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MLS 2020 predictions: Here are all your award winners for the new season | Andrew Wiebe

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)
 

Defender of the Year: Miles Robinson (ATL)

I’m not going with an outside back. It’s tempting, but not realistic, to think history will be made this year. I learned my lesson after going with Graham Zusi last season. Stupid Toluca series.

Robinson’s knock in preseason (and with the USMNT last year) worry me a bit, but I’m high on Atlanta United and it feels like Robinson’s time. Do I seem confident about this one? I’m not.

Other candidates: Ike Opara (MIN), Eddie Segura (LAFC), Aaron Long (RBNY), Yeimar Gomez Andrade (SEA), Nico Figal (MIA)
 

Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year: Stefan Frei (SEA)

Let’s just speak this one into reality. Nick Rimando never got one, which was a real shame, and we’ve got to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to Frei.

This award race is wide open, I just happen to think Seattle will have one of the league’s best defenses and Frei will finally be in position to get the recognition he deserves (and should have gotten two years ago). The Revs’ Matt Turner (and plenty of others listed below) could have something to say about that, though.

Other candidates: Matt Turner (NE), Brad Guzan (ATL), Eloy Room (CLB), Bill Hamid (DC), Steve Clark (POR), Maxime Crepeau (VAN)
 

Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year: Frank de Boer (ATL)

I got too cute with this award last year and chose Remi Garde. Yeesh. That’s a credibility killer!

This year, I’m just gonna troll. Just kidding, but I bet you’re still triggered. I think De Boer’s odds are as good as anyone’s, and award season is often just as much about storytelling as the numbers and the eye test. If Atlanta win the Supporters’ Shield (or come close), the story would be too good for voters to pass up. For as much as we want to reward underdogs, Coach of the Year almost always goes to the manager of the best team (or damn close to it).

The Frank de Boer narrative goes something like this: New coach with big reputation takes over MLS Cup-winning team. Team is slow to gel, and locker room expresses doubt about direction new coach is taking the team. Team wins trophies, but season is still a bit disappointing given expectations. Offseason brings big changes, though the squad is still arguably the best in MLS. New coach is no longer new and now has his guys, plus a pair of record signings start performing like record signings. The story of the season is both excellence and redemption.

You can’t tell me that can’t happen and Frank de Boer can’t win this thing. I’ve talked myself into it! It’s a fun prediction (guess) to make.

Other candidates: Bruce Arena (NE), Caleb Porter (CLB), Ronny Deila (NYC), Oscar Pareja (ORL), Guillermo Barros Schelotto (LA), Diego Alonso (MIA)
 

Assist King: Carles Gil (NE)

To win this award, you’ve got to be THE attacking fulcrum for one of the league’s best teams, creating chances both from open play and set pieces. I think Gil will be that.

He ended with 14 assists last year after having just two through May. Bruce Arena’s arrival helped settle things down, and Gustavo Bou gave Gil an absolute assassin to set up in the final third. Add Adam Buksa to the mix, make Cristian Penilla the fourth fiddle and it sure seems to me that Gil is poised to be even more productive in 2020. I’d set his assists over/under at 19.5.

Other finalists: Carlos Vela (LAFC), Maxi Moralez (NYC), Alejandro Pozuelo (TOR), Pity Martinez (ATL), Nicolas Lodeiro (SEA), Cristian Pavon (LA), Rodolfo Pizarro (MIA), Lucas Zelarayan (CLB)
 

Golden Boot pres. by Audi: Josef Martinez (ATL)

Nobody is more goal-hungry than Josef Martinez. Pity Martinez is scoring goals, dishing assists and speaking in third person already. I think Atlanta United will be very good to great. No matter what they are, Josef is going to score in droves and take his Golden Boot back.

Other candidates: Carlos Vela (LAFC), Ola Kamara (DC), Heber (NYC), Chicharito (LA), Alan Pulido (SKC), Gyasi Zardes (CLB)

 

Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player: Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Nobody has ever repeated as MLS MVP, but nobody’s ever done what Vela did last year.

This prediction makes me a little nervous, but I can’t walk it back now. It’s Instagram official! If I did, I’d go with Josef Martinez for the record.

I don’t think Vela will win the Golden Boot, but I would be shocked if he wasn’t in the top three in goals and assists. He’s too good, and Bob Bradley and LAFC are too deep and comprehensive in their preparation. I think LAFC will win the West again – in a bit of a tumultuous year complicated a bit by a big summer sale or two – and compete for the Shield (or win it again), though fall short of their own single-season points record.

If that happens, it’ll be very very difficult to deny Vela history and a second straight MVP award.

Other candidates: Josef Martinez (ATL), Alejandro Pozuelo (TOR)

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