Voices: Greg Seltzer

MLS is Back Tournament award frontunners after Group Stage | Greg Seltzer

Rossi - July 18 - four goals

While the remaining 16 clubs prepare their sprints toward the MLS Is Back Tournament title match, there are other relevant races also occurring for each of the five post-tournament awards.

It's still too early to definitively pick winners, but a picture of the frontrunners is already developing as we wave goodbye to the group phase and head to the knockouts. What lies below is my humble attempt at identifying the top candidates for each award at this stopping point in the tournament.

Player of the Tournament presented by Adidas

MLS is Back Tournament award frontunners after Group Stage | Greg Seltzer - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/akinola2.png?..1UbkN3vU8KyFcdjy_2CI0RFA8jRPzZ

As it stands, the MLS is Back MVP race looks fairly wide open. Current goal chart co-leaders Ayo Akinola of Toronto FC and Diego Rossi of LAFC are obviously in the mix, along with resurgent Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake and dedicated Akinola chance source Alejandro Pozuelo

Naturally, this honor typically goes to someone on a team that contends for the crown, which means we'll also need to keep an eye on Columbus Crew SC. The top group stage dog has seen several players star in Orlando to date, but spine stars Darlington NagbeGyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan seem to be in the best positions to vie for this award when all is said and done.

There are others who shined in the group stage that have an outside shot of making a real run at the prize if their clubs make a run to the final. Portland forward Jeremy Ebobisse has been a timely strike delivery service, Orlando City's Chris Mueller a final third troublemaker and blooming LAFC winger Brian Rodriguez is driving the offense of a team missing reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela.

Young Player of the Tournament presented by AT&T

With all due to respect to the impressive likes of Philly playmaker Brendan AaronsonFC Cincinnati midfielder Frankie Amaya and Orlando City left back Joao Moutinho, this one is shaping up to be a three-horse race.

It will shock exactly no one to find Diego Rossi's name included at the top of this award field. The LAFC ace has picked up Vela's attack mantle and run with it, bagging five goals to go with an assist. The presence of Toronto FC teen striker Akinola in this race is far more surprising, but he has earned it by ably potting five goals of his own while filling in for Jozy Altidore. The veteran has now returned to the field, so it remains to be seen if Akinola will see enough knockout playing time to earn this honor.

Both of them need to watch the rear view mirror for LAFC winger Rodriguez. It seems to be flying slightly under the radar, but the youngster is breaking out in Orlando. He's notched a goal or assist in each game thus far, and stands fourth among tourney participants with an average of nearly four key passes per game.  

Golden Glove presented by Allstate

While tournament award races aren't decided by the end of the group stage, it's fair to say that the pack has a lot of work to do to catch up to Blake. 

The Philadelphia backstop has been large and in charge down in Orlando, hearkening back to his splendid 2016 Best XI/Goalkeeper of the Year form. Blake has chalked up 16 saves and repeatedly raced off his line with impunity to smother even more good opposition chances. 

Of those with a chance to give Blake a run for the prize, guys like Seattle's Stefan Frei, New England's Matt Turner or even Zac McMath of Real Salt Lake may currently be in the best positions to mount a challenge during the knockout rounds. 

Goal of the Tournament presented by AT&T

Picking a best goal is essentially like judging artwork, so one might get 5-6 different answers if they polled 10 people, and really, none of the would be "wrong."

It's a highly subjective category is what I'm saying, so all I can do is offer up the ones that got me most excited. As a free kick Stan, Lucas Zelarayan's perfect corker to put away the New York Red Bulls was always going to be near the top of the list. 

Joining that strike as my current favorites for the award are Gustavo Bou's cracking winner that downed Montreal and Jesus Medina's self-made half-volley in a losing cause against Orlando. 

I also would certainly not count out a trio of proper lasers from the third round of group matches: Gerso's insurance tally against Real Salt Lake, Jonathan Lewis' late equalizer against Minnesota United and the searing opener by Bradley Wright-Phillips against Portland. 

Save of the Tournament presented by Allstate

Like the one above, this is definitely another "eye of the beholder" category. The good news for fans (and tricky news for award voters) is that the league's goalkeepers have come up with a catalog of stunning larcenies for consideration.

On a level playing field, few could argue against Pedro Gallese's lunging stop on NYCFC attack pest Valentin Castellanos to complete a double-save vying for this trophy. The same can be said for the incredible reaction stops of Minnesota United 'keeper Tyler Miller (against Colorado's Diego Rubio) and New England counterpart Turner (to deny Akinola and Toronto FC).

That said, I tend to give bonus points for stops that save victories in the waning moments. Artistry is great any time, but it's even better when the game is on the line. For that reason, I'd put three late late shows at the front of the line so far: Blake's denial of NYCFC striker Heber, Red Bulls 'keeper David Jensen's game-saver against Atlanta United target man Adam Jahn and FC Cincinnati's Przemyslaw Tyton's sweet rejection of an equalizing bid from Red Bulls midfielder Sean Davis.