MLS year-end awards: What my ballot looks like right now

0824 armchair Driussi_Ferreira_Cucho

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0824 armchair Driussi_Ferreira_Cucho

We’re about 80% done with the season and I don’t think I’ve written about the awards race even once, so now feels like as good a time as any to pluck this particular low-hanging fruit.

We’ll just stay with the official, league-sanctioned ones rather than diving into all the awards categories we’ve made up for Extratime over the years, though out of those the two I care about most are D-Mid of the Year (a two-horse race between Ilie Sanchez and Jose Martinez) and fullback of the year (Kai Wagner in a runaway).

In we go:

Landon Donovan MLS MVP

Sebastián Driussi

Forward · Austin FC

Also worthy of consideration:

Let me just start out by saying how much I love the fact that, while the true No. 10 has largely died out throughout the top of the game in Europe, it is still very much alive here in MLS and throughout most of the Americas. I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s and my first real exposure to high-level soccer came in the era of Valderrama and Francescoli and, of course, Maradona, and players like that imprinted themselves upon my soul. Valderrama might still be my favorite player of all time.

Obviously Driussi is a very different type of 10 than Valderrama – he’s more of a Totti-style trequartista rather than a midfield orchestrator – but in a league dominated by 10s, he’s been the most valuable this season. His understanding of how and where to pop up in the attacking third just as an attacking sequence is unfolding is… well, I think it’s been the most valuable single performance of anybody in the league this year.

But he’s not running away with it or anything. Hany Mukhtar, Lucho Acosta and maybe even Lucas Zelarayan all have an outside chance of getting on a heater down the stretch here (Hany, after this past weekend, sure looks up for it), while Emanuel Reynoso has probably been the best player in the league for the past two months. I’ll also throw in LAFC’s Jose Cifuentes, who’s much more of an 8.5 than a true 10, but whatever you want to call him, he’s been amazing.

As for non-10s: If Romell Quioto had played more minutes he’d be in this discussion, and if Taty Castellanos had stayed the whole year I’m pretty sure there would be no discussion, because he was starting to run away with it before his move from NYCFC to Girona.

But as of now, it’s Driussi.

Defender of the Year

Jack Elliott

Defender · Philadelphia Union

Jakob Glesnes

Defender · Philadelphia Union

Also worthy of consideration

The Union are on track to put together one of the three best defensive seasons in league history despite the fact the typical MLS match now sees about a half goal more per game than in the late 2000s/early 2010s, when all the league’s defensive records were set. They are breaking the curve.

While Andre Blake is a huge part of that, he’s not out there every game having to put forth a time capsule performance like in, say, 2018. There are a lot of reasons for this – Philly’s overall defensive structure; a team ethos in which everyone defends; Martinez chewing up attackers at d-mid – but an overall performance this great should see one of the starting CBs (Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott) come away with some kind of hardware.

If Ronny Deila had stuck around in the Bronx then Alex Callens would likely be right there with these guys, or maybe even ahead of them since he wouldn’t be splitting votes with a teammate. But given the double whammy of NYCFC’s form since the coaching change and his recent injury, I’m pretty sure this blurb is all the mention he’s going to get in this discussion.

Fullbacks never win this award – they barely ever make Best XI – but Wagner’s been so good he deserves a shout at the very least.

Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year
Still not sure!

Also worthy of consideration

  • Brad Stuver, Austin FC

Blake is probably the frontrunner at this point, but I do wonder if some voter fatigue (he’s won it twice – nobody’s won it three times), as well as the understanding the guys directly in front of him are the very best in the league at stopping goals from happening, might push ballots in a different direction.

St. Clair has buzz, a spectacular highlight reel and seems to have worked through his mid-season slump. By some metrics, Ivacic and Stuver have been even better, and if any of them get hot down the stretch, that could change the race. Johnson has been a level below as per the advanced metrics, but he’s got a decent shot at tying – or maybe even topping – Tony Meola’s 22-year-old single-season shutouts record. That’s not nothing!

On balance, Petrovic has probably been the best of the bunch by both the eye test and the advanced metrics. But he’ll have played about 1,000 fewer minutes than most/all of the other guys in consideration, which is almost certainly too much to make up.

Young Player of the Year

Jesús Ferreira

Forward · FC Dallas

Also worthy of consideration:

For the sake of clarity: to be eligible for the Young Player of the Year award you have to be born on January 1, 2000 or younger – i.e., age 22 or younger. That is different from the 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR balloting, in which you have to be under the age of 22 for the entire MLS season.

So someone like Carranza is eligible for Young Player of the Year, as is Rodriguez. But neither is eligible for 22 Under 22 because they were both born in the first half of the year 2000.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter since Ferreira is young enough to be eligible for both, and I think he’ll win Young Player of the Year, at the very least.

I’m a little bit on the fence about him winning 22 Under 22 since that one veers more toward potential rather than productivity, and I figure guys like Gaga Slonina, Talles Magno, Thiago Almada and Mamadou Fall, all of whom are eligible, might have more upside than Jesus. Tolkin, who’s been a rock, probably fits into that category as well.

But in terms of who’s been best, Ferreira’s the clear choice for both awards. He’s not only putting up big box score numbers, but you could argue – you absolutely should argue! – he’s been crucial to FC Dallas’s new and successful tactical remake.

Newcomer of the Year
Cucho Hernandez CLB Headshot


Forward · Columbus Crew

Also worthy of consideration:

This is a tough one since there’s no newcomer who’s been here since First Kick that has stayed healthy and put up big numbers. I suspect Uhre would’ve – he certainly has been lately – but the cow’s already left the barn here, and in this group I think I have him a distant fourth right now, with Fountas just behind him.

It is very difficult to pick between Cucho, Cubas and Petrovic. Cubas has had a Diego Chara-esque impact on Vancouver, and I’ve already waxed poetic about Petrovic. Without those guys, the ‘Caps and Revs, respectively, would be in the spoon hunt.

The same, though, is true of the Crew without Cucho. And since goals are the game’s most valuable currency, he’s got my vote right now.

Comeback Player of the Year

Aaron Long

Defender · New York Red Bulls

Also worthy of consideration:

Vela’s played more minutes this year than his past two combined, while Lodeiro and Morris have been written-in-pen starters for the Sounders. All three have very good arguments because all three have been very good – though I don’t think anyone would suggest any of them have been at their absolute best.

I don’t think Long is back to his Defender of the Year form from 2018, either, but he’s closer to his apex than the others, and has been crucial to the Red Bulls doing their Red Bull thing from Day 1 of this year. No system in the league puts more strain on the center backs, and when you combine that degree of difficulty with the fact they’re once again one of the best defensive teams in the league, I give Long the edge here.

Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year

Wilfried Nancy, CF Montréal

Also worthy of consideration:

There are four boxes you need to check in order to be a very, very good coach in the league:

  1. You need to command the locker room & keep it cohesive
  2. You need to put the team out in a sensible structure that amplifies your players’ strengths
  3. You need to get the best out of your big-name, big-salaried players

All six of the guys I listed are worthy of your vote this year, but right now I give the slightest of edges to Nancy for not only checking those boxes, but also keeping Montréal humming when Djordje Mihailovic was hurt.

None of the other guys listed had to deal with the extended absence of their attacking hub. Nancy did, and yet Montréal are still second in the East with underlying numbers that say they very much deserve to be there.

MLS year-end awards: What my ballot looks like right now

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