2016 MLS awards - generic
Rudy Calderon / MLSsoccer.com

2019 Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player Nominees

Josef Martínez - Atlanta United

The reigning MLS MVP, Martínez has continued his record-breaking 2018 pace to put a claim on becoming the league's first player to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards. No player has scored more goals since May 1 (24), highlighted by his current streak of scoring in an MLS record 15 consecutive matches, which ranks fifth all-time in the world. The streak, which could stretch to as high as second place by season’s end, has led Martínez to being named the MLS Player of the Month each of the last two months (July and August) and has helped carry his team to lift the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, as well as Campeones Cup, where Atlanta United became the first MLS team to win the international cup.

Allan Cruz - FC Cincinnati

A dynamic midfielder playing in his first MLS season, the Costa Rica international has provided stability, grit and timely scoring to the club in its first season. The Young DP currently shares the team lead in goals (6) while missing eight games to date between international duty and injury.

Kei Kamara - Colorado Rapids

In Kamara’s first season with the Rapids, he’s proven, once again, that he’s still among the best goalscorers in MLS. To date, the striker has 11 goals on the season. On April 6, Kamara moved into the top five all-time in MLS history, scoring his 115th goal. On August 3, he netted a second career hat trick in a win over Montreal.

Jonathan Mensah - Columbus Crew SC

In 2019, a season in which Crew SC defenders have been plagued by injuries, Jonathan Mensah has provided leadership to the Crew’s backline despite missing some time of his own due to injury. Mensah has played 1,881 minutes of regular-season action this year, more than any other Crew SC defender in 2019.

Pedro Santos - Columbus Crew SC

Thus far in the 2019 regular season, Santos leads the Club in game-winning assists (3) and is tied for most game-winning goals (2) and assists (5) for Crew SC, while scoring 10 goals – a single-season career high for the midfielder in League play. In 2019, no other player has provided more combined goals and assists for the Crew than Santos. Notably, the Black & Gold are undefeated with a record of 4-0-0 in matches in which Santos has registered an assist.

Ryan Hollingshead - FC Dallas

Hollingshead is having his most productive season in MLS, with a career-high six goals and three assists in 30 games in 2019 as a defender. He's stepped up to play multiple positions, six total, for the team. On June 8 against San Jose, Hollingshead started at defensive mid, filling in for Carlos Gruezo and Bryan Acosta, who both left for international duty with their respective national teams. He’s also played at left-back (including left fullback in the 2-1 win against Atlanta United FC on April 20), right back, center back, left midfield and right midfield so far in the 2019 season. Hollingshead scored his season career-high sixth goal, on Saturday, Aug. 31 against FC Cincinnati, surpassing his overall goal record he had in his previous 5 MLS regular seasons combined.

Reto Ziegler - FC Dallas

Ziegler took charge as captain for FC Dallas this season and has provided a veteran presence for the young roster. The former Swiss national team player has become the go-to for FC Dallas' penalty kicks, scoring four in MLS matches, five across all competitions this season. Ziegler has helped the backline earn six shutouts this season and leads the league with the most successful passes. He has scored five goals this season, surpassing last year's record.

Paul Arriola - D.C. United

In his third season with the Black-and-Red, Arriola continues to be an important piece across the field for D.C. United. The 24-year-old has scored six goals, two game-winning and recorded two assists in 2019. Arriola has proven his versatility for the Black-and-Red and has been utilized in a variety of positions throughout the year as a make-shift defender, in the number 10 role, holding midfield and his more-familiar positions on the wings.

Wayne Rooney - D.C. United

Wayne has been an integral piece of the Black-and-Red attacking unit in his final season in MLS since announcing his return to England. The Englishman has scored 11 goals and recorded seven assists in 26 appearances this season with five of his goals serving as game-winners. The highlight of his season came after scoring a hat trick and recording an assist in the 5-0 win against Real Salt Lake on March 16 in an appearance that would earn him the MLS Player of the Week award.

