Pity Martinez - Atlanta United - return to training - shaka brah
Courtesy of Atlanta United

Top MLS is Back Tournament MVP contenders | Andrew Wiebe

Sorry, defenders. Maybe next time, goalkeepers. Tough luck, midfielders who do yeoman’s work but don’t fill up the score sheet. I appreciate everything you do, but you might as well swallow this bitter pill before you even step over the white lines: You are not going to win the award for MLS is Back Player of the Tournament presented by adidas.

Of course, you already knew that.

The glory, as always, goes to the goalscorers, the talismans, the guys who make magic in the 18-yard box and the SportsCenter Top 10. Everybody else can fight for the other seven or eight places in the Best XI. There better be outside backs and a defensive midfielder in that group. I’m making that demand now.

Below are the Player of the Tournament favorites as I currently see them. As always, it’s the best attacking players on the best teams. The team has to go far for the player to get the personal plaudits. Here’s a list of four names – it would've been five if Carlos Vela were playing in Orlando – with some wildcards tacked on.

I have nothing to do all day but reply to your tweets, so hit me with your thoughts/additions/terrible smack talk at @andrew_wiebe. I might check the comment section/thought sewer too, but no promises.

Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC)

My choice to win the whole thing: Toronto FC. It then follows that my choice to win the player of the tournament is the Spaniard.

Toronto are a tournament team. They’ve proven that, over and over. They did it last year without Jozy Altidore. They did that collectively and because they have Pozuelo, who can impact the game from just about any attacking position.

Whether it’s from a free kick, in transition, finding the right gap and timing to break down a packed in shape or scoring the goal himself, with either foot, the Reds’ No. 10 is a complete attacking player in a complete and tactically flexible team. If Altidore is better than 70 percent – he’s still in individual training after returning from Florida – watch out.

Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders)

There are so many candidates on the Sounders. Nico Lodeiro. Jordan Morris. Joao Paolo. Maybe even Cristian Roldan.

But for me, Raul Ruidiaz will be the guy who produces at the level you have to in order to win the big individual awards. MLS Cup is a perfect example. It’s not just the goal he scored to ice the game, a 1v1 win against Chris Mavinga on a long ball and clean finish. It’s the hold-up play and chance creation for his teammates that made the first two goals, too.

The Peruvian can do it all, he’s on an elite team and he’s capable of going on a month-long blinder.

Pity Martinez (Atlanta United)

Nationally, the hype around Atlanta United is uncommonly quiet. I get it. They lost the most ruthless goalscorer in the league in Josef Martinez.

That’s tough, but most teams don’t have $30M in attacking talent to fill the production gap. In the season’s first two games, as well as Concacaf Champions League, Ezequiel Barco started to show some of the things that made him one of Argentina’s rising young talents, but what Atlanta really need is for Pity Martinez to be the guy they set an MLS transfer record to sign.

They need Martinez to be the alpha. They need an element of dominance. They need an Almiron-esque terror on the counter. They need someone who makes Adam Jahn (or whoever plays center forward) look like a double-digit goalscorer he can be with Martinez and Barco buzzing around him.

I think Atlanta will win their group. Once you’re out of the group, anything can happen.

Alan Pulido (Sporting KC)

No Felipe Gutierrez, no problem. Sporting KC has the depth to survive the loss of their Designated Player No. 10.

Pulido is a PotT favorite, but not because he’s going to take over games. He’s a favorite, in my mind, because the group around him will create a flood of opportunities for him to do what he does best: put the ball in the back of the net, by any means necessary. We saw that in the season’s first two matches.

Like LAFC, I expect Sporting KC to be extremely prepared for the unique conditions, physical challenges and the tactical nuances of this tournament. Pulido will be the beneficiary. Not just because he is a top-tier finisher, but because he’ll work off the ball, too. If he does both – and Sporting’s backline rebounds from the 2019 debacle – there will be wins and goals.

Wildcards

They’re wild because there’s no guarantee that their team will make a deep run. But if they do, we know the guys who’ll be fueling the success.

Gustavo Bou (New England Revolution)

The Argentine is a pure goalscorer. He floats to find the game. He finds pockets of space to receive the ball. He’s got power and guile when it comes time to do what he does best: put the ball in the back of the net. The Revs could surprise, and Bou (nine goals in 14 games in 2019) leading the scoring charts wouldn’t be that surprising.

Luis Amarilla (Minnesota United)

There are a lot of similarities here with Pulido. Amarilla will work hard, he’ll get chances and he has a knack for finishing. That lofty 25-goal target got spoiled by COVID, but there’s still six months left on this loan to prove what he’s capable of.

Kei Kamara (Colorado Rapids)

The Rapids are one of my dark horses, and Kamara is clearly feeling it.

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (NYCFC)

Maybe I’m biased by Sean Johnson’s words on Extratime – “My guy is raw. He’s nice.” – but Tajouri-Shradi feels like someone who’s liable to get on a tournament heater. He could just explode, and NYCFC are desperate for a tournament run.

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