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Warshaw: Rating the 2019 MLS awards finalists

The finalists for MLS's end-of-year awards were revealed Thursday, narrowing down each of the categories to a final three. The awards honor the best performers from the 2019 season, including MVP, Coach of the Year and more. Here's my rundown of how these contenders stack up.

Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

Finalists: Carlos Vela (LAFC), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)

  • Carlos Vela should win because ... because he set the single-season goal scoring record (by three goals), while also racking up 15 assists, while captaining the best team in regular-season history.
  • Josef Martinez could win because ... he might actually have meant more to his team than Vela. If you were to take Vela off LAFC, they might have slipped a little but they still would have been awesome; if you were to take Josef off Atlanta this year… well, Twitter wouldn’t have been able to take that anger.
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic might end up winning because ... he’s Zlatan.

Defender of the Year

Finalists: Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC), Ike Opara (Minnesota United)

  • Ike Opara should win because ... well, let's look at it this way. Last year, Minnesota United without Ike Opara gave up 71 goals; this year, Minnesota with Opara gave up 43 goals. Last year, Sporting Kansas City with Ike Opara gave up 40 goals; this year, SKC without Opara gave up 68 goals. He's so individually dominant, and wins his area so thoroughly, that it makes much of what happens on the field null. 
  • Miles Robinson could win because ... Atlanta are tied for the league lead in shutouts, and Robinson has had more ground to cover than Opara. Aaron Long won Defender of the Year in 2018 partially because of the demands put on a center back in the Red Bulls’ system. Robinson faced similar tasks this year; Atlanta ended up in a bunch of end-to-end games, and Robinson saved their butts more times than you could count.
  • Walker Zimmerman might end up winning because ... he was the best defender in the league through the first 20 games, and his highest peak this year was probably higher than what Opara or Robinson accomplished. Unfortunately, the back end of a season carries more weight in award voting and Zimmerman fell off after the Gold Cup.

Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year

Finalists: Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Vito Mannone (Minnesota United), Bill Hamid (D.C. United)

  • Nick Rimando should win because somehow the best goalkeeper in MLS history has never won GK of the Year and RSL have conceded the second-fewest goals in the West, so there's a perfectly legitimately reason to give it to him in his final year –but Rimando isn’t a finalist so ...
  • Sean Johnson should win because ... he has offered the most complete package to his team. His ability to play high off his line when NYCFC press, organize an ever-morphing defensive shape and distribute out of the back allows NYCFC to be the complex machine that’s tops in the East.
  • Bill Hamid could win because ... he has the best metrics of the three finalists. Hamid is tied for the lead league in shutouts, D.C. have conceded the second-fewest goals in the league and Hamid is fourth in the league for goals prevented (shots saved relative to the the expected goal value of the shot), according to Opta.
  • Vito Mannone might end up winning because ... everyone loves a good story, and Minnesota are a great story and Mannone has had a couple of big games and huge moments.

Newcomer of the Year

Finalists: Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC), Heber (NYCFC), Carles Gil (New England Revolution)

  • Carles Gil should win because ... his 10 goals and 14 assists outdo either Heber and Pozuelo. More importantly, Gil became the main cog and captain of a team that returned the playoffs for the first time in four years.  
  • Heber could win because ... NYCFC went 12-3-3 when he started. Also, 15 goals and four assists ain’t too shabby. And that smile is charming as hell:
  • Alejandro Pozuelo might win because ... his best games came when he first arrived – when the most eyeballs were watching him – and he provided a few viral moments.

Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year

Finalists: Dome Torrent (NYCFC), Bob Bradley (LAFC), Jim Curtin (Philadelphia Union)

  • Bob Bradley should win because ... his team set the single-season points record. They did so while playing exciting, attack-minded soccer. More importantly, Bradley simultaneously improved almost every player on the roster while also making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Jim Curtin could win because ... he might have the highest value-above-replacement. In other words, he might have gotten more out of Philly’s roster than any other could coach have achieved. Did you or any of your friends think Philly would be competing for the top seed in the East? Exactly.
  • Dome Torrent might end up winning because ... NYCFC finished ahead of Philly and have been better than LAFC in the last 10 games. Along the way, NYCFC have become a fast, "can't look away from the screen" team. Torrent’s system also has more flexibility and tactical twerks, which makes the coach’s decisions more explicit. 
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