Mauro Manotas - Houston Dynamo

Mauro Manotas is Houston's leading scorer this season with 13 goals in league play, and 15 in all competitions. His 13 goals are eighth-most in the league this season, and Houston is 6-2-3 this year when he scores. Put another way, Houston has earned points in 14 of their 30 games this year, and Manotas has played a key role in 9 of those contests. With 4 games remaining in the year, Manotas is 6 goals shy of his club record of 19 set a year ago, and 8 goals away from tying the club scoring records in league play (56) and all competitions (69).

Matías Vera - Houston Dynamo

Matías Vera signed with the Dynamo during the winter transfer window, drawing little acclaim from league observers, but has been perhaps the club's most indispensable player this year. The diminutive defensive midfielder has proven to be a tenacious ball winner and an effective distributor from his deep-lying position in Houston's 4-3-3 system. Vera leads the club in starts (27 of 30 to date) and minutes (2,369); and has started 31 of a possible 37 matches in all competitions this season.

Eduard Atuesta - LAFC

The 22-year-old Colombian has quickly established himself as one of the top young midfielders in MLS after finishing 16th in MLSsoccer.com’s 22 Under 22 last year. In his sophomore campaign with LAFC, Atuesta has tallied two goals and 10 assists in 2,276 minutes. He has helped the Club to the second-most goals in a single season (77) with four games left to play.

Carlos Vela - LAFC

In his second season in MLS, the two-time MLS All-Star Captain has been named MLS Player of the Month twice, MLS Player of the Week four times, and selected to the MLS Team of the Week 14 times. Vela currently leads MLS in goals (28), shots (136), and shots on goal (61), and is third in assists (15). He became the fastest player ever to score 20 goals in a season, doing so in 21 games. Vela’s combined 43 goals and assists in 2019 are also the most-ever in one campaign in MLS history. Earlier this year, Vela surpassed Erick Torres with the most goals by a Mexican-born player in league history – currently at 42 goals.

Zlatan Ibrahimović - LA Galaxy

It’s Zlatan.

Ike Opara - Minnesota United FC

When Ike Opara left Sporting Kansas City for Minnesota United, there were whispers. Whispers that the 30-year-old had peaked, that the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year was no longer what he was, that the team with which he had won the MLS Cup in 2013 and the U.S. Open Cup in 2015 and 2017 had made the right choice between Opara and his centerback partner Matt Besler. As the 2019 season draws to a close, those whispers have gone quiet.

In Minnesota, Opara has helmed a defense that’s improved in both measurable and less obvious ways. In 2017 and 2018, MNUFC conceded 70 and 71 goals, respectively. With a handful of games remaining, the Loons this year have conceded 40, and turned goal differentials of -23 and -21 into a +9. In 2019, Opara has played in nine of the team’s 10 clean sheet wins and has even stepped up his offensive workrate. With three goals, he leads Minnesota’s defenders and has tied his career high, adding in an assist and scoring twice against FC Cincinnati — a single-game career record for the centerback.

But while the numbers here can attest to the results, they don’t fully reveal the process of transformation that Opara has been at the center of this season. While there are moments of individual brilliance, soccer is first and foremost a game of communication and chemistry when it comes to the team, and Opara has brought together the team both on and off the field through his experience, his camaraderie and his intensity.

“There's training room Ike, and then there's gameday Ike,” said rookie defender Chase Gasper. “Gameday Ike, when he's locked in, you can tell. It's definitely inspiring. You want to be like that guy. I take the right into the locker room and you've got to shake everyone's hand when you get there and he's on the right side of the wall, furthest one back. So you shake LO’s [Lawrence Olum] hand, Dayne's hand, Kevin's hand, Romain's hand, Jan's hand, Vito's hand and then you get to Ike and he's got his headphones in, locked in, and you've gotta tap him on the shoulder even though you're in his line of vision.”

A defender needs that kind of focus to stay locked in for 90+ minutes at a time, week in and week out, throughout the season. But a good leader on that backline also needs to balance it with a certain garrulousness in communication, and Opara is constantly talking and signaling throughout the game, getting his teammates into the right places while taking it on himself to track back and cover any and all mistakes.

