Before we do this, I want you to know how I think about predictions.
In 2017, a panel of myself, Matt Doyle, Ben Baer and David Gass went 15 for 52. Not one of us correctly picked the winner of the Golden Boot presented by Audi, Landon Donovan MLS MVP, Defender of the Year, Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year or AT&T Rookie of the Year. Zero for 20!
In 2018, a panel of Doyle, Baer, Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio did even worse, making correct predictions on just seven of 44 attempts. Four of those were Toronto FC to win the Canadian Championship. The other three were Josef Martinez for Golden Boot. I rest my case.
This year, let’s just admit, collectively, that we’re all just making educated/wild guesses about what’s going to happen in MLS. Key word: guesses. Nobody actually knows, but it’s fun to pretend we might. We’re just killing time until #MLSisBack on March 2.
You may notice my predictions don’t exactly match everything I’ve said on Extratime (by the way, we’re now on YouTube) and other MLS channels. My opinion changes every single day. I waffle. I overthink it. I will be wrong about the majority, if not all, of these picks because that’s the way this works. Judge me in November.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordan Morris (SEA)
Comeback Player of the Year is either a player who comes back from injury or a player who comes back from career adversity. Gyasi Zardes had a little of both in 2018, and benefited from the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose injury was more serious, won Newcomer of the Year.
Jordan Morris is the clear and obvious choice. He missed all of 2018 after suffering a torn ACL in a Concacaf Champions League match. He will be a starter for a good team. He will score goals and have at least a few big moments on a national stage. He will get back into the US men's national team picture. He will be the Comeback Player of the Year.
Other Finalists: Jozy Altidore (TOR), Djordje Mihailovic (CHI)
Newcomer of the Year: Pity Martinez (ATL)
The South American Player of the Year comes to MLS in his prime to play for the defending champions, who boast the defending Landon Donovan MVP and Golden Boot winner slash all-time single-season goal king. I’m not going out on a limb here.
Other Finalists: Marco Fabian (PHI), Alexandru Mitrita (NYC)
AT&T Rookie of the Year: Andre Shinyashiki (COL)
Corey Baird won it last year, with Mark McKenzie and Chris Mueller joining him as finalists. Andre Shinyashiki is in the mold of Julian Gressel and Baird, a productive and mature college player who’ll start the year as a reserve but has the ability and could get the opportunity to push into the starting XI. If not, he’s a good shout to be the Rapids’ first attacking sub.
Shinyashiki has an obvious and valuable niche: goals. The Rapids know Shinyashiki well – he went to college at Denver and trained with the club some last summer – and he’s got a feel for final third. He college record speaks for itself. Let’s say the Brazilian gets six goals and a couple assists. That’ll likely be enough to win it.
Other Finalists: Donovan Pines (DC), Omir Fernandez (NY)
Defender of the Year: Graham Zusi (SKC)
The non-centerback narrative for Defender of the Year is building, and you can’t really go wrong with either Lawrence or Zusi. Either could be a member of the league’s stingiest defense. Either could put up MLS-best attacking numbers for a defender. Either has the profile to attract and hold the attention of the voting block.
I am going Zusi because I think Peter Vermes will use him in interesting ways, allowing the veteran to prove his worth on both sides of the ball while staying in the headlines.
Other Finalists: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (ATL), Kemar Lawrence (NY)
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year: Brad Guzan (ATL)
Atlanta's Brad Guzan is Wiebe's pick for Goalkeeper of the Year | USA Today Sports Images
Both Luis Robles and Tim Melia have won the award recently. They could win it again, but I’ll take Guzan. Atlanta United is my Supporters’ Shield pick, and they’ll almost certainly have one of MLS’s top defensive records in 2019. That means Guzan will be a serious candidate, and I’ve got him winning on a combination of performance, profile and a perfect storm of media attention in the season’s final weeks.
Other Finalists: Tim Melia (SKC), Luis Robles (NY)
Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year: Remi Garde (MTL)
The Impact are my darkhorse team for 2019. Garde really got Montreal rolling after May turned to June. The problem was eight Ls in nine early in the season was just too much to overcome.
In Nacho Piatti’s final season with the club, with Maxi Urruti proving the perfect compliment and the midfield and backline channeling their back-half-of-2018 form, Montreal make a big jump up the standings and Garde gets the honors.
To be frank, I don’t expect Garde to win this, despite my prediction. Montreal always gets overlooked. It’ll probably be de Boer, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Peter Vermes or Chris Armas. This is my attempt to get you thinking about the Frenchman early on in the process.
Other Finalists: Frank De Boer (ATL), Luchi Gonzalez (DAL)
Assist King: Darwin Quintero (MIN)
Yeah, he’s more of a second forward, but the Colombian still got 15 assists, three behind Borek Dockal, in 2018.
Other Finalists: Nico Lodeiro (SEA), Maxi Moralez (NYC)
Golden Boot pres. by Audi: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA)
I know, I know. I went with Josef Martinez for both Golden Boot and MVP on @MLS’s Instagram. This is probably going to blow up in my face, but I am going with my gut. And my gut almost always says Zlatan.
LA is going to be better this year, just by virtue of the backline and goalkeeper eliminating 40 percent of their individual mistakes from a year ago. Zlatan will be better too, thanks to a full preseason and a year of dominating MLS defenders under his belt. He won’t break Josef Martinez’s record, but he’ll be in the 27-goal range with a collection of viral golazos.
Other Finalists: Josef Martinez (ATL), Mauro Manotas (HOU)
Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA)
And if Zlatan wins the Golden Boot and the Galaxy make the playoffs, he’s winning MVP. He almost did it last year, when Martinez set the single-season goal record in August and led the line for arguably the best team in league history. The big Swede will have the numbers, a playoff platform and the press machine to chew up all comers.
Other Finalists: Josef Martinez (ATL), Carlos Vela (LAFC)