Giovinco and Larin head our list of MLS award winners

By Ridge Mahoney
A couple of tap-ins and a few much tougher choices make up the Soccer America selections for the major MLS individual awards.

Finalists were announced this week, and the winners will be rolled out starting next Tuesday with the Rookie of the Year Award that is destined to be claimed by Cyle “Slam Dunk” Larin of Orlando City.

The finalists were determined by votes submitted by team coaches and executives, current players and media members.

Here’s a list of the major award finalists with our selections in bold:
AT&T Rookie of the Year – Nov. 10
Fatai Alashe (San Jose)
Cyle Larin (Orlando City)
Matt Polster (Chicago)
LARIN IN A LANDSLIDE. Larin’s eclipsing of the rookie goalscoring record (11) formerly held by Damani Ralph seldom seemed in doubt, and the Canadian youngster also got his feet wet internationally at the top level by playing friendlies and in the Gold Cup. His rawness sometimes left experienced teammates such as Kaka frustrated, but nothing says potential clearer than 17 goals for an expansion team.

Alashe slid righting into a starting role for the Quakes because of injuries and when Panamanian Anibal Godoy arrived in midseason, he filled in at centerback, eventually starting 27 of his 28 appearances. The Fire struggled to the league’s worst record but got a lot of good minutes from Polster at central midfield and right back.

Defender of the Year – Nov. 11
Laurent Ciman (Montreal)
Matt Hedges (FC Dallas)
Kendall Waston (Vancouver)
HEDGES HOLDS DOWN THE FORT. Hedges may have overplayed his hand with the U.S. national team in February by saying his first cap was long overdue, but for FC Dallas he was essential. It allowed nine goals in the three games he missed, and a goal per game in the ones he did. Playing in front of three different keepers, Hedges and Co. posted 13 shutouts. He was among the league leaders with 4.7 interceptions and 5.6 clearances per game. His 84 percent pass-completion percentage isn’t bad, either.

In his first full MLS season, Waston led a defense that tied for the league lead in fewest goals allowed (36); a force on set plays, he scored twice but also picked up 11 cautions. Ciman bolstered the Impact’s back line and showed a nice passing touch out of the back but ran afoul of the referees often enough to be sent off three times.
Comeback Player of the Year – Nov. 18
Tim Melia (Sporting KC)
Wil Trapp (Columbus)
Diego Valeri (Portland)
MELIA MINDS THE NETS. Pool goalkeepers are kept on retainer by the league to step in when a team his shorthanded in goal for whatever reason, and a short stint with SKC persuaded the club to sign Melia to a regular contract in December. He’d been waived by Chivas USA the previous July.

When Chilean international Luis Marin faltered, Melia took over in May and held the job all season. He finished with eight shutouts, a 1.22 goals-against average, and 82 saves. His two shootout saves helped SKC down Philadelphia in the U.S. Open Cup final.

Valeri bounced back from a torn ACL he suffered in the 2014 season finale against FC Dallas to score two goals and eight assists in 22 appearances. Trapp sat out nearly three months with a concussion but his return in mid-July produced a 9-3-2 record in games he started.
Goalkeeper of the Year – Nov. 19
Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
David Ousted (Vancouver)
Luis Robles (NY Red Bulls)
A GREAT DANE. As he did last year in his first full MLS season in 2014, Ousted played every minute for one of the league’s stingier defenses. He again posted 13 shutouts, lowered his goals-against average (from 1.18 to 1.06), and slightly increased his saves (96 to 99). He was one of several keepers to win the Save of the Week Award three straight times. He’s yet to match the exploits of fellow Dane Jimmy Nielsen, but he’s getting there.

Hamid was just as beastly as he was last year when he won the award and United’s sometimes shaky back line required him to make four saves per game (101 saves in 25 games). Robles has improved each year since leaving Germany to join the Red Bulls in 2012 and has already set a league record for consecutive starts with the same team (106).
Newcomer of the Year – Nov. 23
Didier Drogba (Montreal)
Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
Mike Grella (NY Red Bulls)
FORZA GIOVINCO. Despite Toronto FC’s late-season fizzle, Giovinco not only dominated many games in spectacular fashion, he made league history by finishing tied for tops in goals (22) with Kamara and also led MLS in assists (16). He drilled home shots from distance with either foot during the run of play and on free kicks, and the number of times he slalomed through several opponents to score himself or set up a teammate defied belief.

Drogba burst into MLS by hitting a hat trick in his first start and by scoring 11 goals in as many games helped propel Montreal from seventh place up to third. Grella, a Duke product who bypassed the 2009 SuperDraft to play for Leeds United, went to preseason camp this year as a trialist and quickly endeared himself to the fans with amazing dribbles and relentless workrate, along with nine goals and seven assists.
Coach of the Year -- Nov. 24
Jesse Marsch (NY Red Bulls)
Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas)
Carl Robinson (Vancouver)
JESSE STICKS TO HIS GUNS. Transforming an already good team while replacing club icon Mike Petke heaped a heavy load the shoulders of Marsch and sporting director Ali Curtis. Safe to say the team responded brilliantly to Marsch’s commitment to pressure and teamwork. The skills and abilities of players such as Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty were fully utilized, U.S. U-20 defender Matt Miazga improved significantly, and a previously disgruntled fan base totally jumped on board.

Pareja and Robinson continued their excellent work of last season, though FCD tied NYRB for the Supporters’ Shield and the Whitecaps sputtered down the stretch. Both men seem poised to join the elite coaching tier rather soon.
Most Valuable Player – Dec. 2
Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC)
Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
Kei Kamara (Columbus)
DOUBLING UP. This is one of the most deserving trios of MVP finalists in the league’s history, even though Robbie Keane’s victory last year over Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey was an impressive accomplishment.

As already noted, Giovinco lit up MLS to outdistance many worthy newcomers for this award as well. Feilhaber’s excellent season produced career bests in goals (10) and assists (15) and -- just as significant -- minutes played (2,731). In his 10th MLS season, Kamara doubled his top goal total from 11 to 22, and also tied a career best in assists (8).
2 comments about "Giovinco and Larin head our list of MLS award winners".
  1. Allan Lindh, November 5, 2015 at 2:19 p.m.

    If you are going to have a defender of the year, add midfield and forward categories also. But the choices are all good one. The clear midfield choice is Benny Feilhaber, with Dax McCarty a worthy second. The best forward not named Giovinco was Kei Kamara.

  2. beautiful game, November 5, 2015 at 8:09 p.m.

    If Larin had 1/2 of Giovinco's soccer IQ, he'd have potential.

    As for Kamara, he missed more sitters than he scored.

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