When the Loons added Opara, they were hoping to get better. That’s about all a team can reasonably hope for. But what they got in Ike Opara was a player whose considerable abilities were matched only by his leadership and the way he’s remade not just a defense, but a culture.

Saphir Taïder - Montreal Impact

Designated Player and Algerian international midfielder Saphir Taïder followed up on his successful first season in Major League Soccer, recording a team-lead nine goals while adding five assists in 29 games played, including 28 starts, and 2,458 minutes in his second season. He also showed his versatility throughout the season, being used at several different positions on the field, including box-to box, attacking midfielder and at left wing.

Carles Gil - New England Revolution

Through 30 starts in his debut MLS season, Revolution captain Carles Gil has established himself as one of the league’s most influential players by playing all but eight minutes of the season with nine goals and 14 assists, both team highs and the latter ranking fourth most in MLS and first among all newcomers. His 12 primary assists are also tied for first in MLS. Gil’s combined 23 goals and assists lead all of the league’s new players and place him sixth overall. In total, he has contributed on 51.1 percent of the Revolution’s goals this season. Signed as a then-club-record transfer in February, Gil was the catalyst behind the Revs’ 11-game unbeaten run that tied a club record and vaulted the team back into the playoff race. He has recorded six goals and 12 assists in the team’s last 18 games, helping the Revolution secure results in all but two matches during that stretch. In addition to ranking among the league’s top three chance creators with 91 key passes (Opta), Gil galvanizes the defense with his relentless pressure, producing a league-best 46 possessions gained in the attacking third and 222 possessions won overall – good for ninth best in MLS.

Matt Turner - New England Revolution

Since the midway point of the season, no goalkeeper has been more impactful for his side than Matt Turner, who rose from third on the depth chart to re-claim the Revs’ starting job in May and has posted a 7-3-6 record with 71 saves across 17 starts. The fourth-year pro backstopped the Revs for all but two games (due to suspension) during the club-record 11-game unbeaten streak, with three shutouts during the run. Turner’s shot-stopping ability has singlehandedly rescued results for the Revolution, as he has allowed 8.29 fewer goals than his expected goals allowed total as of Sept. 3, according to American Soccer Analysis. Turner’s 4.39 saves per 90 minutes are fifth best in MLS (min. 5 games), while his 74.4 percent save rate is third in MLS (min. 20 saves). After re-establishing himself as one of the league’s best shot stoppers, Turner was rewarded with a multi-year contract extension with New England.

Héber - New York City FC

With the departure of David Villa after the 2018 season, many wondered how NYCFC would replace the Spanish striker. When Héber joined from Croatian side HNK Rijeka he instantly made an impact in a squad that was struggling to get wins. The Brazilian played a combined 31 minutes in his first two substitute appearances, but started, scored and assisted in a 2-0 win over D.C. United in April. That win was the Club’s first of the season and sparked a 14-match unbeaten run. Since debuting for NYCFC, the Club is 12-2-3 (W-L-D) in games the Brazilian has started. His 14 goals in 20 games leads the team. He's fourth in the league in goals per 90 minutes.

Maxi Moralez - New York City FC

Entering the 2019 season, New York City FC head coach Doménec Torrent said repeatedly that no one person would replace David Villa—it would take the entire team. Midfielder Maxi Moralez has led the charge with a career-high 18 assists through 25 games. With four games remaining, the Argentine is the favorite to top the assist charts at the end of the regular season. Moralez has also chipped in seven goals to this point. He has either scored or assisted the game winning goal in half of NYCFC’s matches. The Club’s September win over San Jose was the first win for NYCFC in a game Moralez did not appear since August of 2017.

Danny Royer - New York Red Bulls

Royer is having his most productive offensive season to date with the Red Bulls with 10 goals and a season-best eight assists in 2,077 minutes played. His eight assists, four of which are game-winning assists, are both team highs and he is just two assists shy of a 10-goal/10-assist season, which only two other players have achieved this year. Following his goal against Portland, Royer recorded his third-straight 10-goal campaign for New York. His eight assists rank fourth most among goal scorers with at least 10 goals.

