Yesterday, the final nominees for it’s 2016 MLS Awards were announced. Some familiar names can be found on the list, as well as a few that haven’t seen much recognition in a while. Then there were some players who probably should have been nominated, but failed to receive the recognition from the voting base. Just take a look at the nominees for top goalkeeper and top defender.
The three people listed for each award represent the highest vote totals received. The voting base included current MLS players, current MLS coaches and staff, and regular media members who covered the league for the whole season. Nobody here at Last Word on Soccer had a vote, sadly.
2016 MLS Awards Predictions
MVP- December 6
Nominees: Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), David Villa (New York City FC), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
This one should go to one of the Red Bulls studs up front. With all due respect to David Villa, he just didn’t have the standout season of the other two choices. Whether you go with Bradley Wright Phillips and his stellar 24 goals or Sacha Kljestan and his unbelieveable 20 assists (16 if you go by the stricter standards of more advanced stats sites) is a moot point. Both were extremely valuable to New York all season long and led them to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. I’m going to go with Kljestan here though as the better all around player. It’s logical to think that without him in the middle, BWP never get’s some of his chances to score 24 times.
Defender of the Year- November 11
Nominees: Matt Hedges (FC Dallas) Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy)
I’m inclined to select Jelle Van Damme for defender of the year. Defensive work is very difficult to quantify for someone who enjoys using raw numbers like I do, but I like Van Damme’s defensive output. He ranks in the top ten in MLS for tackles per game, blocks per game (led the league), and clearances per game. He was the anchor in the second best defense in the game with the Galaxy. Only Axel Sjoberg’s Rapids allowed fewer goals, but Sjoberg isn’t a top ten defensive player from a numbers standpoint.
It would have been nice to see some other defenders get some love for this award. Walker Zimmerman and Steve Birnbaum both had fantastic years in central defense for their playoff bound teams, but weren’t recognized. A strong case could have been made for Aurelien Collin, had he made more appearances for the Red Bulls.
Goalkeeper of the Year- November 17
Nominees: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids) Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
Luis Robles is probably the best on this list, but I don’t think it’s a comprehensive look at the top goalkeepers in MLS. Jake Gleeson almost singlehandedly kept the Portland Timbers in the playoff race with his stellar saves bailing out a very porous back line. The same could be said for David Bingham, although San Jose was further from the red line when all was said and done.
Meanwhile, the voters offer us Andre Blake, who is a top ten goalkeeper, Luis Robles, who gets a lot of benefit from the stout defenders in front of him, and Tim Howard, who played about half the season and was probably the most replaceable goalkeeper in the league with how well Colorado played defense in front of him.
I’ll predict Robles wins it, but don’t let that allow you to think he was the best goalkeeper in the league this season. He was merely the best on the most visible team in a large market.
Newcomer of the Year (previous professional experience)- November 21
Nominees: Ola Kamara (Columbus Crew SC) Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders) Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy)
This one is pretty simple. Ola Kamara had a solid year for the Crew. Jelle Van Damme is probably going to win defender of the year for the Galaxy. However, neither of these players played a strong role in saving a season left for dead like Nicolas Lodeiro. Lodeiro arrived in Seattle in the middle of the summer, made 15 starts in Rave Green, scored six times, tallied five assists, and was the driving force that saved the Sounders’ season. Without Clint Dempsey and with Jordan Morris still struggling to replace the production of Obafemi Martins, Lodeiro stepped in to take control of a team on the brink of destruction and led them to a home match in the knockout round of the playoffs. Just amazing.
Rookie of the Year- November 10
Nominees: Jack Harrison (New York City FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union)
This is a great batch of rookie players, one of the best MLS has seen in a long time. Keegan Rosenberry was very impactful both offensively and defensively at right back for the Union. Jordan Morris bagged 12 goals as a rookie for Seattle, and Jack Harrison took NYC by storm with his six assists. Morris had the most hype entering the season, and he certainly delivered while still looking like he had a lot to learn. I give it to the Stanford University and Sounders Academy product on the strength of those 12 goals, but those other two certainly gave him a great fight.
MLS certainly has a bright future if they can keep these three soon to be stars in the league. Then again, the financial windfall that European clubs can offer could be just as tempting.
Coach of the Year- November 29
Nominees: Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids) Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas) Patrick Vieira (New York City FC)
Two of these three coaches have something in common. Pablo Mastroeni and Patrick Vieira took teams that had little going for them last season and led them to the number two seed in their respective conferences. Oscar Pareja, meanwhile, bossed the league around with his electric young talent.
I give the edge to Vieira here because he is the newcomer of the bunch. Mastroeni was on the brink of losing his job at this time last year, so we have seen the dark side in him. Pareja was probably the most replaceable on this list because of the talent he had to work with. Many coaches could have stepped into the FC Dallas job and made a solid run at the Supporters Shield.
Comeback Player of the Year
Nominees: Frank Lampard (New York City FC) Kevin Molino (Orlando City) Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union)
I’m going to give this award to Pontius mostly on semantics. In order to be comeback player of the year, it implies you had to be somewhere to begin with. Molino and Lampard both had wonderful seasons, but were they really comeback players? Molino is only in his second season in MLS. He made seven starts as a rookie for Orlando City and didn’t score. He was never somewhere to begin with, so I don’t think he qualifies.
For Frank Lampard, this is really his first year in MLS. His 2015 was cut short by him arriving in the summer and then getting derailed by injuries. Yes, he was a star in England, but he was never anything in MLS until this year.
Meanwhile, Chris Pontius is having his best season since 2012, when he notched his career high 12 goals for D.C. United. He has really rediscovered his form with the Union and was a key cog in the machine that got that team to the playoffs. He’s really the only nominee that represents the true definition of comeback.
Other awards that will be handed out are for Humanitarian of the Year, Fair Play for both individual and team, Referee of the Year (was there really a good one?), and Assistant Referee of the Year.