2020 MLS Comeback Player of the Year Nominees
Stats as of Oct. 28, 2020
Milton Valenzuela – Columbus Crew SC
Milton Valenzuela suffered an injury during the 2019 pre-season which forced him to undergo ACL reconstruction on his right knee on February 7. As a result of his injury, Valenzuela had to miss out the entirety of the 2019 season, just a year after making his MLS debut and being among the top fullbacks in the League. In 2020, the 22-year-old has made a superb return to form, making 17 regular-season appearances (15 starts) and providing two assists while helping the Crew concede the fewest goals in the League.
Brek Shea – Inter Miami CF
After undergoing a season-ending injury on July 16, 2019 after hurting his knee with Atlanta United against the Seattle Sounders, Shea has recovered and become one of Inter Miami’s most productive players. The versatile veteran signed with the expansion Club on June 25 and returned to the field on Sept. 6, playing 20 minutes in a clash against Nashville. Since then, Shea has made 13 appearances, 6 of them starts, and is currently the team’s second highest goal scorer with four.
Bradley Wright-Phillips – Los Angeles Football Club
After starting only nine games in 2019 and undergoing surgery early in 2020, the 35-year-old bounced back in his first season with LAFC. Wright-Phillips is currently second on the team in goals (8) and assists (6), and tied for fifth-most goals in MLS. The two-time MLS Golden Boot winner and Best Xi selection was named the MLS Player of the Week for Week 13 for his brace against Vancouver on September 23 – the honor was the 12th of his MLS career, third-most in league history. Wright-Phillips currently sits sixth all-time in goals with 116 and his 0.66 goals/90 ranks first for players with at least 85 career goals.
Kevin Molino – Minnesota United FC
Trinidad and Tobago international Kevin Molino joined MNUFC in a major intra-league trade with Orlando City SC in January of 2017, ahead of the Loons’ inaugural MLS season. He rejoined forces with Head Coach Adrian Heath after spending six seasons with Heath in Orlando. After a strong 2017 with MNUFC, where Molino started 30 games with nine goals and seven assists, he looked to continue that form in 2018 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury March 10 at Orlando.
He returned in 2019, making his first appearance in April at Toronto, but he struggled to find his way back to form. He was in and out of the lineup, notching three goals and four assists overall.
Molino began 2020 with a bang. In the first game of the season against Portland Timbers, “Hot Boy” bagged a brace, then followed it up with an assist the week after at San Jose. The midfielder had two assists in the Group Stage of the MLS Is Back Tournament and since the season resumed, has become an essential part of Minnesota’s attack. He leads the team with seven goals, five Team of the Week appearances, and has two multi-goal games to go with three assists.
Carles Gil – New England Revolution
Coming off his 2019 MLS Newcomer of the Year campaign, Carles Gil entered the 2020 season battling a left foot ailment that held him out of most of the club’s preseason campaign. After making only two appearances early in the season, Gil was forced to undergo surgery on August 4 debride his left Achilles tendon and was expected to miss three-to-five months. However, Gil powered through his rehabilitation to return to MLS action on Oct. 23, only 81 days after the procedure and just in time for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
Florian Valot – New York Red Bulls
After a promising start to the 2018 season, Florian Valot suffered an ACL tear in July, ending his first full MLS season after three goals and five assists in 14 games played. Valot suffered a second ACL tear in March of 2019, ending his 2019 season in just his second game. Valot, now fully healthy, has been a mainstay in the Red Bulls lineup, contributing two goals and three assists while playing multiple positions and appearing in 20 of the club’s 24 matches thus far. Valot is tied for second on the team in interceptions (28), and is second in dribbles completed (31), successful passes (531) and recoveries (135).