Brian White - New York Red Bulls

White, at 23 years old, jumped onto the MLS scene following Bradley Wright-Phillips injury and took full advantage as he tallied nine goals and two assists in 1,283 minutes played. The Flemington, New Jersey, native’s nine goals are tied for the fifth most among American goal scorers and his 0.63 goals per 90-minute clip sits second behind Chris Wondolowski’s 0.71 mark. His nine goals and two game-winning goals are tied for the team lead with Daniel Royer.

Nani - Orlando City SC

Luis Nani joined Orlando City SC as a Designated Player prior to the 2019 campaign and has delivered for the Lions in his first season in MLS. Nani made waves starting in the 2019 MLS All-Star Game in his home city of Orlando and earning the game-winning shot in the skills competition to defeat La Liga powerhouse Atlético Madrid. During the season Nani leads the Lions in goals scored and assists and is on pace to become the first player in Orlando City history to finish the season as the leader in both categories. Nani also leads the Lions in game-winning goals, while setting a franchise record for most goals contributed by a player in a season.

Haris Medunjanin - Philadelphia Union

Haris Medunjanin has had a standout 2019 campaign. He has made 30 appearances for the club, playing every minute of every game so far this season. He has totaled one goal and a team-leading 10 assists in that time, including a two-assist performance in a win over New England. The 10 assists also tie him for 10th most in the league and are two away from tying his career MLS high. Per 90 minutes in his position, Medunjanin sits in fourth in the league in touches (90.0), fourth in chances created (2.0), is fifth in forward passing rate (42.2) and is the best passer in the league in to dangerous positions. His one goal on the season was named MLS Goal of the Week and he has been twice named to MLS Team of the Week.

Kacper Przybyłko - Philadelphia Union

Kacper Przybyłko played his first MLS game with the Union on April 20 and has been a crucial player for the club since. With no previous MLS minutes before 2019, he has recorded a team-leading 14 goals and four assists in his 23 appearances for the Union. The 14 goals are tied for the second most in a single season in club history and has consistently been in the top 10 goal scorers in the league. He became the 10th-ever MLS player to score in each of his first three league starts and became the third Union player to ever score in four consecutive appearances. Per 90 minutes in his position, Przybyłko is ninth in the league in goals scored (.64). He has been named to MLS Team of the Week four times thus far and the club is 7-2-4 when he has scored.

Sebastián Blanco - Portland Timbers

In his third season with the Timbers, midfielder Sebastián Blanco has tallied four goals and 10 assists in 25 appearances (24 starts) in league play through Week 28 of the 2019 MLS regular season. Now in his third season with Portland, Blanco has tallied at least 10 assists in each of the last two seasons. Nearing 100 appearances for his MLS career, Blanco has tallied 25 goals and 29 assists in the league and playoffs combined over his three seasons (2017-19).

Diego Chara - Portland Timbers

In his ninth season with the Timbers, midfielder Diego Chara has appeared in 25 matches (24 starts) and tallied two assists through Week 28 of the 2019 MLS regular season. Chara started and played 45 minutes in his first All-Star appearance in the MLS All-Star’s 3-0 loss to Atlético Madrid on July 31. Making his MLS debut on April 23, 2011, no other player in MLS has more regular-season starts with one club (254) in league play than Chara during that span.

Albert Rusnák - Real Salt Lake

In his third season with RSL, Rusnák has scored a team-leading 10 goals and added five assists (As of Sept. 17) playing in the attacking midfielder role. His performances for RSL have earned him multiple call-ups to the Slovakian National Team where he has featured regularly for his country. In total, Rusnák has scored 27 goals and assisted on 26 occasions since 2017.

Jefferson Savarino - Real Salt Lake

In 2019, Savarino has scored seven goals and registered five assists (As of Sept. 17). Placed #5 on the MLS 22 Under 22 list, Savarino's pace, creativity and nose for goal provides a threat to any and all opponent. Savarino was named to the Venezuelan National Team's roster for the 2019 COPA America tournament in Brazil.

