With the MLS season just past its halfway point, now is as good a time as ever to do some awards. We’ll do the real awards and mix in plenty of other player and team prizes.
MVP: Carlos Vela, LAFC
This one is as consensus a selection as you’re going to get. Carlos Vela has a ridiculous 19 goals and 12 assists in 19 games, on pace for the best season in MLS history. He is the best player on the best team. He does so much beyond scoring that he has left little debate as to who the best player in the league is.
Finalists: Maxi Moralez (NYCFC), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)
Moralez has 6g, 11a as NYCFC’s fulcrum. The Light Blues have two losses all season and are tied for the Eastern Conference lead on points-per-game.
Zlatan is second in the league in goals and dictates everything that makes the Galaxy successful. He also dictates everything that holds them back — he does little defensive work and has an outwardly poor attitude.
Defender of the Year: Walker Zimmerman, LAFC
It’s hard not to give this award to Walker Zimmerman, who has clearly been the best defender in the league. His performance earned him a regular starting job in the USMNT’s Gold Cup backline.
Finalists: Miles Robinson (Atlanta), Larrys Mabiala (Portland)
Coach of the Year: Jim Curtain, Philadelphia
Philly has risen to first-place in the Eastern Conference with a defined style of play, emphasizing the strengths of its players and playing quality possession soccer. Jim Curtain’s trust of guys like Brenden Aaronson has spurred the Union’s surge.
Finalists: Bob Bradley (LAFC), Matias Almeyda (San Jose)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Stefan Ffrei, Seattle Sounders
I had a hard time coming up with a clear top contender for this one. Stefan Frei has continued to be solid in Seattle, so I’ll give it to him.
Finalists: Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Maxime Crepeau (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Newcomer of the Year: Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC
Alejandro Pozuelo has easily been TFC’s best player, with seven goals and eight assists so far in his debut season.
It would be a very good bet, though, that Portland forward Brian Fernandez will have this award on lock by the end of the year. The Timbers promise to win a good portion of their home game slate in the second half of the season, and Fernandez has been scoring at a goal-per-game pace.
Finalists: Fernandez, Kacper Przybylko (Philadelphia)
Most Improved Player: Latif Blessing, LAFC
Latif Blessing has been a Best XI-level performer in midfield for LA. He has gone from a super-utility player to one of the league’s best ball-moving and ground-covering midfielders in the league. Fellow LA midfielder Eduard Atuesta would’ve been a reasonable pick here as well.
Honorable mentions: Jackson Yueill (San Jose), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Atuesta, Lamine Sane (Orlando), Memo Rodriguez (Houston)
Best team: LAFC
Honorable mention: Philadelphia Union
Worst team: FC Cincinnati
Cincy have lost 13 of their 19 games and are the running favorite for the Wooden Spoon. They went to Minnesota and got annihilated 7-1 on June 29. As they continue to search for a coach, their roster is in a “tear it all down” stage.
Honorable mention: Columbus Crew
With Colorado and New England starting to figure themselves out, it’s been an especially bad year for Ohio teams.
Biggest surprise: The rise of the Union
Watching Philly transition from an interesting young team to a clear MLS elite has been a joy. They’ve done so through a well-crafted style of play, the growth of several players, and smart signings (Kai Wagner, Kacper Przybylko, Jamiro Monteiro, Sergio Santos). We await the rise of Marco Fabian.
Honorable mentions: LAFC’s complete dominance, San Jose’s turnaround, Orlando’s new foundation
Biggest disappointment: Columbus’s plummet
The Crew started the season competently and then tumbled harshly to the surface, pushed off the ledge by a rash of injuries (Milton Valenzuela, Federico Higuain, Harrison Afful) and static coaching. As much as Caleb Porter wanted to run it all back, it just wouldn’t work. Big changes are on the horizon in Columbus.
Honorable mentions: Houston’s road stagnation, Toronto’s slow first half
Team that should improve: Portland Timbers
This is the easiest answer: Portland have a few games in hand on most Western Conference teams and will play the vast majority of their remaining matches at home. Sitting ninth in the west now, the Timbers should rise at least a few spots by the end of the year.
Honorable mentions: New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC
Team that might regress: Montreal Impact
Montreal are fourth in the east now, but feel the heat of NYCFC on their back. NYCFC have four games in hand and are just one point behind the Impact. The Red Bulls and possibly Toronto FC (with Omar Gonzalez and one or two TAM attackers arriving) could overtake the Impact as well and toss them out of the playoff race.