2016 MLS awards - generic
Rudy Calderon / MLSsoccer.com

2019 MLS Comeback Player of the Year Nominees

Pedro Santos - Columbus Crew SC

Due to a family tragedy, Pedro Santos was forced to travel back to Portugal, causing him to miss the May 18 game against Minnesota United. Since that date, Santos has gone on to score eight goals, with the midfielder dedicating his first strike since returning to action to his late father. During his first 38 regular-season appearances in MLS, Santos registered one goal and provided nine assists. In 2019, through 30 regular-season matches, Santos has already scored 10 goals while providing five assists.

Chris Odoi-Atsem - D.C. United

Chris Odoi-Atsem made an incredible return to professional soccer after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Fall 2018. After undergoing chemotherapy, Odoi-Atsem was eager to beat the disease and get back on the soccer field. The outside back returned to MLS action when he started against the Chicago Fire on May 29, 2019. Since his return, Odoi-Atsem has made three MLS appearances and is now competing for a starting spot in Ben Olsen’s side. Throughout his chemotherapy, Odoi-Atsem displayed an inspiring attitude and used it as an opportunity to help kids in similar situations through his work with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LSS). 

AJ DeLaGarza - Houston Dynamo

AJ DeLaGarza suffered a torn ACL in the 2017 regular-season finale and missed the majority of the 2018 season as a result. He returned to full fitness ahead of this season and has locked down the right-back position for Houston for much of the season, before suffering a broken bone in his right foot after being viciously tackled in an August 31 match at Sporting Kansas City. DeLaGarza started all 23 of his appearances this season for Houston, playing nearly 2,000 minutes in league action before suffering another year-ending injury.

Mark-Anthony Kaye - LAFC

After appearing in 20 of 21 matches in his first season with LAFC, Kaye suffered a season-ending ankle injury on July 26, 2018. He returned to the field in 2019, starting the team’s home opener and has since appeared in 27 regular season games (24 starts), tallying four goals and eight assists in 2,200 minutes. One of four players to represent LAFC at the 2019 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, he has also been named to the MLS Team of the Week on three occasions. Kaye also represented Canada at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup and the Concacaf Nations League.

Ethan Finlay - Minnesota United FC

United States international Ethan Finlay joined MNUFC on August 9, 2017 and debuted with the club on August 20 at Seattle Sounders FC, scoring his first goal in a 2-1 defeat. He surged from there on out, contributing two assists in a 2-1 victory at Chicago Fire, the lone goal in a 1-1 draw with Philadelphia Union, the match-winning assist in the 3-2 victory at Montreal Impact and the third goal in the 4-1 win over FC Dallas. In total, the Duluth native notched three goals and three assists in 11 appearances (11 starts) for the Loons during their inaugural campaign.

Finlay started the 2018 campaign strong, scoring a brace in the Loons' second game of the season at Orlando on March 10 and his first assist the following week against Chicago. Unfortunately, in an April game in Seattle, Finlay was subbed out at halftime having torn his ACL. He would miss the remainder of the season.

After working tirelessly to rehab his injury, Finlay has rejoined MNUFC in full force, fighting to keep his spot in the starting Xl on a team deep in the playoff race. Since scoring his first goal of the season on May 18 against his former club Columbus Crew, Finlay became a staple in the starting Xl during the team’s 11-game unbeaten streak of the summer. He’s currently second in goals scored for the Loons with seven, including a brace in Dallas.

Tesho Akindele - Orlando City SC

Tesho Akindele has found a home in Central Florida and the stats back it up. Akindele has set career-highs in Games Started, minutes played and Goals Scored with three regular-season matches remaining in the 2019 campaign.

Akindele has quadrupled his start total from last year, starting in only five matches in 2018 with FC Dallas. The 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year found the back of the net two times with FC Dallas last season, while scoring nine goals for City in 2019, with three matches remaining to reach the double-digit goal scoring mark for the first time in his career.

Brian Rowe - Orlando City SC

Brian Rowe has had a tremendous spike in statistics from 2018 to 2019. In 2018 Rowe started just 10 matches recording just 900 minutes and zero shutouts. Comparatively in 2019 Rowe has blown his numbers out of the water. This season for Orlando City, Rowe has started 29 matches (as of Sept. 17), recording seven shutouts and 95 saves, his highest totals since the 2016 campaign.

