/whatever-random-category-pops-into-our-heads deserves. That’s why, starting in 2020, we’ll be handing out the SuperDraft Player of the Year as part of our annual Continental Awards. Fear not Henry Kessler and Daryl Dike. We’ve got the college player covered.
Shout out to the fullbacks and the defensive midfielders, too, who have Continental Awards all their own. Why do they need them, you ask? Well, no outside back has ever won MLS Defender of the Year. Only Todd Dunivant, Justin Morrow and Kemar Lawrence have chipped away at the center-back hegemony in the Best XI over the past decade. Despite a lockdown d-mid being a prerequisite to win MLS Cup, only Eduard Atuesta, Dax McCarty and Osvaldo Alonso have found a way to muscle their way into the league first team since 2010.
We’ll release this year’s officially unofficial Continental Award categories on Monday’s Extratime. Keep your eye on our Twitter account, where we’ll solicit nominations in every category before crowning the winners following the regular season. It’s my second favorite show of the year, after our predictions special.
In the meantime, here are some listener-suggested award categories, with current finalists and winners, that just missed the cut but were fun to put together and I hope fun to read!
Leveled-Up Best XI
Via David in Skokie, Ill.
For the end-of-year awards, I'd be interested in a leveled-up Best XI. This would be for players who made the biggest improvement year over year, or guys who added a new weapon to their game. Jordan Morris would certainly be on the team, perhaps Gianluca Busio. There are plenty of others.
Since David coined the XI, I had to include Morris and Busio, though I think Morris was at or near his 2020 level for parts of 2019, namely the second half of the regular season and throughout the playoffs.
It hurt me to exclude Julian Araujo and Bryan Reynolds at right back. Sam Vines was neck and neck with George Bello at left back. Memo Rodriguez broke out last year, but he’s been even more consistent in 2020. You can absolutely argue James Sands should replace Dave Romney, but I already rated Sands and he’s out for the year. Benji Michel is a good shout, but he’s not pushing Morris or Chris Mueller out of the team.
Saturday, 3:20 pm ET: I spaced on two clear Level-Up standouts, which Soccer Twitter happily pointed out. Cole Bassett is a big miss. He could replace Busio, depending on your perspective. I don't think it's as much of a slam dunk as Rapids fans do. You can't go wrong with either, but one is a starter for the top team in the Western Conference, so Busio stays in my team.
Bassett can't replace Frankie Amaya, who has been an absolute bulldog for a punchless FC Cincinnati team, because another snub rightfully owns that spot. Ommitting Eryk Williamson was truly egregious on my part. What can I say? Mistakes were made (and now corrected).
Old Dog, New Tricks MVP
Via Mark in Somerville, Mass.
How do you feel about the "You can teach an old dog new tricks" award? Goes to an older player (over 30, I guess) who has made a comeback splash or went to a new team and won a starting spot. BWP would be a great nomination for this in 2020.
- Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers) … Oh, you thought he was just a super sub? Nah, sans Sebastian Blanco, build the attack around him.
- Bradley Wright-Phillips (LAFC) … Old dog, same old tricks. Don’t doubt the man.
- Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution) … Rediscovered some of his magic after a mid-season trade back to the Revs.
- Kevin Molino (Minnesota United FC) … The old, pre-injury Hot Boy is back! When Molino is on, he can be downright unstoppable.
WINNER: Bradley Wright-Phillips (LAFC)
It was painful, no doubt, but it was time for BWP to move on from the Red Bulls. He gave the press six years of his life and New York 117 goals between the regular season and playoffs. The man deserved constant sunshine, a system set up to provide goalscoring opportunities inside the 18 and quality wingers to divert attention away from his runs. He got that with LAFC, even if Carlos Vela was out for most of the year, and reminded all of us that he’s still the year-in, year-out Golden Boot candidate who was a record setter before a slow 2019 broke the most productive five-year stretch in league history.
Former USL Player of the Year
Via Christopher Hoal
I have a belated suggestion for the Continental Awards: Former USL Player of the Year. This award would go to the most valuable player who was signed to a USL contract and played in the USL in the year prior – and is now lighting up the field in MLS. There are many pathways that players have to Major League Soccer, and the reason I would like to see this topic discussed is to acknowledge that playing professionally in lower divisions is an important but often undervalued method.
First things first, there’s no Mark-Anthony Kaye here. I believe one of the weaknesses of our internal player market is the lack of upward movement between the divisions. We need a handful of Kayes every year out of the USL Championship, and not just academy products making the jump. Guys ready to make an impact or fight for a starting job in MLS.
Is Caden Clark cheating? Probably, and his MLS career is still young. For me, it’s Bryan Reynolds, who FC Dallas had on developmental ice down in USL League One with North Texas until Reggie Cannon got sold to Boavista. With a place in the Luchi Gonzalez’s lineup open, Reynolds jumped up a level and went about proving that he’s every bit the prospect (and maybe more) that Cannon was and still is in a new environment.
WINNER: Bryan Reynolds
Immediately Disappeared and Forgotten Signing of the Year
Via Raffaele Di Filippo
I'm a faithful listener of your podcast from Italy and I'm writing you with a few silly (or maybe intriguing?) proposals for the Continental Awards. How about the Kenneth Vermeer immediately disappeared and forgotten signing of the year?
First of all, Raffaele took no prisoners. I couldn’t do all his suggested categories, but he went straight for the throat. For what it’s worth, Vermeer got his first start since August for LAFC in a midweek win. I’m going to slightly tweak this category to transfer busts because signings generally don’t just … disappear. Two names stand out, with a third pushing into the finalist list thanks to his preseason bravado.
- Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (LA Galaxy) … Will Chicharito be back in 2021? TBD. Here’s what Dennis te Kloese had to say on the same day he dismissed his manager: “In its time, we’ll assess it in the right way.”
- Jurgen Locadia (FC Cincinnati) … Not gonna lie, I got pulled in by the hype a little bit even though my brain was telling me to look closer at Locadia's career goalscoring record.
- Luis Amarilla (Minnesota United) … Remember how many goals Amarilla said he was going to score? Memo to all new signings: keep your goals to yourself. The Loons’ striker carousel has been busy.
WINNER: You know who…
Trade of the Year
Via Jarrod in Milwaukee
- Darwin Quintero to Houston Dynamo
- Walker Zimmerman to Nashville SC
- Darlington Nagbe to Columbus Crew
- Romell Quioto to Montreal
WINNER: Walker Zimmerman to Nashville SC
For me, Walker Zimmerman is the Defender of the Year. Nashville are comfortably a playoff team, and he’s their most important player, you could argue, on both sides of the ball. Every single contrived dollar of sweet, sweet GAM was worth it, this year and for years to come. Every expansion team needs a foundation to build from, and it’s clear GM Mike Jacobs built his side around Zimmerman, Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy. They got all three in trades!
Here’s who else Jacobs picked up in MLS’s internal trade market: Alex Muyl, Dave Romney, Daniel Lovitz, Joe Willis and the SuperDraft pick used to select Alistair Johnston. By my count, that’s eight starters via trade for Nashville. That’s why they’re in the playoffs.