Voices: Andrew Wiebe

MLS 2021 awards: One candidate for every MLS team

This column started with a simple question.

The answer, in case you weren’t a Nashville SC supporter burning down my mentions, is absolutely. Mukhtar is the most influential and productive attacking player on, at worst, the fifth-best team in MLS. He’s tied with Daniel Salloi and Ola Kamara for combined goals and assists at 19 (10 G, 9 A). Carles Gil (still the clear and obvious favorite) is right behind them.

Mukhtar has a strong and compelling case! But is he even a finalist as it currently stands? How likely is he to win the award, really? If Nashville were to put all their eggs in one award basket, is Mukhtar a better MVP candidate than Gary Smith is a Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year candidate?

Mull that over, and I’ll give you my answer in a few hundred words.

Here’s who I think is the most likely award winner from all 27 teams as the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs push intensifies. We’re going in order of the Week 24 Power Rankings, and you’ll notice, quite obviously, that the candidacies get weaker as we go. I reserve the right to include the Extratime Awards categories for those clubs that have no viable traditional award candidates.

My mentions (@andrew_wiebe) are open! Hit me with your award locks and quibbles with my choices.

Matt Turner, Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year

How do you narrow it down to just one award winner for this rampant Revs team? Go listen to the first 15 minutes of Monday’s Extratime. What they’re doing this season is extraordinary.

New England could very well win four of the eight traditional award categories. In fact, I would personally bet on three: Carles Gil for MVP, Bruce Arena for Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year and Turner picking up his first Goalkeeper of the Year nod. Hell, Tajon Buchanan was almost certainly going to take AT&T Young Player of the Year, too, until the Pepi train got rolling.

I took Turner because I see no plausible scenario other than injury (knock on wood … why’d I even type those words?) that would keep him from winning. I feel basically the same about Gil and Arena, but I think the candidates around them are stronger.

Raul Ruidiaz, Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

The scenario is pretty simple: Riding six points from their two games in hand on New England, the Sounders, now featuring Stefan Frei, Nico Lodeiro and Nouhou, take advantage of merely average form from the Revs to basically run the table and win the Supporters' Shield.

Who fuels the run? Who else? Raul Ruidiaz, your 2021 Golden Boot presented by Audi winner. Oh, and he also delivers Leagues Cup glory as well. Gil has been magnificent, but Ruidiaz takes MVP in that scenario.

Interestingly for a team at the level of Seattle, and thanks to copious injuries to Best XI talent, their only other real award candidate is Brian Schmetzer. However, they do have multiple Extratime Awards favorites, most notably Alex Roldan for Fullback of the Year and Joao Paulo for D-Mid of the Year (currently a lock IMO).

Robin Fraser, Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year

The Rapids don’t really have traditional stars, not award winners anyway. They have the collective, and it’s a damn good one. The roster build by Padraig Smith puts him in the running for Extratime’s Executive of the Year award, but Fraser built the culture and the style of play and has an outside shot at Coach of the Year.

Now, he won’t win it – not with either Bruce Arena set to make MLS history or, in that other universe, Brian Schmetzer rallying full-strength Seattle to a dramatic Shield via games in hand – but if the Rapids can jump one of Sporting or the Sounders and finish second in the West and third in the Shield race? Fraser would be an easy finalist and a deserving winner in many other seasons.

Daniel Salloi, Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

Thirteen goals, six assists … He’s one of the best-attacking players in the league. Period. Right now, Salloi is a finalist in my mind with Gil and Ruidiaz.

Note: Gianluca Busio might have had a shot at AT&T Young Player of the Year before he transferred to Venezia.

Hany Mukhtar, Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

Had Walker Zimmerman played more this season, he’d be the easy pick here to repeat as Defender of the Year. As it stands, I think Nashville are going to be blanked in the traditional award categories.

Both Mukhtar and Gary Smith (Coach of the Year) have candidacies to be proud of, but not the overwhelming ones they’d need to be shoo-in finalists, let alone win their respective award categories. Leave the individual plaudits for others to enjoy, Nashville. You can focus on making noise in the playoffs.

Julian Araujo, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Two words: Ricardo Pepi. This ain’t gonna happen for Araujo, but it is a good opportunity to heap some more praise on the 20-year-old right back. There’s a reason Mexico and the United States are both chasing Araujo hard. He’s in the very top cohort of right backs in MLS this season.

Alexander Callens, Defender of the Year

Take your pick on that NYCFC backline. You could argue either outside back – Anton Tinnerholm or Gudmundur Thorarinsson are best in class (or close) at their position – and between Callens, Maxime Chanot and, depending on the game, James Sands, the blue side of New York is absolutely stacked at center back.

I’m taking Callens, who has had an incredible year for both club and country, even if it’s unlikely he’ll win the actual award.