Jaroslaw Niezgoda – Portland Timbers
Freshly signed as a DP, forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda underwent an ablation procedure in January to correct a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. Recovered from the procedure after a multi-month rehab, the Polish international made his Timbers and MLS debut on July 13 during MLS Is Back tournament vs. LA Galaxy. He tallied his first MLS goal on July 23 vs. LAFC and currently sits fourth on the club’s ledger with five goals entering Portland’s Oct. 28 match vs. LA Galaxy.
Pablo Ruíz – Real Salt Lake
In the winter of 2018, Pablo Ruiz arrived in Utah from Chilean side San Luis as an eager 18-year-old player looking to make his mark in Major League Soccer but it would be the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2020 that would solidify his presence at the club.
In his first season with Real Salt Lake, Ruiz saw limited minutes as a young player with great potential. Frustrated but willing to do what was necessary to solidify himself in MLS, Ruiz took a leap of faith in 2019 and agreed to go on loan to Austrian third-division side FC Pinzgau. It was apparent within the opening minutes of his first match in Austria that Ruiz was well above the average talent level in the Austrian third division.
Not dissuaded or too arrogant with himself, Ruiz put himself to the test by working on his fitness, deflecting opportunities to return home on vacation in favor of training on his own and giving all he had to Pinzgau. This was all he needed to make his successful return to RSL.
Entering the 2020 season, it became immediately apparent to all at the club that the now-21 year old was ready to take his chance. In the first day of preseason camp, he finished in the top-3 of the fitness test and his tactical awareness and team-first mentality were far above where he left them just two seasons ago.
Ruiz took his chance in 2020 and has to-date featured in 15 matches – 13 of which came as a starter – while scoring one goal with his unique left-foot.
Cementing himself as a go-to player in RSL’s lineup, Ruiz’s Comeback Player of the Year honor was one that came from himself and one that exemplifies the perseverance and dedication that RSL prides itself in.
Will Bruin – Seattle Sounders FC
Bruin suffered a devastating knee injury in July of last year, tearing his ACL in a training session in June, forcing him to miss the remainder of the 2019 season. After dedicating himself to returning to the field of play, Bruin has supported his team across 14 matches in all competitions this year, scoring twice and recording an assist.
Jaylin Lindsey – Sporting Kansas City
Jaylin Lindsey underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in early 2019 and missed almost the entire MLS campaign, only making his return to first-team action on Decision Day. In 2020, Lindsey has impressed while playing both right and left back for Sporting KC, setting new career-highs with 10 appearances, nine starts and 879 minutes played as of Oct. 26.
Among defenders born 2000 or later, Lindsey ranks in the top 5 in passes, successful passes, touches, duel success, clearances and interceptions this year.
Winston Reid – Sporting Kansas City
After being knocked unconscious and stretchered off with a career-threatening knee injury while playing in the English Premier League on March 3, 2018, Winston Reid made his first senior club appearance in nearly two and a half years on August 21, 2020 for Sporting Kansas City. The 32-year-old New Zealand international and World Cup veteran has made nine total MLS appearances while on loan from West Ham, scoring a game-winning goal on Oct. 7, and Sporting KC is 4-1-2 with Reid in the starting lineup.
Michael Bradley – Toronto FC
Following a severe injury during the 2019 MLS Cup Finals, Bradley underwent surgery in the off-season, which was scheduled to keep him out of the line-up for months. The TFC Captain, missed the opening matches of the season. Bradley continued his rehabilitation through the stoppage of play and was able to return for the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando in July, where he led Toronto FC to the top of group C and into the knockout round. He continued to lead TFC during the Canadian series of matches until suffering a knee injury on September 1. Bradley went on to miss nine matches before returning as a substitute on October 18 against Atlanta United.
Érik Godoy – Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Following a successful first year in MLS, Vancouver Whitecaps FC centre back Érik Godoy suffered a muscular injury that forced him to miss most of the preseason and the start of the regular season. Following a lengthy recovery process, Godoy faced another injury a few days before the start of the MLS is Back tournament. Once again, Godoy worked his way back to full fitness and has been a regular presence on the ‘Caps backline since September.