Hello, you clicked on a headline that advertised 2020 MLS predictions. That was misleading, and I’m sorry. These aren’t predictions. They’re guesses. Educated guesses, but guesses nevertheless.
I only say this to manage expectations. As the tired cliché goes, under promise and over deliver, if you deliver at all! The hit-rate on these things is ugly, which is why most people who make predictions professionally do their best to avoid revisiting them.
In 2017, a panel of myself, Matt Doyle, Ben Baer and David Gass went 15 for 52, which sounds bad but is actually pretty good. In 2018, a panel of Doyle, Baer, Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio hit on just seven of 44 attempts, correctly predicting only the Canadian Championship winner and Josef Martinez’s Golden Boot. Last season, I went two for nine, correctly predicting Jordan Morris to win Comeback Player of the Year and Andre Shinyashiki for AT&T Rookie of the Year.
I’d take two for nine again in a heartbeat! Let’s get to it.
Comeback Player of the Year: Milton Valenzuela (CLB)
I’m going to do my best to keep personal bias out of these predictions (guesses), but Valenzuela’s Comeback Player of the Year candidacy lands smack in the middle of the Venn diagram. The Young DP didn’t play a game in 2019 thanks to a preseason ACL tear after establishing himself as one of MLS’s most promising outside backs in 2018, and I’m rooting for him to pick up right where he left off.
The 21-year-old’s award campaign got a boost from the Crew front office this offseason. Columbus went out and spent bigger than they ever have before on Argentine No. 10 Lucas Zelarayan, brought Darlington Nagbe back to Ohio and added quality depth throughout the squad. They’re going to be one of the league’s biggest year-over-year point jumps, and Nagbe and Zelarayan’s vision, passing range and ball security ought to give Valenzuela plenty of opportunities to make an impact in the final third.
Other candidates: Greg Garza (CIN), Kyle Duncan (RBNY), Sergio Santos (PHI), Pipa Higuain (if he signs with DC)
Newcomer of the Year: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (LA)
Here are the last five winners of this award, from 2019 to 2015: Carles Gil, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Miguel Almiron, Nicolas Lodeiro, Sebastian Giovinco. Decent list that.
I’m on record saying Chicharito won’t be a “dominant” goalscorer in MLS, like say … Zlatan or Carlos Vela or Josef Martinez. He’s not going to put defenders in a blender, posterize centerbacks on the back post or regularly score Puskas-level golazos. He doesn’t have to do those things. The El Tri legend just needs to be himself.
Make the right runs at the right time, finish when the service is there – and it will be with Cristian Pavon and Aleksander Katai terrorizing defenders on the flanks – and provide the first level of defensive pressure, and Hernandez will finish with somewhere around 20 goals in MLS and 25 or so in all competitions while the Galaxy show collective improvement. Given the attention his every move will be paid in LA, that’s more than enough to be a shoo-in for this award.
Other candidates: Lucas Zelarayan (CLB), Alan Pulido (SKC), Rodolfo Pizarro (MIA), Joao Paulo (SEA), Edison Flores (DC)
AT&T Rookie of the Year: Henry Kessler (NE)
No Homegrown signings are jumping off the page – think Corey Baird in 2018 and Jordan Morris in 2016 – so we’ve got to turn to the SuperDraft for our winner. A defender hasn’t won the award since Austin Berry’s 2012 season with the Chicago Fire, but I don’t see any “It’d be dumb to bet against that guy” attacking candidates, outside maybe Daryl Dike and Robbie Robinson.
Either Robinson or Dike could pick up five to seven goals in spot starts and substitute appearances, which is often enough to win, but the better odds are with Kessler, Red Bulls left back Patrick Seagrist or Inter Miami right back Dylan Nealis to get the playing time and attention needed to win the award.
I’m taking Kessler. Bruce Arena seems high on him already, and there are no locked-in starters for the Revs in central defense. I’m betting on the No. 6 overall pick to start 20-plus games for a playoff team, which ought to be more than enough to get serious consideration. Should he win, he’d be in the company of former winners such as Omar Gonzalez, Michael Parkhurst and Carlos Bocanegra.
Other candidates: Patrick Seagrist (RBNY), Dylan Nealis (MIA), Robbie Robinson (MIA), Daryl Dike (ORL), Ryan Raposo (VAN)