Voices: Andrew Wiebe

My ballot: Who should win MLS 2021 year-end awards?

With a vote comes responsibility. With responsibility comes the need for transparency. With transparency maybe we’d all finally agree on what exactly constitutes a Comeback Player of the Year.

The 2021 MLS year-end award finalists are out, and it’s safe to say I don’t agree with the totality of the decisions made by the voting pool (media, players and club executives). There are some … misses.

Yeah, I know my opinion isn’t the gold standard here (hey, stop nodding!), but I’ll go ahead and share my ballot anyway in the name of transparency. The official winners will trickle out during the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs over the next month or so.

As always…

Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player


  • Valentín Castellanos (New York City FC)
  • Carles Gil (New England Revolution)
  • Hany Mukhtar (Nashville SC)
  • João Paulo (Seattle Sounders FC)
  • Dániel Sallói (Sporting Kansas City)

Snubs: Damir Kreilach (Real Salt Lake)

Wiebe’s vote: Carles Gil

My top two were Gil and Mukhtar. I already wrote the column explaining why this award ought to belong to Gil. The case is the same as it was a month ago. You can read it, or just skim the thesis statement…

“He’s by far the best player on by far the league’s best team. He’s the best player in MLS this year.”

Best team. Best player. MVP. Nobody has ever created more potential goalscoring moments in this league than Gil did this year … even while missing a month. He made history and his team made history. That, to me and I expect the vast majority of the voting pool, constitutes an MVP season.

This is going to an absolute runaway win for the Revs’ No. 10. Put that in the bank.

Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year


  • Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
  • Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
  • Joe Willis (Nashville SC)

Snubs: Maxime Crepeau (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Carlos Coronel (New York Red Bulls), Steve Clark (Portland Timbers)

Wiebe’s vote: Matt Turner

Life is funny. Turner probably should have won last year – eye test and the underlying numbers – but Blake did instead in large part because his team won the Supporters’ Shield. Blake should probably win this year – eye test and the underlying numbers – but he won’t in large part because Turner’s team won the Supporters’ Shield.

Both are all-time ‘keepers in this league and deserve every plaudit they get.

Defender of the Year


  • Yeimar Gómez (Seattle Sounders FC)
  • Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
  • Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

Snubs: Andreu Fontas (Sporting Kansas City), Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake), Sean Nealis (New York Red Bulls)

Wiebe’s vote: Andreu Fontas

This is one of the categories that really has me frustrated. All respect to Robinson, but I feel strongly Fontas should have, at the very least, been the third finalist.

Fontas was many things to Sporting KC this year. He was ever-present (33 starts, 2,970 minutes) in a lineup that saw lots of rotation on the backline. He was the league’s highest volume passer by almost 600 attempts and 500 completions – opponents can’t score when you have the ball/defense is played in many ways – both breaking lines and providing rhythm for Sporting’s league-best possession game. He was one of the best transition defenders in the league when turnovers forced him to step in and put out fires.

I think he had the best overall season for a defender in MLS, but I can understand voters who went for Yeimar (best CB based on defender stats like tackles, blocks, aerials won, etc.) or Zimmerman (the best defender in MLS period, but he missed nine games and 12 starts).

Newcomer of the Year


  • Cristian ‘Chicho’ Arango (LAFC)
  • Ryan Gauld (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
  • Eduardo ‘Chofis’ López (San Jose Earthquakes)

Snubs: Franco Fragapane (Minnesota United FC), Patryk Klimala (New York Red Bulls)

Wiebe’s vote: Ryan Gauld

How can you be the Newcomer of the Year if your play didn’t get your team into the postseason? Gauld, along with Brian White, changed Vancouver's season and made them a real MLS Cup contender (no, really). The proof is in the results.

Young Player of the Year


  • Julián Araujo (LA Galaxy)
  • Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution)
  • Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas)

Snubs: Daryl Dike (Orlando City SC), Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Leon Flach (Philadelphia Union)

Wiebe’s vote: Ricardo Pepi

This is an absolute toss-up between Pepi and Buchanan. Pepi is four years younger. That’s what sealed it for me.

Comeback Player of the Year


  • Carles Gil (New England Revolution)
  • Javier "Chicharito" Hernández (LA Galaxy)
  • Dániel Sallói (Sporting Kansas City)

Snubs: Dairon Asprilla (Portland Timbers), Josef Martinez (Atlanta United), Andy Najar (D.C. United)

Wiebe’s vote: Andy Najar

This category is convoluted in the minds of voters, at the very least this one. Here’s how it is officially defined: Comeback Player of the Year honors an MLS player who has overcome injuries and/or adversity in order to achieve success during the 2021 regular season.

I humbly suggest we define adversity and focus on the phrase “and/or adversity.” Being in poor form is not adversity the same way tearing your ACL is adversity. Let’s eliminate the or in that and/or statement and require injury to be a part of this equation so we all know what players must come back from.

Gil came back last year just before the playoffs. Salloi came back from poor form. They’re out, and I don’t think they’ll complain about it. Pick three of Chicharito, Asprilla, Martinez and Najar. Those ought to be the finalists.

Najar is my choice because 1) it seemed like his career was essentially over thanks to a string of devastating injuries 2) he came back from not playing for almost two years to play a crucial role on D.C. United’s near-playoff team and 3) Hernan Losada basically invented a role for him which I’ll call “And 1 Centerback" – basically a ball-advancing, defender embarrassing hybrid in a 3-5-2 formation.

Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year


  • Bruce Arena (New England Revolution)
  • Robin Fraser (Colorado Rapids)
  • Brian Schmetzer (Seattle Sounders FC)

Snubs: None

Wiebe’s vote: Bruce Arena

Supporters’ Shield-winning coaches who also set the all-time points record (73) are going to win the Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year award, and for good reason.

But – and this but is doing a lot of work – let’s stop to appreciate the job Robin Fraser has done in Colorado. They finished atop the Western Conference with the league’s lowest payroll and near-zero Designated Player contribution (Younes Namli injury, folks). They are the sum of their parts and Fraser is the soccer mathematician behind all of it.