As we get set to head into the MLS Is Back Tournament semifinals, it's worth taking a moment to re-think each of the tournament award races.
The Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches have pushed certain standouts on surviving title chasers up the rankings, while some others on eliminated teams began to fall by the wayside. The story of the MLS Is Back award winners has not been fully written yet, but with just three tournament games to go, the picture for some of the prizes is clearer. For others, well, not so much.
Player of the Tournament presented by Adidas
A fresh horde of players have charged onto the short list of top tournament MVP candidates over the course of the first two knockout rounds.
Tournament Cinderella Orlando City SC have been led by their skipper Nani. He's been among the very best playmakers of the tournament, taking part in two winners and two late levelers. His bookend winger Chris Mueller could have an outside shot if he piles on to his three tournament goals on the way to a title.
Meanwhile, Portland have rode the performances of Sebastian Blanco to the semifinals. Taking the attack keys from Diego Valeri, the attacker has made a difference in every Timbers game down in Orlando, chalking up two goals and five helpers along the way.
Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake has continued his larcenous form from the group phase, keeping him among the top candidates for this award. Minnesota United's win-by-committee approach tends to spread credit around, so it's tough to single out one performer. Midfield traffic directors Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus look like worthy nominees, but could end up splitting votes.
Of the players who were head of the class before the knockouts started but then saw their teams eliminated, only Diego Rossi looks to have done enough to receive some consideration for this award. Of course, there's another honor that may just be waiting for him.
Young Player of the Tournament presented by AT&T
Even though his side went home after the quarterfinals, LAFC ace Rossi may already have a lock on this prize. Despite the early exit, his seven goals could well end up earning the tournament Golden Boot. Teammate Brian Rodriguez and also eliminated Toronto FC young gun Ayo Akinola remain in the picture to be finalists.
Of course, it ain't over 'til it's over, and a few youngsters on semifinal teams are close enough to challenge that top three with a strong closing kick. Brenden Aaronson's improvement has been on open display at the tournament, and the same can be said for Orlando City left back Joao Moutinho. Minnesota United utility man Hassani Dotson is the late charger worth watching here.
Golden Glove presented by Allstate
Let's be frank. It would take an astounding turn of events for this one to slip through Blake's fingers. The Philly 'keeper has come up big time and time again for a club often playing with tight margins.
For my money, picking the best of the rest is nearly as simple. Orlando City's Pedro Gallese has pitched in with timely saves while organizing a new backline. The Lions don't make it this far without his contributions. Minnesota United’s Tyler Miller is a solid third choice who still has the chance to tack on a compelling final act.
Goal of the Tournament presented by AT&T
Of all the goals I singled out after the group stage, a few still stand out as top contenders for the award: Gustavo Bou's sinister winner against Montreal, Jesus Medina's cracker against Orlando City and Lucas Zelarayan's free kick magic to beat the New York Red Bulls.
If I'm being honest, Andy Polo's stunning insurance strike to help Portland see off New York City FC is the only knockout goal thus far that got me as excited as the three listed above. Some may also favor the teamwork-driven goals scored by Diego Valeri (the winner against NYCFC) and Jamiro Monteiro’s opener against Sporting KC.
Save of the Tournament presented by Allstate
This might prove to be the toughest award winner to call out of the bunch. We had several fine stops highlight the group stage, with Blake's key stop on NYCFC striker Heber, Red Bulls 'keeper David Jensen's late win-preserver against Atlanta United target man Adam Jahn and FC Cincinnati's Przemyslaw Tyton pulling the same trick on Red Bulls midfielder Sean Davis standing out from the crowd.
Then came the knockouts, which have already seen a flood of huge saves worthy of vying for this prize. There are too many individual moments of brilliance to name every, but you can see many of them in the video below.
For instance, we could choose from a few stops made by Vancouver stand-in star Thomas Hasal in a losing cause against Sporting KC. Sean Johnson and Gallese had some handiwork in the last two rounds and Toronto FC’s Quentin Westberg and Kenneth Vermeer of LAFC both came up with a pair of doozies.
And that's all before we even get to the additional top stops pulled off by Blake in ousting New England and Sporting KC. In other words, good luck to all voters. Picking a favorite may take a while.
If I absolutely must tab a couple of saves for the award, I'll go with two that happened less than two minutes apart in the same game: Gallese's brilliant kick save to stymie Rossi, and Vermeer's wrong-footed stunner to turn away a cruelly deflected shot.