Note: Taty Castellanos barely misses being eligible for Young Player and would have an MVP shout if the field wasn’t so crowded with quality (and NYCFC were higher in the table).

Emanuel Reynoso, Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player

Once upon a time, Reynoso had a chance. Now? Well, it’s time to start stretching to find viable candidates!

Antonio Carlos, Defender of the Year

It’s a shame our most recent image of Carlos is him diving in and getting left behind by Ezequiel Barco. The full picture says he’s been one of the league’s best defenders for almost two years now.

Ezequiel Barco, AT&T Young Player of the Year

I would have bet something just shy of my life on Josef Martinez being Comeback Player of the Year back in February. That could still happen, but Barco seems like he’s going to build some serious late-season momentum in the Young Player of the Year discussion. He’s got six goals and five assists now, Atlanta United are straight up vibing and Josef has returned alongside in-form Marcelino Moreno and Luiz “Best XI caliber so far” Araujo.

Good recipe for an award push.

Sebastian Blanco, Comeback Player of the Year

Strange how the Timbers’ potentially season-saving road trip success came with their talismanic No. 10 back in the starting lineup. Weird.

Andy Najar, Comeback Player of the Year

Not gonna lie, I thought Najar’s career was potentially over. The injuries and time missed just seemed like too much to overcome. Think again! The OG Homegrown is back in D.C. doing his thing and making a mark on Concacaf with Honduras, too.

Apologies and a big shout-out to Ola Kamara. He may yet win the Golden Boot presented by Audi (16 goals!!!) … but he has almost no chance of winning MVP. In another season, Hernan Losada might have been in the Coach of the Year discussion as well.

Gregore, Chris Armas D-Mid of the Year

Boy, Chris Henderson really knows how to scout Brazil for defensive midfielders, huh?

Kai Wagner, Fullback of the Year

What a signing by Ernst Tanner. Wagner is truly one of the best left backs in the league. How long can Philly keep him? And can they replace him if they sell? That’s the game they’re playing. The answer to the second question has to be yes.

Cristian Arango, Newcomer of the Year

Five goals in five starts + a weak Newcomer class (particularly from the winter window) = Arango has as good a chance as anyone, if LAFC can make the playoffs.

Honorable mention: Jose Cifuentes, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Quick, who has been LAFC’s best player this season? Cifu. That’s the answer.

Djordje Mihailovic, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Yes, Mihailovic is still eligible for the award! He’ll turn 23 after the end of the regular season. Trading big allocation bucks and giving him the keys to the attack was a decent decision by Montréal and Wilfried Nancy.

  • 2017: 1 G, 2 A in 732 minutes
  • 2018: 1 G, 4 A in 582 minutes
  • 2019: 3 G, 2 A in 1,448 minutes
  • 2020: 2 G, 6 A in 1,171 minutes
  • 2021: 4 G, 10 A in 1,943 minutes

Since Pepi is going to win this one, I’ve also got Mihailovic penciled in as an Extratime Level-Up Player of the Year finalist.

Damir Kreilach, Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

Kreilach will never come close to winning it – in fact, we’ll never talk about it again – but I have so much respect for his game.

Deiber Caicedo, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Four goals and four assists is a pretty darn encouraging return for a 21-year-old coming to a new league and new country during a pandemic. Among many reasons, Caicedo’s growth makes 2022 a quietly promising year for the Whitecaps. Hell, they’re not out of the playoff race yet, either.

Cade Cowell, Teenager of the Year

Young Player of the Year is out of reach, but Cowell could very well win an Extratime Award. Chofis for Newcomer? That ought to tell you something about the Newcomer class.

Ricardo Pepi, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Put this one in ink. Choooooooo chooooooooo!!!

Miguel Berry, First-Year College Player of the Year

OK, we’re at the point in this column where I am admittedly cheating. No, this is not Berry’s first year as a pro. That was 2020, during which he didn’t play a single MLS minute, so I am not counting it. Five goals in 330 minutes is pretttttttay darn good.

Caden Clark, AT&T Young Player of the Year

It says a lot about the Red Bulls' season that Caden Clark is not, in fact, a serious contender for this award.

Ignacio Aliseda for Young Player? This is the only team for which I’ve got nothing.

Brenner, Newcomer of the Year

Let’s say Brenner gets double-digit goals (needs four) and a couple are dramatic winners. Not bad for a 21-year-old striker playing for a — it’s best to be kind — underperforming team.

Fafa Picault, Thriving for a Rival Award

Nine goals and four assists. Has played damn near every minute for Tab Ramos. Why’d you let him go, FC Dallas? Picault’s been so good I had to make up an award category.

Brad Stuver, Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year

Credit where credit is due. It would be the strangest GOY season of all time. It won’t happen.

Yeferson Soteldo, Newcomer of the Year

Maybe 2022 will be better, eh?