I’m either dumb, a masochist or some combination of the two. Kindly keep your thoughts on the subject to yourself. I say this because, somehow, I’ve come to own the awards prediction beat here at Major League Soccer dot com. The winds of fate are cruel.
See, predictions are like gall bladders. Everyone has one, but they serve no discernable purpose and are liable to churn out tiny stones that turn our bodies into factories of pain and regret at any given moment. Don’t make them if you don’t have to, and certainly not in a public setting.
Now that you’ve got that horrifying analogy front of mind, here’s what I wrote back in February in my preseason prediction column (click here to laugh at my picks after the fact):
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.
Predictions are guesses, and I mostly guessed wrong. That’s the one thing I got dead-on in that column. Three months later, poor prediction gallstones are working their way through my abdomen, to varying degrees of pain. I’m on track to go 2 for 9, if luck’s on my side. Not great!
Yet, here I am, ready to do it all again, roughly halfway through the 2019 Major League Soccer regular season.
Disclaimer: This is not my awards ballot. These are, again, predictions, the players who I think will win the awards come the fall based on the voting process.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jozy Altidore - Toronto FC
(My preseason pick: Jordan Morris - Seattle Sounders)
Morris could still win this thing — it looked like he was a shoo-in through Week 3 — but it’s Altidore’s to lose at this point. Comeback Player of the Year, perhaps more than any of the others, is a “narrative” award. The story matters.
Here’s Jozy’s potential narrative: Back from injury. Injured again. Back from injury. Gold Cup star. Leads Toronto FC, with Alejandro Pozuelo creating oodles of goal-scoring chances and Omar Gonzalez limiting them in the middle of a so-far shaky backline, to the playoffs with 15-plus goals and on-brand, big-game moments.
That’d just about do it, I think.
Other Finalists: Jordan Morris, Djordje Mihailovic - Chicago Fire
Newcomer of the Year: Brian Fernandez - Portland Timbers
(My preseason pick: Pity Martinez - Atlanta United)
It could still happen for Pity, but Brian Fernandez has four goals in three games and 16 of his last 21 games at the sparkling new version of Providence Park.
He is going to score more. Many more. Portland are going to climb into the playoff field out West, and potentially secure a playoff home game. The Timbers will do this in large part thanks to the productivity of the Argentine, justifying that club-record fee and then some.
You can see my other finalists below, with the caveat that one or both is liable to be pushed out by a summer signing à la Wayne Rooney from a year ago. Honorable mention also goes to Carles Gil, who’s already having a very good season and is liable to go off with Bruce Arena’s Revs, and Heber, who is still somehow going under the radar with NYCFC.
Pity, too, by the way. There’s still half a season to go…
AT&T Rookie of the Year: Edwin Cerrillo - FC Dallas
(My preseason pick: Andre Shinyashiki - Colorado Rapids)
Shinyashiki wasn’t a bad choice – three goals in 13 games played, including a couple result-changers – but he’s just not as consistently impactful as Edwin Cerrillo, who won the starting defensive midfield job in Dallas as an 18-year-old.
To be fair, the Union’s Brenden Aaronson would be my choice had he not played for Bethlehem Steel last fall after signing a first-team deal. That’s professional experience, and it counts him out.
Other Finalists: Shinyashiki, Omir Fernandez - New York Red Bulls
Defender of the Year: Walker Zimmerman - LAFC
(My preseason pick: Graham Zusi - Sporting Kansas City)
I really wanted an outside back to win, huh? Whoops.
Other Finalists: Miles Robinson - Atlanta United, Kemar Lawrence
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year: Brad Guzan - Atlanta United
(My preseason pick: Brad Guzan)
I’m sticking with it! This award isn’t always about who deserves it most — pour one out for Stefan Frei, who was robbed last season — but Guzan has a great case on paper and via the eye test, a great story for the media to push (why hello there!) and the benefit of playing for what is the league’s stingiest defense.
There’s no clear standout — see my list of contenders below — and that gives Guzan the early edge.
Other possible contenders: Tyler Miller - LAFC, Maxime Crepeau - Vancouver Whitecaps, Bill Hamid - D.C. United, Joe Willis - Houston Dynamo, Luis Robles - New York Red Bulls, Stefan Frei - Seattle Sounders
Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year: Bob Bradley - LAFC
(My preseason pick: Remi Garde - Montreal Impact)
Remi Garde could very well get the Piatti-less Impact a playoff bye. That’d be incredible. But let’s be real …
Bradley’s LAFC could very well be in the midst of the best season in league history. They’re doing so with quality, yes, but also with a well-drilled plan that’s getting the absolute best from every player who sees the field.
Should Bob win, he’d tie Bruce Arena for the most Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year honors in MLS history with three.
Other Finalists: Jim Curtin - Philadelphia Union, Wilmer Cabrera - Houston Dynamo
Assist King: Carlos Vela - LAFC
(My preseason pick: Darwin Quintero - Minnesota United)
I badly wanted to go against the grain here. The Mexican can’t sweep everything, can he? Vela absolutely can at the rate he’s going: tops in MLS in assists (10), chances created (53), big chances created (11) and chances created from open play (32, T-1st with Sebastian Blanco and Alejandro Pozuelo).
Blanco, Pozuelo and Diego Valeri are the only real candidates to pass Vela, with Nico Lodeiro an outside shot, in my opinion. Blanco and Valeri could feed Fernandez repeatedly, and Jozuelo could catch on like LuchoRoo. The other credible competition comes from within! Eduard Atuesta is dropping dimes and he’s got the league’s best goalscorer, who also happens to be the league’s best assist man, in front of him.
Golden Boot pres. by Audi: Carlos Vela - LAFC
(My preseason pick: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy)
This isn’t so much a prediction as a reflection of the current goalscoring charts.
What Carlos Vela is doing with LAFC is historic. The question that’s about to be answered is whether his 16-goals-in-16-games pace will stand the test of a full season. For now, it looks like he could challenge Josef Martinez’s MLS single-season record of 31 goals, a mark that seemed jaw-dropping and more than likely to stand the test of time (a year, at least!) mere months ago.
Martinez is gaining steam with 10 goals, five in ATLUTD’s last three games, but trails by six and might be slowed by a summer spent with Venezuela at Copa America. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 11 goals in 12 games, the same pace as Vela with fewer games. Difference is the ease with which LAFC are creating chances. Zlatan’s goals come hard, and Vela is making it look easy. Just think, Vela’s missed two penalty kicks …
Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player: Carlos Vela - LAFC
(My preseason pick: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy)
It’s Vela. Full stop. Charitably speaking, this is a three-horse race.
Same horses as February, in my opinion. Zlatan is Zlatan. He’s gonna keep filling up the scoresheet, quotesheet and late-night shows one way or another. Josef is Josef. He started slowly, by his insane standards, and is now back to goals, goals, goals.
Those are your finalists unless Wayne Rooney goes crazy, Pozuelo replicates his debut every game or Fernandez drops 20-plus goals in a little more than half a season and pulls the Timbers into a top-three position. Maybe there’s another scenario out there slipping my mind.
But c’mon, it’s Vela on 100 of 100 ballots. The man is a joy to watch, the best player on the best team in Major League Soccer.
Other Finalists: Josef Martinez - Atlanta United, Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy