MLS Awards: Giovinco leads list of MVP candidates

By Ridge Mahoney

Voting closed Monday for the MLS individual awards and without knowing who the three finalists will be in each category, here’s how we see the races shaping up:
Most Valuable Player
1. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
2. Sacha Kljestan (NY Red Bulls)
3. David Villa (New York City FC)
4. Bradley Wright-Phillips (NY Red Bulls)
5. Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)

The “Atomic Ant” may not repeat as the official winner; this year the category is packed with worthy candidates. Yet nobody can match his meld of pace, guile, touch and efficiency. In goals (17) plus assists (15) he’s still the man.

A recall to the U.S. team and the league’s top assist figure (19) are hallmarks of Kljestan’s triumphant return to MLS. In the official count, he and BWP – winner of his second Golden Boot with 24 goals -- may split the vote, which could open the door for Villa and his 23 goals. Villa is a world-class addition to MLS on and off the field.

The Galaxy has sputtered because of injuries and callups all season, and a rather flat finish to the season downgraded Gio’s performance a smidge.
Newcomer of the Year
1. Ola Kamara (Columbus)
2. Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle)
3. Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy)
4. Roland Alberg (Philadelphia)
5. Carlos Gruezo (FC Dallas)

After sitting out or coming on as a sub his first seven MLS games, Kamara scored 16 goals and added some badly punch to an Crew SC attack that has missed Federico Higuain much of the season. Lodeiro has been amazing; the Sounders attack awoke thanks to his four goals and eight assists.

Van Damme quickly established his credentials as a rugged, smart defender who can play the ball out of the back. Very quietly, Alberg scored nine goals and logged three assists while starting only 13 of 28 games though like the Union he fizzled down the stretch. At 21, Gruezo started 26 of 27 games and joined the ranks of FCD’s important young players.
Coach of the Year
1. Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado)
2. Patrick Vieira (New York City)
3. Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas)
4. Jesse Marsch (NY Red Bulls)
5. Greg Vanney (Toronto FC)

By acquiring Shkelzen Gashi along with Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones, and also midfield stalwarts Sam Cronin and Michael Azira, the bar has been raised higher in Colorado than at any time in its history, and at a very reasonable cost.

Vieira will receive many votes for his role in transforming a talented yet disjointed squad under Jason Kreis into a consistent winner, with or without the midfield goalscoring dynamics of Frank Lampard.

Pareja, in his third season at FCD, has overcome the loss of Fabian Castillo and utilized a fleet of Homegrown regulars and newcomers such as Gruezo to maintain its place among the league’s elite teams. Marsch, like Pareja, has tweaked a good team just enough to keep it near the top. TFC’s recent stumbles are a concern and Vanney’s good work would be overshadowed by another early playoff exit.
Rookie of the Year
1. Jordan Morris (Seattle)
2. Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia)
3. Alex Muyl (NY Red Bulls)
4. Fabian Herbers (Philadelphia)
5. Jack Harrison (New York City)

Morris has responded to intense pressure by broadening his game while still producing down the stretch. A right-footed blast from distance and sharp left-footed finish from a rebound helped down the Galaxy, and how about his diving header that beat Vancouver? Rosenberry has played every minute and drawn more fouls (17) than he’s committed (13).

Maybe Muyl is the beneficiary of some excellent players around him, but he keeps his place by churning out solid, smart performances week after week. Herbers has played only 1290 minutes yet leads the Union with seven assists. Harrison should be a major factor in the years to come for NYCFC -- unless he goes to Man City, of course.
Defender of the Year
1. Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy)
2. Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
3. Axel Sjoberg (Colorado)
4. Drew Moor (Toronto FC)
5. Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United)

Former U.S. international defender Marcelo Balboa expresses a generally held opinion that “no one defender had a really outstanding year, but a lot of guys had very good years.”

Van Damme, the Belgian defender, came to the Galaxy amidst a wave of changes, and unlike teammate Nigel De Jong, adjusted quickly to the unique array of demands and challenges faced by centerbacks in MLS. Zimmerman and Matt Hedges form one of the top centerback tandems in MLS. In addition to scoring four goals, Zimmerman ranked fifth in the league with 5.2 clearances per game.

In just his second pro season, Sjoberg emerged as a reliable defender who only needs more experience. Moor is a major reason TFC cut down its goals allowed from 58 in 2015 to 39 this year. Birnbaum has sharpened his one-v-one performances, scored three goals, and averaged 3.0 interceptions and 3.9 clearances per game.
Goalkeeper of the Year
1. David Bingham (San Jose)
2. Andre Blake (Philadelphia)
3. Luis Robles (NY Red Bulls)
4. Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)
5. Chris Seitz (FC Dallas)

Colorado conceded seven fewer goals, 32, than the next-best defensive team (the Galaxy), but Howard and Zac MacMath split the season right down the middle – 17 games each – and thus neither played our minimum standard of 22 games. (Neither did United’s Bill Hamid).

Bingham ranked among the leaders in save percentage (72.6) and goals-allowed average (1.15) for an attack-challenged Quakes team that was desperately over-reliant on him in too many games. Blake’s spectacular goalkeeping bailed out the Union many times but the workload may have frayed him down the stretch. Another strong season for 2015 Goalkeeper of the Year Robles produced 100 saves but a slightly higher goals-against average of 1.29.

A couple of late-season gaffes marred an otherwise excellent season for Rowe, who didn’t get much notice despite a 1.10 GAA and league leading 76.4 save percentage. Seitz took over for young sensation Jesse Gonzalez to post a 1.04 GAA. Also deserving of mention is Jake Gleeson, who turned away a league-high 118 shots as Portland stumbled from champion to also-ran.
3 comments about "MLS Awards: Giovinco leads list of MVP candidates".
  1. Mark Buckley, October 25, 2016 at 11:40 a.m.

    Does Bill Hamid still play in MLS?

  2. Brian Kraft, October 25, 2016 at 1:40 p.m.

    It is quite regrettable,sir, that you have not seen United play in past few weeks. If you follow MLS you will likely see them in the NEXT few weeks.

  3. Glenn Auve, October 25, 2016 at 3:30 p.m.

    Is "guile" a nice way of saying "diving ability"?

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