Rowe has tied a franchise record for shutouts in a season with three matches to go and currently sits second in franchise history for saves, a title he claimed in one season of play for Orlando.

Kacper Przybyłko - Philadelphia Union

While playing professionally in Germany, Przybylko broke his right foot during a game in 2016. He subsequently underwent surgery in which they put a screw in his toe. An X-ray a few months later revealed the head of the screw was scratching against another bone and he had a second surgery to remove the screw. He was able to return to training and was a couple days out from returning to the pitch for his first game when the same bone broke again during a practice session. He went in for a third surgery, this time where they took a piece of bone from his big toe and put it in place around the break. After three months of rehab and physical therapy, he was able to join the team for preseason and earn his first minutes in a couple years in a friendly. Unfortunately, during that game a different bone in the same foot fractured and he was once again sidelined for a couple months. When he was finally able to return, he almost immediately fractured yet another bone in the same foot during a preseason game. After missing almost two years and ready for a change, the Union signed Przybylko in September of 2018. Taking the rest of the season to get his fitness levels up and learn the systems, he has become a central figure of the 2019 team. After missing two straight years of professional play, he has become the leading scorer of the club, and one of the top scorers in the league. A four-time player on the MLS Team of the Week squad, he has been climbing the ranks of Union history makers and has helped the team to their best start in Union history.

Steve Clark - Portland Timbers

After being limited to just 14 starts in MLS over the previous two seasons (2017-18), Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark has logged 66 saves and five shutouts in 19 starts in league play in 2019 through Week 28 of the MLS regular season. Clark’s 0.95 goals-against average ranks as the best in the league among goalkeepers with at least 10 starts this season through Week 28.

Shea Salinas - San Jose Earthquakes

After an unsuccessful 2018 season in which he was asked to serve as the team’s everyday left back, Shea Salinas switched back to his more natural winger position in 2019. Salinas scored as many goals before the end of July as he had the previous five years combined (6).

Tommy Thompson - San Jose Earthquakes

A sixth-year pro who has battled lingering knee issues, Tommy Thompson had only surpassed 1,000 minutes in a single season once between 2014-18. Given an opportunity to convert to right back under head coach Matias Almeyda, Thompson responded by becoming one of the top two-way fullbacks in MLS. He set single-season highs in starts, minutes and goals scored in 2019.

Jordan Morris - Seattle Sounders FC

After suffering a torn ACL last February that caused him to miss the entire 2018 season, Morris came storming back in 2019 with an impressive nine goals and career-high seven assists in 22 appearances (through September 17). His campaign started with a bang, scoring twice in the season opener against FC Cincinnati, before really catching stride in the summer as he tallied five goals and five assists in seven starts from July 27-September 15. Morris also returned as a staple of the U.S. Men’s National Team, making 10 appearances while recording one goal and two assists in 2019 (through September 17).

Roger Espinoza - Sporting Kansas City

World Cup and Olympic veteran Roger Espinoza missed three months of the 2019 MLS campaign due to a knee injury from mid-April to mid-July, however has overcome the injury to remain a key cog at defensive midfield. Since returning to the field on July 20, his 81.25 percent tackle success rate is the second best of any midfielder in MLS with a minimum of 10 tackles. The Honduran international has also contributed one goal and three assists across all competitions.

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 2019 MLS regular season (as of 9/17) after coming back from an injury-shortened 2018 campaign in which he missed 15 matches due to a sports hernia surgery that sidelined him 12 weeks. 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.

Nick DeLeon - Toronto FC

Nick DeLeon missed over four months with a knee injury which eventually required surgery limiting him to only 15 MLS appearances in the 2018 season with D.C. United. Since joining Toronto FC ahead of the 2019 season, the versatile-veteran midfielder has played in several different positions in 29 MLS matches to date. DeLeon tied his career high in goals scored with six and has added four assists this season. He added two goals in the Canadian Championship semifinals sending TFC to its fourth straight finals. The first brace of his career.

Richie Laryea - Toronto FC

Richie Laryea was limited to nine appearances, averaging just 28 minutes per match in 2018 with Orlando City. Since joining Toronto FC, Laryea has been converted into a right full back for the club and has made 19 league appearances to date while adding his first career MLS goal in the process. Laryea’s solid play throughout the 2019 season earned him his first call to the Canadian National Team and his first senior cap in September against Cuba.

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