Now that US Soccer has revealed the six nominees for its Male Player of the Year award for 2019, there's only two things left for us to do as observers: weigh all the candidates' qualifications and come up with a pick for the winner.
As the national team finds itself in a time of transition, it should come as little surprise that only one of the six players up for the prize already has one sitting on his trophy shelf: 2017 honoree Christian Pulisic. Will he become the seventh man to net the award multiple times or will we have a first-time winner to celebrate? Let's figure it out.
Long (left) and Gyasi Zardes at the Gold Cup. | USA Today Images
The numbers: 14 starts, 1,190 minutes played, three goals, one assist
His case: Only one US player started as many games as the center back, who also became the first US defender to notch two goals in a single game. Long was the team's best defender on their run to the Gold Cup final (he was one of three USMNT players to make the tournament Best XI) and in their Nations Cup home-and-away against Canada.
His shining 2019 moment: We could have just as easily gone with his two-goal Gold Cup display against Trinidad & Tobago, but let's give the nod to Long's outing in the important Nations Cup revenge win over Canada from two weeks ago. The Red Bulls man was fully in charge at the back and his excellent restart header effectively put the game away before halftime.
McKennie (right) in action against Venezuela. | USA Today Images
The numbers: 12 starts, 948 minutes played, five goals, two assists
His case: The Schalke midfield engine enjoyed a solid Gold Cup run, up until the second half of the final. McKennie bagged the quarterfinal winner against Curaçao and the fast opener in the semifinal defeat of Jamaica. And it will be a long time before anyone forgets his 13-minute hat trick (plus an assist) in the Nations League opening rout of Cuba.
His shining 2019 moment: Most observers will likely race to that record-smashing Cuba showing, but I'm going to tab his key performance in the cathartic Gold Cup group phase demolition of Trinidad & Tobago. Answering the biggest criticism of his USMNT career to date, McKennie was seemingly everywhere on both sides of the ball as the team cruised to what was, at the time, their most commanding victory in two years.
The numbers: nine starts, 779 minutes played, five goals, six assists
His case: It took Morris a while to lock down the lineup place, but then he scored five times and added five helpers in his last seven starts. He proved once and for all that, yes, he does have a left foot and can shine on the wing. For the year in total, no US player came close to his 1.27 goals + assists per 90 minutes.
His shining 2019 moment: The Sounders star teamed up with fellow nominee Gyasi Zardes to tear Canada apart early and often in the November victory that pulled a Nations League semifinal berth out of the fire for the US. A vital build figure throughout, Morris got free for a "make no mistake" second minute opener before using touch and guile to tee up the doorstep winner for Zardes.
Pulisic (right) playing against Mexico. | USA Today Images
The numbers: 10 starts, 762 minutes played, five goals, three assists
His case: The Chelsea ace was the top USMNT performer at Gold Cup 2019, earning Bext XI honors from Concacaf. Pulisic tied for second on the US goal and assist charts for the year. When he's on (which is usually), his wheels and talent can unnerve even the best of opposing defenses.
His shining 2019 moment: It wasn't just his decisive second-half double that undid Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinal. Pulisic was clearly the best man on the field, repeatedly unlocked the Reggae Boyz with his dribbling and vision.
Ream (right) talks to teammate Paul Arriola | USA Today Images
The numbers: 14 starts, 1,210 minutes played, two assists
His case: In what most would probably agree was easily his best year of work with the US, Ream split time between left back and the heart of defense while leading the team in minutes played. The Fulham veteran was generally at his most steady in competitive play.
His shining 2019 moment: While I usually tend toward games that count when picking a top performance, Ream's night in a 1-1 friendly draw with Uruguay was pretty special. Sporting the captain's armband his hometown of St. Louis, he continually came to the rescue at the back and shipped the pass that initiated the late tying goal sequence.
Zardes celebrating a goal | USA Today Images
The numbers: 10 starts, 884 minutes played, six goals, one assist
His case: With top gun Jozy Altidore often out injured, the Columbus striker stepped up to lead the team in scoring in 2019. What's more, Zardes' oft-maligned first touch and hold-up game were better than ever.
His shining 2019 moment: Zardes was at his best in his most important start of the year. In a strong all-around outing, his well-taken double ensured the USMNT would rally to finish at the top of Nations League Group A ahead of Canada.
My pick for the award?
It was a tough call because there was no clear-cut top choice, as there often is. In the end, I had to go with Morris. He was arguably the most consistent performer among the nominees, and surely would have blown away everyone's raw production stats had he been given a couple more starts and/or not been pulled as an act of halftime mercy from both Cuba strolls.