Cristian Espinoza - San Jose Earthquakes

Cristian Espinoza was one of only a small handful of additions to a squad that finished bottom of the table in MLS last season. Espinoza’s blistering pace, creative attacking qualities and furious work ethic was influential in the team’s resurgence in 2019. He became just the second Quakes player this decade with 11+ assists in a single season and is widely considered the team’s most irreplaceable player.

Chris Wondolowski - San Jose Earthquakes

Chris Wondolowski surpassed 10 goals for the 10th consecutive season and continued to be an offensive force at the age of 36. He scored four goals during a May 18 matchup vs. Chicago to surpass Landon Donovan as the league’s all-time leading scorer.

Nicolás Lodeiro - Seattle Sounders FC

Seattle’s playmaker came back with another impressive season in 2019, starting all 26 of his appearances with seven goals and 12 assists. His three game-winning goals and assists are both tied for the team lead, while his 100 fouls suffered and 154 corner kicks lead MLS. (*All statistics through September 17*)

Cristian Roldan - Seattle Sounders FC

Sounders FC’s swiss army knife was one again integral to the team’s success this season, starting all 25 of his appearances while recording six goals and five assists. Always coming up in the biggest of moments, three of his six goals this year are game-winners, tied for the team lead. Versatile as ever, Roldan saw minutes at each midfield position, as well as some spot duty at fullback when needed. (*All statistics through September 17*)

Felipe Gutiérrez - Sporting Kansas City

World Cup veteran and Copa America champion Felipe Gutiérrez has scored 12 goals - most of any midfielder in MLS - and added three assists in the regular season (as of 9/17). His four multi-goal games are fourth most in MLS. The Chilean international, a box-to-box playmaker, is the first player in MLS history during the Opta era (2010-present) to record at least 10 goals and win 50 tackles in a single regular season.

Johnny Russell - Sporting Kansas City

Scottish international Johnny Russell has contributed nine goals and seven assists - third most of any forward in MLS - in the regular season (as of 9/17), in addition to providing two assists in Sporting's run to the Concacaf Champions League semifinals. Russell, a winger, leads the league with four goals from outside the box and two goals from direct free kicks. He is also one of only five players in MLS to record 17 or more goals and 17 or more assists since his arrival at the start of the 2018 season.

Jozy Altidore - Toronto FC

Altidore has continued his impressive goal-scoring capabilities for Toronto FC this season. 2019 marked the fourth time in five seasons with the club that Altidore has scored at least ten goals in a season. He has earned MLS Team of the Week honours on three occasions thus far (Weeks 6,7,24).

Alejandro Pozuelo - Toronto FC

Pozuelo joined Toronto FC in March and recorded two goals and an assist in a 4-0 victory over New York City FC in his debut. Since then, Pozuelo has earned MLS Team of the Week honours on five occasions (5,8,15,20,27) and was named Player of the Week for Week 8. In addition, Pozuelo was named to the 2019 MLS All-Star team in his first season in the league.

Maxime Crépeau - Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Developed through the Montreal Impact Academy, Maxime Crépeau signed a Homegrown contract in March 2013. Following five years as a reserve keeper for the Impact, the Canadian international spent 2018 on loan with Ottawa Fury, setting a USL record for clean-sheets and ultimately winning the league's Goalkeeper of the Year award.

At the start of 2019, the product of Candiac, Quebec arrived in Vancouver and made an immediate impression. In his first MLS season playing regular minutes, the 25-year-old has made a number of spectacular saves, including an incredible sequence of three straight saves against Atlanta and set a new MLS single-game record after making 16 saves at San Jose. Despite missing time away on international duty, Crepeau leads MLS in catches, has zero drops, and is top three in saves as recorded by Opta, the official data supplier for MLS.

Inbeom Hwang - Vancouver Whitecaps FC

A product of his hometown club Daejeon Citizen FC, Inbeom Hwang arrived in Vancouver at the start of 2019 following four seasons in his native country.

The young, rising South Korean international midfielder, who recently turned 23, has quickly made his mark in Vancouver. Hwang has shown his versatility across the midfield, having played in every match and starting all but three. He leads the team in minutes played, tackles, possession won, touches, chances created, and passes, while being among the league leaders in interceptions as recorded by Opta, the official data supplier for MLS.

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