Armchair Analyst: Best XI, awards & more from the season's first quarter

Yes, we're entering Week 11 of a 34-week season. No, that doesn't mean we're nearing the 1/3 mark of 2017.

Early in the year the schedule is more spread out with fewer double-game weeks, while more fixtures are fit into the summer and autumn. Thus, we only just passed the quarter mark of the 2017 season this past weekend. It's not a huge sample size, but it's enough to take the pulse of the league and figure out some early award winners.

Here are the preseason predictions from the ExtraTime Radio gang, which I'll be using as a rough template.

MVP: David Villa, NYCFC

Six goals, four assists, and zero evidence he's in danger of losing the battle vs. Father Time. Villa's been the best player on one of the best teams in the league – or, if you believe the underlying expected goals numbers, the very best.

Also considered: Diego Valeri, Jozy Altidore, Cyle LarinKellyn Acosta

Defender of the Year: Ike Opara, Sporting KC

SKC have posted six shutouts and allowed three goals – only one from open play – in Opara's nine games. That they got carved up without him this past weekend at Minnesota doesn't exactly strengthen his case, but it doesn't hurt it much, either. This is a tight race between five guys.

Also considered: Walker Zimmerman, Matt Hedges, Jonathan Spector, Florian Jungwirth

Goalkeeper of the Year: Tim Melia, Sporting KC

Melia's been very good, and his save on Darlington Nagbe a few weeks back was stunning. He mostly wins this award, though, by being mistake-free and ever-present. Every other 'keeper in MLS has had at least one howler this year, or missed time.

Also considered: Nobody

Fullback of the Year: Joevin Jones, Seattle Sounders

Jones has been the brightest light in an otherwise sluggish start to the season for Seattle. He gets forward with abandon, has become an above average defender, and his five assists are one behind the league leaders. By my (unofficial) count, no defender's ever had more than eight in a season.

Also considered: Scott SutterHernan Grana, Greg Garza

D-Mid of the Year: Alex Ring, NYCFC

He spent the first two months of the year doing the defensive work of two people, and spent the last two weeks of the year destroying two of the better attacks in the league. Ring has been a revelation at the heart of that NYCFC midfield.

Also considered: Michael Bradley, Carlos Gruezo, Ilie Sanchez, Dax McCarty

Young Player of the Year (Age 23 or Under): Cyle Larin, Orlando City

He's got six goals and one assist, so he's factored directly into seven of OCSC's 11 tallies. Four of those six goals are game-winners, when nobody else in the league has more than two. He kept his team not just afloat without Kaká, but atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Also considered: Kellyn Acosta, Miguel Almiron, Jack Harrison, Alberth Elis, Hector Villalba

Breakthrough Player of the Year: Alex, Houston Dynamo

Elis and the rest of the Houston attackers get the glory, but Alex is the guy making the whole thing go. It's not just his passing – the wonderful outlets from deep to ignite the break, or the occasional clever combos around the box. He's got that, but he's still got the mindset of a grinder in central midfield, which means he's doing a ton of defensive work.

Alex had an entirely anonymous five-year MLS career (10g, only 4a in almost 8000 minutes!) heading into this season. Somehow in 2017 he's become the league's most effective two-way midfielder.

Also considered: Opara, C.J. Sapong, Juan Agudelo

Newcomer of the Year: Ring, NYCFC

He elevates his team's potential more than any of the other newcomers (there are myriad & sundry great ones).

Also considered: Victor Vazquez, Christian Ramirez, Romain Alessandrini, Romell Quioto, Almiron, Jungwirth, Spector


Best XI (4-1-3-2)

GK: Melia
RB: Sutter
CB: Opara
CB: Zimmerman
LB: Jones
DM: Ring
MF: Alex
MF: Valeri
MF: Justin Meram
FW: Villa
FW: Altidore

As always in my Best XIs, I try to choose a formation that's representative of how the league generally plays (it's not super easy since there's more formational variation than in years past), and I try to pick players that can play together. The team above would play narrow, but they'd still be plenty functional.

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